Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the importance of having fun

Life is too short to always be serious. Life is also too short to try every form of entertainment and fun there is to be had. And some people enjoy doing things that don't excite me (squaredancing, bungee-jumping, mountain biking and that sort of thing spring to mind..)

I try to be broad minded and I want everyone to have fun. So my personal yard stick I apply to determine if something counts as a desirable activity (regardless of whether I like it) goes something like this:

Where one, two or more consenting beings enjoy an activity and entertain each other, and it's not at the detriment of other parties, it's good value. 

I don't care something of value is created, because the enjoyment in the activity itself is of imeasurable value. Fun and enjoyment are such a necessary part of life. Without it, a creature withers emotionally. Fun is balm for the soul.

As usual, you will ask - well, what does this have to do with horses?? As usual, it does!

There are countless ways in which we can interact with horses. Within the spectrum of what is good for the horse and person, there is room for many different ways of doing things. There is no one correct way to do things. One shoe doesn't fit all. No one method works for all horses or all people. It is good to try new things, to experiment, to keep the daily interaction live and interesting. And we must not forget to have fun.

So if someone thinks of ways to engage their horse, to have fun together and does it in a way you haven't seen, or don't normally do, should you encourage it? OH YES.

If there is no harm in it, but it challenges your view of the world, should you tolerate it? DAMN RIGHT.

If you would have never thought of it, and you can't take the credit for it, or you can't do it yourself, should you belittle it? OH NO, unless of course you are a stuck up, selfish ignoramus.

And here is a fabulous example of someone and her horse having fun. They didn't set out to study a liberty routine, it just happened, she's got her Mojo working ;-)

May I present for your viewing pleasure: Elyane and Mojo Man:

Of course, there is a little bit of pride involved here. You see, I bred Narrawin's Mojo Man. He's a purebred Saddlebred gelding, and a nice one, if I may say so myself...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Xmas!!

So it's that time of year again. Most of the year is behind us. The holidays are about to start.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

too old?

So I've just been told that a 14 year old mare is too old to ride and breed.

This mare grew up in peace, had a few foals and was started under saddle late and ridden on and off for about a year. She is sound and has a pretty nice and laid back temperament. She sure doesn't believe in over exerting herself. Obviously, with only a little bit of work under her belt, she can't be called an experienced mount, but with a little bit of regular work (after a reminder session or two), she should come along nicely and be a good pleasure riding horse for another 10 years or so.

But the answer was:
"as she would need a bit of work to get her going etc and then by the time she became a good riding horse(fully trained) she would almost be ready for retirement."


"she could be a good broodmare also but with her age a foal may take too much out of her"


Have we come to the point where the stupid habit of riding two year old horses has littered the saleyards and knackeries with so many broken down horses in their early teens that this is now the accepted norm??

Oh dear!

I will admit that if I was offered a 14 year old mare that had been ridden every day since the age of 2 or earlier, I'd probably baulk, too. Of if she'd had her arse worked off inbetween popping out foals every year from that age.

But holy crap, if I were offered a sensible, sound, horse of good breeding, and I knew it hadn't had the arse flogged off it, I would most definitely consider it.

Of course there are no guarantees in life. The fourteen year old might break down in a couple of years. But hey, so could the 4 year old you buy. A pre purchase vet exam is still the best way to get an educated third party's opionion on a horse.

I just don't accept that on principle a fourteen year old horse should be considered "too old" to ride or breed. That would be like like refusing a job to a fourty year old person on the basis of age.

(..shakes head in disbelief...)

Update 7.1.2012:

The mare was sold to someone else last year. The new owner just sent me photos of her riding the mare, doing jumping, winning a ribbon at a gymkhana and having fun. She is totally happy, and the mare looks beautiful: fit, interested and relaxed.

Someone put the time in and is reaping the rewards. Makes me happy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

noblesse oblige

From Wikipedia:

Noblesse oblige is a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges".
The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:
  1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
  2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.

Question: What does that have to do with horse training?

Answer: A lot!

In my opinion there are two facets to this.

1. human to horse

In a human-horse relationship, the human (has to) have the leadership position. More on this in a previous post titled training, respect and public perception. As I indicated in that post, this leadership role entails responsibilities. To me, that also means that I must conduct myself towards the horse in a fashion which conforms to that position. Good leadership boots are hard to fill.

2. human to human

As someone who is consulted as a person with knowledge and experience (sorry, I refuse to use the term "expert"), I have a responsibility towards other people. Specifically to people who bring me horses to train, people who pay for coming to clinics or who pay me for my horse related know-how in any other shape or form. To me, this means that I must stay true to the ethical foundations upon which my horse training is based. I must stay true to the principles I proclaim to adhere to. I cannot speak of lofty goals and high moral principles without actually striving constantly to follow them. I cannot ask people to do as I say, but not do as I do. With other words, I need to lead by example.

