So Where Is The Line?

How much discomfort or distress is it acceptable;e to ask a horse to tolerate? And is it time to take a long hard look at what the Equine Industry considers “normal”?

Recently there’s been a big increase in the number of young riders (and their parents) taking an interest in a more ethical version of the sport.  More and more people seem to be questioning what we consider the normal methods of riding and horsemanship, and the physical pressure applied to the horse in order that they help us to fulfill our own goals. It does seem strange that one of the main attractions of taking up riding as a sport revolves around the relationship that clients envisage developing between themselves and their horse. A deciding factor for children’s ponies and first horses is their tolerance for fuss from a devoted owner.  As we progress as riders – especially those of us that become “professionals” – that aspect has less and less meaning.  We would still say we love our horses, but their interest in spending time with us becomes secondary to many other factors.

It is unbelievably easy to instill the natural sensitivity and instincts of a horse in a riders first lesson. So it is all the more peculiar that while the sweet nature and friendship remain an important part of a horses suitability, the ridden part quickly becomes a dominate relationship. Do we really believe horses need to be ridden with a “you will”approach, when we can train them to do so many things with much less force?

Riding is completely unique – in no other sport is the equipment that we use for our success a living creature. The closest comparable is probably dog agility, but even that is a stretch – dogs are not often asked to carry 10-20% of their bodyweight in the form of a constantly shifting, often unevenly distributed, load that has the ability to cause them physical discomfort or damage, or mental confusion.  In addition, the number of dogs kept in this country as pets would far outweigh those kept as athletes – whilst the majority of horses are asked to perform some type of physical activity with a rider – ranging from happy hacking to advanced competitive levels.Over the last 15 years there’s been a big shift in “trick” horsemanship and its gradual appearance into more everyday horsemanship.  Schooling sessions that would have been circus tricks are now a big part of many peoples training methods. Wherever you stand in your training believes, anything that encourages people to understand up to date research on how horses learn, and think of horses as requiring training to complete a task, rather than presuming they are born knowing what to do, can only be a good thing. People training a horse are surely more likely to notice signs of confusion, physical restriction or fear in more everyday tasks – such as the reluctant hacker, or the whizzy jumping horse.  There are good and bad signs of every coin, and some of the professionals purporting to be “natural” in their approach appear to be woefully ignorant of the physical or psychological signs of distress in the horses they work with. It often seems if you attach “horsemanship” to a a name, it is automatically considered to be scientifically based and taking the horses needs before the handlers.  Which is why it is so important everyone – young or old, novice or open minded professional –  gets the opportunity to learn to truly understand horses, and not believe things simply because someone deemed “experienced” tells us its true.Only by equipping everyone with factual information can we allow the rider to identify when something isnt right – and instill in them the confidence to stand up for what is right for the horse, regardless of the qualifications of the “expert” telling them what to do.

True horsemen of any level will always put the horse first – and will be the first to say they are always learning, refining their techniques according to the information that becomes available.  But many “traditionalists” are not going to take a step back and question the way the industry operates – it is how they earn their living, and it works on a sufficient number of horses for them to continue. But does that mean what we take for granted is morally right?  Do we have an obligation to stand up and be counted, on behalf of the many thousands of horses that do not fit in to this regime, or the ones that survive by simply shutting down?

30 years ago, circus elephants were considered great entertainment. 10 years ago, few people questioned captive orcas.  On a recent first aid course we hear about an old style book that described pinning together the bottom lip and the tongue of patients suffering a seizure. Today we know better – and when you know better, you should do better, shouldnt you?  And perhaps that means we need to reevaluate the physical and psychological training we give our horses to prepare them for the career we’ve chosen for them – if we believe it is wrong to view a living horse as a disposable object.

The truth is, to decide if we ought to change the way we manage and train horses, we need to look at our expectations of what this sport is – what we consider a fair contribution from the horse, and what our commitment, our share of the bargain, needs to be for us to demand that.

And everyone’s view on that will be different.  Some people believe that simply owning a horse – or any animal – gives them the right to do whatever they want with that creature. It is purchased to serve them and help them achieve their goals, whatever they might be, and is completely disposable once it can no longer give that level of satisfaction.

Some people feel that horses shouldn’t be ridden. That’s pretty extreme – but in an industry where the average age of a sport horse being put to sleep is suggested to be just 8 years old, its actually understandable – we’re clearly not doing a great job of producing these creatures for the role we keep them, or breed them, for.