Ok, I'm only small fry. I don't have a huge fan base, public appearances and a method with a name. I don't have people who orient their whole horse interaction on my methods, and I certainly don't have dedicated defenders of my named and patented method of horse training.

So, to those who have a big public profile, who can woe and influence many people, I say this:

Practice what you preach.
Stay true to your creed.
Speak up on horse welfare.
Your journey is never over, you are a student of life and a a student of horses - for life!
You are only human - it is ok to admit to errors and to make changes
Be honest to others and to yourself.
Be kind to man and beast.
Be conscious of your responsibility.
Lead by example.
Don't be blinded by your own importance.

Noblesse oblige! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

what on earth????

... are they doing riding two year olds?

I know this is going on. Not just in the racing world, no, it's endemic among the stockhorse people, the western people and in some of the dressage/hacking crowd as well. Hello, guys & girls, are you for real?

I know you're in a hurry to get those promising youngsters out there and competing and winning money, ribbons and other glory for you. But is it so important to you that are willing to damage your horse's health and long term future? Or what else is your excuse?

They aren't ready. Not in the brain and not in the body. There is a reason why child labour is banned, has it maybe occurred to you that a two year old horse is also a juvenile?

It's damn sad to see this happening. But I get even more furious when people who supposedly dedicate themselves to the correct handling and riding of horses, big names in horse circles, go along and even support this crap. I thought you guys and girls are supposed to be role models. You preach the fair treatment of horses, good relations between humans and horses and gentle methods. Yet you condone the damage riding usually does to young horse bodies and minds. How can this be??

If someone comes and says to me: help - I have this issue when I ride my two year old colt, then my answer is to get the .... OFF that horse. Wait until he's four.

Oh, and then I had the joy of looking into Horse Deals (online, as I don't buy it any more). And found a picture of a yearling (!), saddled and bridled, and the description proudly commententing on this. Oh yes, it was a crappy pictures, horse standing like a lean goat, partially obscured. Real good advertising... But what on earth is a saddle (and bridle!) doing on a yearling??

What is going on? How can this be stopped?

I know this is the age of impatience. We want it and we want it now. Instant gratification. Instant fixes for problems. Immediate results. Waiting is old fashioned and slow.

But guess what - some things cannot be hurried, and the maturing of horses is one of those. For good reading on this subject, visit equinestudies.org and read the excellent piece by Dr.Deb Bennett titled Timing and Rate of Sceletal Maturation in Horses.

And take it to heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

working with horses

Due to horrible weather and a lot of work for uni, we haven't done much work with young horses recently. But stay tuned, that is about to change!!!

There are lots of youngsters here who are the right age, so there's a bagful of new ones to start, half started ones to finish and started ones to bring along further.

Now that I'm through with uni until March and we are due to have some sunny weather, I'm starting to think about it again. There are also two brand spanking new foals to work with. Pictures here.

Anyway, by chance I came across some photos that were taken a couple of years back while Yvonne and I were working with two Icelandic geldings from Haldane Stud. I was looking through the photos we took of each other working. Stirling and Glymir(Glimmer) are very different horses in temperament, although they are half brothers and look very similar. But what struck me about the photos is how harmonious the work looks.

Now I know it's not the done thing to pat myself on the shoulder and all that. But if I had to find a bunch of pictures which demonstrate what I'm about and what Yvonne is about, then this would have to be it. Here are a couple of the pictures.

 And plenty more can be found here.

winter impression with furry critters

On going through some photos, I came across this shot. I took that in August, when it was miserably cold and wet most of the time. It's a lovely photo, the way the boys are standing.

They are half brothers by Nattfari fra Vindholar (Icelandic). That's where the fuzzy-furryness comes from :-). Rorion (on the left) is out of VR Reina Real (Peruvian Paso), and the critter on the right is Hagar who is out of Scarlett, a.k.a. Wildmoor Firefall (American Saddlebred). Considering how different the mares are, the boys show an amazing similarity in the face. They literally have Nattfari written all over them! However, they move differently, and they have different body types.

Soon, they will be old enough to start, which I'm looking forward to. I started all their parents myself and I know these guys will be fun. I will post comparison pictures showing them in their summer coats, when I get a chance.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

spring is delightful

We went riding again today on Dacio and Carlotta. Neither seemed particularly impressed about the idea of going for a ride, but both went very well and we had a lot of lovely toelt and a relatively shy-free outing.

I got home in time for lunch and to feed the horses, before the rains came down. And down they came indeed! But that's spring for you :-)

Yesterday we had a long walk around because we had a visitor. The two pregnant mares are getting very broad indeed. As always, it looks like they couldn't possibly get any bigger. But they will :-) Having a big, fat, round baby belly make it hard to roll. And with all the winter fur falling out in lumps, the girls have itchy bits. And what face does a horse make when you scratch the itchy bits?

... a deligthed face of course  :-) 

That picture was taken by Yvonne and shows Samba (Paso Fino mare) getting a bit of TLC from yours truly. As you can see by the grey patch on her face, she had already indulged in a good face-rub, too.

Maremmano Horses of Italy

Well, while on the subject of relatively unknown horse breeds, I remembered that I recently looked at some Maremma saddles again.

I was contacted by Stefano, who is a saddler in Italy and makes Maremmano saddles. His website is http://www.saddlemaker.it . I did know about two types of Maremmano saddles used by the butteri, the Italian ranchworkers. One is called the Bardella, and it is a treeless version. I have one in my collection:

Then there is a version which is based on a military saddle tree. I think it's called a Scafardi. But I stand corrected here. The picture below shows one of them in use. The pictures is from the Creative Commons Collection and was taken at Equitana in Germany.

Notice the traditional curb bit, breast plate and leather covered rope headstall under the bridle.
Stefano has several interesting saddles on his website, but the most interesting (to me) was the third version of Maremmano saddle. He calls it a Sella col pallino:

Reminds me a bit of the saddles used in the Camargue region of France. I'd love to have a ride on one of these :-)

According to Wikipdedia, Maremmano Horses are also known as Maremmanas or Tuscan Horses. They are solid boned, agile and usually bay. They are primarily a working stockhorse. The breed is not well known outside Italy.

Here are some Maremmanos at the horse fair in Verona in 2007:

And here is a brief clip showing the horses and the landscape (without the glamour and glitz of the horse show).

More well known than the horses are the Maremma dogs. And I so happen to have one of them, too :-)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Horses of Chile


While looking for something else yesterday, I came across this interesting site about the Chilean Horse.

For some reason, there is very little known about the horses and horsemen of Chile, so it's great to see some information. I found the downloadable book chapters particularly useful.


Support CC

I've always been intrigued by the ring bits and the saddles used by the huasos, the Chilenian horsemen. Finally, I've found good pictures and plenty of descriptions as well as historical info. Really fascinating stuff!

The chapter about the history of breeds on the iberian peninsula and the shipments of horses to the Americas is also excellent reading.

If you have an interest in the South American horse breeds, go and have a look.

spring is in the air

I've had a few more rides on Chewie. He's doing great.

He isn't quite so looky with things now. I suppose he's figured that the scary looking letterboxes don't contain evil horse-eating dragons. I've stuck Carlos, a grey half Paso Fino gelding, in with him and he's much happier now. They look a bit like Laurel and Hardy. Carlos is bigger, wider and darker. Chewie is smaller, white and quicker. They hang out like they are each other's shadow and eat out of the same bucket. Considering both are pretty opinionated (often macho around mares) geldings, I'm quite amazed.

The fun bit will come when I take one for a ride and not the other :-)

We took out a couple of Yvonne's youngsters last week. It was their first ride in months. The weather was sunny and all the neigbors were out on ride-on mowers and their kids on quad bikes. Everything was buzzing. I rode Dacio, Yvonne took Carlotta. We did a brief couple of rounds of lunging before we got on, as there were a lot of rolly eyes and busy feet. All ok, so off we went. Dacio had his usual 20 seconds worth of tight back. During that time, I ride "defensively" and keep a nice short rein. Just in case... Nothing ever happens and then he's fine and he's pretty relaxed for the rest of the ride.

However, with that sort of backdrop, and warm weather, and itchy coats (yes, he had scraped loads of winter fur out of them before the ride..), we did have quite a lively ride. There were some levades, a few shies, head shaking, foot stomping, that sort of stuff. Carlotta wouldn't go down some mini bank. Yvonne was going to let it be, but I made them go, haha. More snorting and footstomping, but they did it.

So they both got a good sweat up. Not a bad outing for two youngsters under the circumstances. Hopefully, we'll repeat it this afternoon. The weather is lovely. If Yvonne comes home early enough from volunteering at the dog show...

Yesterday, I took out Max for the first time in a long time. Oh yeah. Big red stallion, high opinion of himself, would rather be out surfing, that sort of thing. I put the Maestro bit on him, which I've been meaning to do for a long time. The last few years, I've ridden him in a snaffe, but I used to have him in a Maestro previously.

I think he bounced several times, kicked out at the whip at least three times, stopped, grunted, swished his tail and generally complained, all by the time we got to the front gate. So I gave him a job to do. Go. Fast. Rack on!

About a km or so along the forest trail he decided that this was beginning to feel like work and wanted to slow down. Nope. Sorry. We went a bit further and then I asked him to walk. Hey, what a beautiful walk!! He got his breath back a bit further along and we had another good long rack. His mindset changed from obnoxious prick to pleasant hack in just over two kms. :-)

He was a lovely horse all the way home. He didn't even grunt at the Arabs on the corner, and managed either a nice rack or a loose rein walk any time I asked. Was he sweaty when we came home? Do fish swim?