Most people sit in middle ground – shocked by the statistics but unsure of whats going wrong in this industry. How can they make a difference, and who, if anyone, is accountable?  And the answers aren’t easy, because its not just one aspect we need to address. From the terminology and techniques riders are taught to apply aids – “kick him to make him go” and “pull on his mouth” from the methods used on reluctant loaders at a show, or solutions to clipping a nervous horse, its blindingly obvious to anyone who steps back that the advice normally handed out, even from professionals, is desperately outdated and inadequate. A series of shortcuts to achieve a result in the quickest amount of time possible, instead of ensuring the horse is physically and mentally able to confidently offer the response we require. In almost every case, it addresses the symptoms, not the cause.  And its difficult to know who to feel sorry for – the owner, paying out their hard earned cash week after week to “solve” an ongoing list of problems? The people handing out the advice, who have done the training, the qualifications, but don’t have anything more to offer? Or the horses, who pay the ultimate price with sore backs, tight necks, bruised mouths and varying levels of stress when n asked to carry out tasks we simply haven’t prepared them for?

Few problems are solved without stripping away the layers and addressing the root cause.  there is much mention recently of learned helplessness in horses. Perhaps if they shouted louder sooner  – if they refused to go near the mounting block instead of shuffling away twice before “giving in” – if they ran to the back of the stable and threatened us with their hind legs when we approached with the saddle – perhaps we’d listen? Or perhaps we’d just shout louder too.

Because its much easier to shout louder than listen, especially when we don’t understand a single word of the language being spoken.

So perhaps we all need to be accountable?  From the professional trainer to the riding school rider. From the farrier to saddle fitter who turn a blind eye rather than educating the owner. Maybe we could all to be a bit more accountable, and look a little closer at how we treat these animals, even on everyday tasks. If we started noticing the signs of physically or mentally compromised horses, we could vote with our feet. The 12.2hh first pony, the teenagers eventer, the mum and daughter happy hacker and the professional dressage horse would all, surely, be raising their hooves to that suggestion?

 

 

 

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“That’s ALL I have to do?”

Well good day to you, you fine internet surfing human creature – thank you for stopping by my little musings!

I hope you’ve had an A-MAZ-ING summer? Mine has been particularly fine, not least because the pesky sweet itch that has troubled me for the last few years got kept at bay this time round. I’m only a horse (I know, I know, you’re thinking that’s not possible – but I assure you it is the truth, despite being extraordinarily talented at this keyboard typing), so I’ve no idea what solved that.  Hazel added some turmeric to my feed, and has also changed all our diets following an interesting talk earlier in the year, but whatever the cause it’s made my life a lot better, I’ve kept all my mane and tail, and even been able to enjoy some time without that ridiculous ghost costume rug she insists on me wearing!

That’s not the really exciting news though….. The best part is that since my sweet itch improved, I’ve been able to live out, just like everyone else. And since I’ve been living out, my breathing issues, which appeared randomly almost 6 years ago (just before I performed my own facial reconstruction and spent lots of time in horsepital) have dramatically improved – meaning Hazel has started riding me properly again, which is making both of us very happy. Of course now the weather’s getting all winter like (what is it with this country?!) and Hazel doesn’t seem to have built deluxe shelters, or arranged drainage to run under all the fields yet (inadequate, uncaring human) I guess it will be back to my house, but at least it’s giving her food for thought!

Anyway, enough about me, I’m told this is my chance to change the world for my fellow noble steeds, so let’s get going! Hazel suggested lots of topics I could write about this time round, and it’s been a bit of a job to pick just one. But then I thought about the most common phrase heard from riders around here ……… do you want to guess what it is?

Yes, that’s right – you’ve been here before haven’t you?

“That’s ALL I need to do?”

Ok, so here’s the gripe with humans. I appreciate the fact that you feed us yummy things, save us from starving to death in the winter , call the vet when we do dumb stuff, muck us out, look after our feet, rasp our teeth (yes, I know I HATE it, that doesn’t mean I don’t realise it’s necessary!) and all the other stuff you’re now thinking of (OK, Thank you, that’s enough, put the pen down, no list required!)

But the fact that you seem to forget what we actually are, and how little you need to do to communicate with us, if only you’d do it right, is something of a pet peeve of mine.

This is us, as we actually ARE!