Well, there are a few more horses which haven't been ridden since the autumn or winter, and I'm sure I'll have more fun yet. I love it when they are lively like that. I won't accept stupid behaviour, but I have no objections if horses express themselves. I can't stand plods. That's why we don't have any :-) Even if it means that some rides are on the exciting end of the spectrum. They are alive. I am alive.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Riding Chewie

As I mentioned on my Narrawin blog, one of our new additions is Chewie, a 20 year old Paso Fino gelding. His proper registered name is Bachue Bravo and he originally hails from Florida, where he was shown in his younger days.

Chewie has lived at OliVaylle, in Victoria's far west. In 2000, he and a bunch of other Paso Finos came to Oz. When I worked at the farm, I used to take Chewie out riding. He was always a bit of a handful. The sort of horse you give to the visitor who brags about his riding skills (hehe, not for long...). But he could go all day, had endless gait, carried himself beautifully and was super-feather-light in the bridle. A horseman's horse, quirks and all.

Anyway, cutting a long story short, my friend Jorge is retiring and all his horses are going to have to go to new homes. I brought home a young stallion and will go back and bring a couple of mares, too. And Chewie, the white tornado, he came home with me as well.

We had grotty weather since coming home from the trip to the west, but last weekend, the clouds opened for a bit and I decided to see how Chewie was feeling. So here is the report of that first ride in oh, over four years:

I took out the white tornado today :-)

It was the first day of pleasant weather all week, and I'd been itching to grab Chewie and do a road test. So after harrowing a couple of paddocks and feeding up, I went and got him. He's quite friendly and walks up to me in the paddock, which is nice.

I tied him up the rail outside the shed. He looked at it as though it could turn into a snake any moment, and couldn't quite be convinced that the little puddle near it wasn't home to alligators. But he didn't pull back, although there was a fair bit of wriggling and at times he stood like a mountain goat, and with his eyeballs sticking out. Silly fool :-)

He looked at the saddleblankets with suspicion, and the saddle with disdain, and he bunched up and got all fidgety when I did the girth up. I did it up nice and slow, and he started breathing again. I walked him a few steps, but no explosion, so I tied him to the rail/snake again (with the alligators watching him!). Got the bridle out and decided to untie him to avoid problems. But he actually took the bit politely and voluntarily. Yeah, he fussed with it a bit, but didn't have issues. Got my hat and as I walked up to him he had that "oh-oh! I know what THAT means!" look on him.

I took him for a walk past the front of the house, past the stone lions and potplants (scary!), past Max and some haybales (NOT scary), then girthed him up again, asked if he was OK and got on. Surprisingly, although he had that glint in his eye, he stood still. Felt a bit like a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse as he walked off, but then sort of settled a bit. I was reminded just how light he is in the bridle :-) And then off we went.

He went really well. To begin with he was a bit cold and his step was very short and a bit choppy, but after a couple of minutes, he moved really well. The tracks around here are a bit sandy, so that's what he's used to.

And we motored along nicely. And because he's out of condition, I asked him several times to slow down and walk. And miracle of miracles, he did! Only for a minute maximum, before picking up speed again, but walk he did. On a loose rein, no less.

We did a round trip through the forest past Yvonne's place. She was just going out for a walk with her pup Nemo. I stopped and talked for a couple of minutes, and much to my surprise, Chewie was ok with that. He didn't even fidget. How's that??

Off we went again, past some heavy horses, two big grey part Percherons. Well, they had never seen a little grey horse move funny like that (though they have seen gaited horses, nothing that moves it's legs as fast as the grey tornado!!), and they got a bit stirred up. Chewie didn't dignify them with a more than a glance.

Down the road, coming home from the other direction, he was giving me hints that he wanted to go back, but must have realised we were heading in the right direction, as he suddenly picked up even more speed. Perfect gait. Sewing machine precision. Fantastic!

Then we came closer to my place, and Ramirez was moving about in the corner paddock. Suddenly, Chewie decided that something there looked awfully scary. Couldn't tell if it was Ramirez, the letterboxes on the corner, a treestump or the road signs. In any case, we had a Chewie moment: stop, turnabout, head off at high speed. Whoa! I had to correct direction and speed a couple more times, and then he figured all was ok and started hiking along again. All the while, I was laughing my head off, and calling him a silly old fool ;-)

But we did again manage to walk for a bit, in fact the rest of the way along the driveway. But not quite up to the scary tie up rail or the alligators in the puddle. So we compromised and stood a couple of metres away from it while I dismounted. The rail wasn't so scary after that, and he had no issues waiting while I brushed his (rather sweaty) coat, and then got his feed ready.

So there you go. First ride on Chewie in ages. Sadly, no photographic evidence. But we'll take some footage next time I take him out. All in all, I had the impression he actually enjoyed himself mostly. He was alert, forward, moving freely. Not fruit loopy at all. I really enjoyed the ride.

It's not often that I just go for a fun ride, mostly it's to work young horses. So this was like a special treat, especially as the weather was almost spring like. If he doesn't happen to have a "moment", he is a proud horse with capacity for many miles. He really carries himself well. He looks very different under saddle, compared to standing around in the paddock. Anyway, I'll forgive him a lot of "moments" for all the good sides he has. He's a fantastic horse, a bit like a highly tuned race-car with a a few quirks. And therein lies the fun. But I think I won't volunteer him for others to ride ;-)

Monday, July 5, 2010

working with horses - let's not be too serious!

As we worked with Funa this morning, Yvonne decided to take some photos. To document that it's not all serious business, here are some of the most amusing one.... Oh yeah, and we had a great session, she was fantastic :-)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

sadness is..

When you have devoted some 15 years to breeding horses. Lots of money, blood, sweat and tears have gone into it. You've met dickheads and tore your hair out. You've met opportunists, cheats, liars, glory-chasers, egoists and plain and utter pricks. You've met nice people, you have had fun.You still keep in touch with people who bought horses from you and they drop you a line every so often to tell you how they are going. Breeding horses makes enemies and it makes friends.

But what makes me most sad is when the nice horses you have bred are not wanted. I think it's hard to promote a relatively unknown breed in a country. Horse people are conservative types. Most of the good riders and horse people are already entrenched in particular equestrian persuits and it's very hard to budge them. So it's mostly newcomers who are interested in trying something new and different. Which is fabulous. But many newcomers are not very experienced. And as they embark on their new adventure as horse owners, they often hit snags. The usual snags, the ones that everyone encounters in the long learning journey with horses. Mistakes have to be made in this learning process. Unfortunately, as the experienced horseman wanders by and looks at the enthusiastic amateur with his lovely new horse, the experienced horseman sees problems. And every time he sees a horse of a new and unusual breed, he sees a horse ridden or handled in a "sub-optimal" way. It's not difficult to see how horse people can soon come to the conclusion that it's better to stay away from breed X, because they are obviously "difficult". A bit of a vicious circle.

Then you have the problem of enthusiastic amateur breeders who unknowingly propagage flaws, be the in conformation or temperament. Firstly, with new breeds, bloodlines are scarce. Secondly, there is a lack of a good eye for a good horse. On the other hand, many starry-eyed enthusiasts have been indoctrinated by pretty pictures and fabled tales of the prowess of horses from breed X in some faraway country and in a faraway time. It's not even necessary to doubt those tales. There have always been extraordinary horses, extraordinary horsemen and and extraordinary circumstances, which lead to amazing feats. What pains me is when I see enthusiastic but unknowing people go horse shopping and get talked into buying horses which are sub-standard A) as a horse and B) as a representative of breed X. I have even seen people look at flaws in some breeds which were marketed as desirable breed characteristics. For example, very flexy pasterns, very long backs, very upright shoulders and legs etc. And here again, we have the experienced horseman walk past and scratch his head when he hears the enthusiast expound the qualities of an exotic horse which is evidently not suitable for normal riding use. And that exotic horse cost an awful lot of money.

Some people will get all excited over horse colours, overlooking obvious flaws in conformation and temperament, just to get that oh-so-fabulous colour. Some people get all hooked up on fancy pedigrees, on blue ribbons or whatever.

Basically, the proof of a good horse is it's ability to perform the job it was bred for. So a saddle horse should give his rider many years of comfortable rides, be it chasing cows, chasing foxes, jumping jumps, taking the kids to pony club or going out on the trails. No matter how exotic the breed, no matter what the special characteristics, the rules of good, robust conformation and excellent temperament should never be violated. I think it's possible to have breed typical horses of ANY breed without making compromises on those general rules.

So let's say, as a breeder, I've done my best to breed horses like that. Sure, like all breeders, whether they admit it or not, I have produced horses that I considered to be below standard. However, they weren't sold for top dollar to unsuspecting newcomers. Some made acceptable pleasure horses, some ended up performing a useful function by helping roses grow. But I have produced a number of horses over the years which are really nice. Breed typical. Well put together, and moving well as a result. Nice and companionable and cooperative. Nicer than many horses I was shown when I went out looking for breeding prospect over the years. I guess I feel I had some success if the horses I breed are better than what I started with. But what a lot of searching, planning, working and waiting has gone into that!

After 15 years, I am going to give up on Saddlebreds. Not because I don't like them. I really do like them. I really do think that they would make excellent mounts for people in nearly all equestrian sports and recreational persuits. But that breed has been hampered by a lot of bad press, the image of being a crazy show horse, lousy marketing, lack of exposure and the antics of some of the breeders. Add to that the effects of the Equine Influenza a couple of years back, several droughts in parts of Australia and the recent enomic downturn which is affecting most of us, and you have a virtually non-existent market.

So I'm sad. So much work, so much hope, so much enthusiasm... But let's look at the bright side. So many lessons learned, so many nice horses which are enjoyed by their owners. So many nice people I met.

I'm going to keep one, maybe even two. Just for old time's sake. And I'm not giving up on horses. Oh no. I will continue breeding and training and riding, even if on a much smaller scale. But I'm going to focus solely on gaited horses. It's my great love, my specialty. And I like the Pasos. And yes, I think there is a bit of a market for these horses. Things might be quiet now, but they will pick up. So many people are wanting comfortable riding horses, to go trailriding and enjoy themselves. What better way is there than a Paso?

So I'm sad, but I'm also happy. And on that note... Sadness be gone!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

two steps forward, one step back

It's a bit lik a dance. Working with young horses, that is.

We had another classic case of two steps forward, one step back recently. One day, the young mare has a breakthrough. There had been some trust issues and some problems with her not wanting to see me out of her right eye. Then she is ok with that. Not just tolerating it, she is ok. I can stand and walk on her off side, I can lean over, jump up and down and be a clown on her off side. All great. We finish the session on a great note and are over the moon with how she's going.

Two days later, different story. She's not keen on coming, in fact, she plays hard to get. Which is back to square one in that department. One of the reasons she is here is to address the hard to catch issue, and we had been making good progress in that area. She is also spooking at stuff that was fine a few days ago. And when on the lunge, she gets upset, starts running and reefs away.

Sigh. BIG sigh.

It was like a different horse. The session essentially ended up just working on walk + trot on the lunge and giving to requests. I did not have the impression that she was worried or scared, more that she was in a shitty mood. Some of the rubbish she pulled certainly appeared pretty deliberate. For example, twice she trots calmly past a corner, third round she starts taking up the slack in the rope and then either stops or starts running and then reefing on the rope. The face wasn't worried, it was more wrinkled. As though it was beneath her dignity to work with us that day.

Oh well, what to do. I was as hard as I needed to be to stop the reefing and I gave her slack and praise when she did as I asked. After a little while, she was fed up and hot and started giving to my requests with greater frequency. She even offered a couple of rounds on a loose rope with a relaxed topline. At that, we stopped and put her away. We didn't even try to work on the stuff she did so well the previous session. We just took the first try and stopped there.

If I were new to horses, I'd be tearing my hair out and I'd be beating myself up over the whole thing. Of course I asked myself what I was doing wrong. But there are some days when, for reasons not evident to us humans, a horse does not want to play. I think that's sort of like the days when I feel like the whole world ought to leave me alone and I find it hard to be civil ;-). Yes, we all have days like that. So why not horses? But the behaviour she showed was unacceptable, so we didn't tolerate it, and we left her alone when she started behaving in an acceptable manner. Some days that is all we can achieve.

Our next working session together will most likely be fine. We never deviated from the general theme of rewarding wanted behaviour and ingnoring and/or discouraging unwanted behaviour, in any of the sessions. So while the apparent progress in the last session seemed nil or negative, in fact it still amounted to a learning experience for the mare (and us!!). And there are unlikely to be negative carry overs from it.

It's not the first time that we've experienced this dance with horses. It happens to a lesser or greater degree with any equine pupil at some point. Sometimes, it seems like three steps backwards for a few sessions in a row before we make apparent progress. Sometimes, I DO tear my hair out and I rummage around in my toolbox of tricks and techniques, so that I find something that will help the horse to understand what I want. Sometimes, it's a rocky road and we go up blind alleys and have to backtrack, and then again it's like hitting a freeway and we race along.

It is from difficulties and problems that we achieve the greatest learning as trainers. The knowledge gained from dancing the training dance with challenging horses is what makes subsequent dances a greater pleasure. For horse and human.

Monday, June 14, 2010

buy cheap - buy twice

What seems like a fabulous bargain at first glance might not work out so cheap in the long run. Put differently: you get what you pay for. Sure there are exceptions, bargains can be had at times, and on the other hand, not everything that is expensive is good. But in the greater scheme of things, I think we can safely say that quality has it's price. And spending money on quality goods and services is money well spent.

It is pretty much the same when it comes to paying someone to educate your young horse. There are plenty of "breakers" and "trainers" out there who will sort out your youngster at an appealing sounding price. First problem is the fact that there are no standards, no accreditation schemes and no warranties when it comes to horse training. So all that a horse owner can go by are the adverts in the local paper or the recommendations of other horse people in the area. Of course, the opinions of fellow horse people are just opinions. And one man's idea of a "good job" is another man's nightmare. The average self made horse trainer may even do an acceptable job on an average to super pleasant young horse for an owner who is happy if that horse comes home with brakes and steering. So ten people might say that trainer X is "great". But what if your young horse presents a bit more of a challenge? What if you, the rider, want a horse which has been taught more than stop on a rein pull, turn left on a left pull and go on a kick? Chances are, you will not find trainer X suitable for your horse.

Worse, as trainer X's approach fails with your young horse, he is unlikely to ring you up and say: hey, this is beyond my experience level, please find someone with more finesse and experience. No, chances are he (or she!) will try this and that and build up a great wall of frustration, which is often only resolved with force. Many times, young horses are shoehorned into a behaviour set by the use of various training gadgets, and being the nice critters that they are, a lot will put up and shut up. That goes well until they go back to their often inexperienced owners, where the thin veneer promptly crumbles and all the unresolved issues surface. And now there is a BIG problem, because the horse has learned that it can evade and avoid the unpleasantness. So it's called a problem horse and it goes back to trainer X for "fixing" or maybe to trainer Y. From there it is often an ever declining spiral of problems and "fixes", which inorexably leads to a pen at the local saleyards and a trip to the knacker's yard. Good bye promising young horse.

Buying a cheap and nasty saddle, which was a shiny "bargain" at the sales is bad enough. But at worst it will fall apart or a strap will break and cause you a nasty fall and a trip to the hospital. But with a young horse's education, we are talking about the future of a live being. It's not as though once he's been to a crappy trainer and you have wasted your money (seemed such a bargain to get him started for a few hundred bucks, eh?) and still haven't got a horse you can ride. No, it's much worse than that. Your horse has learned to resent the whole thing. Before there is a chance that he can be rideable, he needs to unlearn all that rubbish, re-gain his trust in people and only after that can he learn how to properly be a riding horse. Or even just a safe horse to handle.

Remember, if you are going to ride this horse when it comes home from training, you place your trust in your horse and the work that the trainer has done. Your own safety, that of your horse and all the people around you, are you willing to gamble with that with cheap but potentially shonky training? Buy cheap, buy twice. First you pay the cheap trainer to ruin your horse, then you have to pay a good trainer at least a normal training fee, maybe more for the extra correction work needed. So in fact, buy cheap, buy thrice? And that's assuming there is no lasting damage to your horse which can't be made undone!!

So before you send out your youngster, do your homework. Meet the trainer and watch him work horses work and his in the paddocks. Look at his equipment. Check his facilities. Talk to clients, the more the better. If the trainer is good, he will gladly give you references. Talk to him about your expectations, be honest about your own experience level. Tell him everything you know about your horse. And expect to have to pay good money for a good job. If you can, go and watch your horse being worked. Don't bug the trainer all the time, but make the effort. No good trainer will have an issue with you watching. If you have questions, ask. If you are not happy, say so and if need be, take your horse home. It is a fine line of course, as many horse owners are not really aware of what is OK and what is NOT OK in horse training. I have ranted often enough about that! Still, a good trainer will be able to give you a reason why he did something, and that explanation won't fall under the category of  "I needed to show the bastard who is boss here!".

Good horse trainers are hard to come by. They have years of experience and are more likely to be able to deal with challenging horses than a backyarder who has "broken a few horses" for his mates and thinks this might be a lucrative sideline. But expect to pay for the services of a skilled and meticulous trainer. Their time is valuable and whether they do it for the love of it or to make a living, the quality time they put into your horse is worth what you pay for it.

Just remember though, in case you do decide to send your horse to a backyarder to save money, and the wheels fall off. Please don't insult the good trainer (whose know-how you found "too expensive", so you went to the cheap guy) by asking for free advice on how to fix the balls-up which has been created. That is not only unfair, it is insulting.

Do the right thing by your young horse. Give him the best possible start, it is an investment for life.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Horsemen - a dying species?

While working with a young horse today, Yvonne and I were talking. As we do...

It seems to me that there are a lot of people who would love to do horse things. Some want to ride only, some would love to have and care for a horse. It also seems to me there are a lot of people who lack some very basic knowledge of horses.

It was only last night we were discussing over dinner how Walt Disney has a lot to answer for. All those Disney movies and cartoos which are brilliantly done but which present a completely distorted, even false picture of animals. More than a single generation of kids (and adults!) were indoctrinated with the belief that Lassie really had near human intelligence and feelings. Not to mention the jungle animals, Bambi and all the rest of them. It is one thing to make cartoon animals clean and beautiful and with lovely big, soft eyes. But to show them to have human emotions is another thing altogether. And then there is Barbie! She is as unrealistic a representation of a human being as her Barbie Horse and all it's pink accessories are fake.

No, this is not a rant against dolls and teddy bears and cartoons and feel good kid's movies.

But I do feel that there are too many animals in movies which pretent to portray animals as they are. Where in fact, they are completely removed from reality. So we end up with lots of little girls dreaming of having a horse, without having an inkling of the real world. I think that little girls should dream of horses, just as I did. But I do not think their dreams should be fed on Barbie horses and Walt Disney horses. Unfortunately, most kids grow up in an urban setting, so far too few have the opportunity to grow up with animals and naturally experience the reality of animals.

So, coming back to where I started this thread... I wish that ALL kids had the opportunity to spend some time with various animals in their normal setting (as in: go to a farm and see, touch, hear animals). I think all kids should also visit the zoo to be exposed to the fascinating variety of wild animals. The patterns, the movements, the ferocity, the colours, the smells!!!

And I wish that there were more good documentaries. Not just about wild animals (there are already lots of excellent ones), but about all the common farm animals and horses. But documentaries showing ALL of it. Not just the pretty bits. There should be healthy animals and sick animals, feeding as well as the other end. There should be comments about things that can go wrong with riding, with husbandry, with feeding, foaling and every other thing. There should be something about how horses think, how their eyes work different to ours, how their reflexes are so fast and how their wiring as prey animals determines their behavious. There should be beautiful footage of people and horses who really work together, how healthy horses look and how they naturally interact.

Maybe with more of that, there would be a more realistic attitude towards horses.

We've (mostly) gone away from the bad old days where horses were a commodity, an intrument of war, a mere beast of burden, to be used and abused as necessary. As humankind is growing up, such things as slavery went first, then women changed from being mere chattels to getting a say and a vote. And with time, the abuse of animals is decreasing. Partly as there is no longer the need and partly because the more enlightenend thinking, which saw off slavery and the rest, is now starting to permeate the human - animal relationship.

Unfortunately, the way I see it is that we are overcorrecting. It is no longer acceptable (in most parts of the world) to tie a horse to a post and beat the living daylights out of it, or starve it for days, to make it amenable to being "broken in". Thank goodness for that. But now we've gone too far. We live in a society that finds it abhorrent to correct an animal. It is considered cruel by many to put a bit in a horse's mouth. It is unkind to raise the voice to give a NO correction to a pushy horse. It is unacceptable to tie up a horse and leave it to learn patience. It is mean to flap a blanket at a horse, if it might get scared and back off a few steps.

I think that there are a lot of people out there who have or would like to have horses, who need a severe reality check. Horses are animals. Hallo!! Do you read me? Unlike the Barbie horse, they do unpleasant things like shit and urinate. And bleed when they hurt themselves. They run off when they get scared, or they kick or pull back if in panic. They have a hairpin trigger. They have motives and emotions, just not like Bambi, but real horse ones.

What I would like to see is another generation of horsemen/women who truly understand how horses tick. Who will love their horses and treat them fairly. Who will understand their needs and who can take them to their full potential. Who will educate them and correct them with love and firmness and with full understanding of their capabilities and limitations. And who understand the bridges that must be made between humans and horses, within the boundaries of modern life.

Friday, June 11, 2010

yet another blog..

I've decided to start a new blog for Narrawin Stud. That's to replace the ageing news page, and will contain news and updates related to the stud itself.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

poor neglected blog...

It has been a little while since I last wrote here. Sorry :-)

As of February, I've been studying full time. Computer Science is fun, but there is a lot of extra work in addition to going to lectures, labs, and tutorials. A bunch of assigments for starters... Anyway, the first semester is just about over so I thought I might catch up with some horse stuff.

I have started a facebook group called "Paso!". If you are interested in Pasos, go in and have a look, there are a few interesting posts in the discussion areas now.

Occasionally, I manage to update our stud website, but there aren't a lot of updates to do because it's been pretty quiet at home. But have a look at narrawin.com .

Well, due to study commitments and with winter setting in, there hasn't been much training of young horses going on. While the weather was still good, we spent a bit of time on two of our Paso Creole geldings, Ron and Raffles, but we didn't quite finish and they are turned back out for the time being. Instead, we've been spending some time with Yvonne's youngsters Carlotta, Dacio and Samba. They were all started last year and are getting a bit of regular riding, weather and time permitting.

In the beginning, we always took out one experienced horse, usually Flamenca, and a green one, but of late we have gone to taking out two of the younger ones together. As they gain experience, that works pretty well. Also, we are extending our rides not only in distance, but in challenge. Instead of just quiet forest trails, we go up the road, picking areas with more houses, letterboxes, barking dogs, mini ponies, spotted screaming stallions etc. We had a couple of fun rides towards the Dereel CBD, letting the horses check out the fire trucks which usually get taken out and washed on weekends, as well as the scary bus shelter at the hall.

So there is plenty to keep the youngsters amused!

We only have one outside horse here, Nele's Icelandic mare Funa arrived yesterday. Pity it's so wet and windy today. There is just no way I'm going to be out there playing with horses...