Grazer / trickle feeder? Check

Herd animal? Check

Roamer? Check

Prey / flight animal? Check

Long, unsupported back that needs lots of strengthening before it can a carry weight? Check

Sensitive enough to feel a fly land? Check

Well suited to living a small area, with human chosen companions, dealt with by primarily verbal communicators and asked to carry weight in a variety of abnormal situations, given instructions by physical pressure, and unable to run away? There’s the problem

Tolerant enough to put up with you anyway? Check

Do you see what I’m getting at? Because you have chosen to breed us to do your job, you now assume we should want to do it, be capable of doing it, and better yet, know what it is we are doing. If I had a a carrot for every time I heard “he’s so naughty” “he’s taking the mick” or “he’s just trying you out” I would be…..well….. All carroted out….which would be …….fabulous, actually. I should instigate that at once……but that’s besides the point.  Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to……

Spend 5 minutes next to any busy arena, remove the rose tinted glasses, and take a look at what’s actually there – yes, of course there are happy partnerships, but there are also lots of switched off or tense, unhappy horses.  Lots of horses physically struggling and lots of confused horses doing their very best under riders who are giving them contradictory signals. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, and spoil your day out, but I happen to think it’s actually really, really sad. So many people don’t even seem to notice – they proudly display photos of horses looking miserable, physically compromised, or both, and write captions such as “so proud of us today” .

And here’s the thing that made me pick the title – so many of you seem to be obsessed that you need to DO so much. You’ve got to MAKE us do things (if you’re an instructor and you shout that at your students, please think about what you are saying!) If you want to work that hard, don’t bring us in to it, just go the gym!

I struggle to believe that your horse is any different to all the ones that spend time here – none of them need to be MADE to do things, they just need to understand what’s asked of them, and to be asked in a way that allows them to do the job.  When you have to start making them, it’s always been as a result of an underlying issue that has to be resolved before work can continue!

We fall in on a corner because the rider is sitting crooked. We don’t go or won’t turn because you’re restricting us, all gripped on with your seat like you’re going to wobble off like a trifle on a bouncy castle.  We go too quick because you’re all tense and rigid, hanging on to our mouths and bouncing up and down on our backs like some suit of armour.

Yet the answer always seems to be to do more, to MAKE us comply. Use more inside leg. Kick harder. Wear spurs (Will some of you please look up the definition of what spurs are actually designed for, there seems to be a large misunderstanding circulating)…… Shorten your reins. Use a stronger bit. The list is endless. And yes, it “works” – because once you’ve kicked us around the corner enough times, we’ve sort of learnt that we’re meant to get in to canter, even though it’s really difficult, and ultimately a compensatory problem often arises.

Most shocking thing I heard lately? A horse in a professional establishment with soreness in its back. Because he’s an obliging type, it was acknowledged that nothing would be done until it caused a drop in his performance. Seriously? I mean, if that’s how you want to live, carry on. If you want to grin and bear back pain, until it causes you to walk funny, and gives you a sore knee, and make one foot bigger because more weights going through it then go for it.

But is that how you’d treat another living being? If your child’s PE teacher did that, what would you say? But you want us to start shuffling at the mounting block, bucking, rearing – generally “being a pain” before you take action? What an odd industry this is…………

So back to the title – one of the first thing people learn here is how subtle their aids actually have to be. A tiny touch of the leg to move on, and the use of a SOFT seat aid to stop. No pulling, no kicking, no MAKING the horse do anything – just giving instructions that the horse is happy to carry out.

Because none of us ever signed up for our side of the bargain did we? At no point, when I was 6 months old, did I say “Ohh yes, I’d love to be a riding horse” . I’ve gone along with it because, like most of my kind, I’m actually pretty compliant. And I do the best I can, despite the mistakes Hazel makes (it’s ok, she feeds me polos……..) because I want to please.

But it’s nice to be appreciated – so next time your horse “acts up”, just ask yourself – is it the behaviour of your horse that’s the problem, or a “situation” you’ve put your horse in?

^ ^

 

 

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Spring has Sprung…..

Well Hello!
Cloggs and branIt’s been a while hasn’t it…I bet you’ve missed me and my updates?  Never mind, I’m here now, with lots to tell you.  Summer seems to have finally arrived at Nine Acres, and with it we’ve become something of a wildlife haven! Rabbits and hares are all over the place, (eating my grass!) I saw a fox slink out from the straw barn this morning, there’s a nest of chirpy little Swallows in my house rafters, and yesterday a doe and two fawns climbed through the fence and trotted daintily across Bess’s paddock.
It’s all very tranquil, but there’s not much time to sit and stare – May’s been busy, busy.

First up, my birthday! I’ve reached the grand old age of 15.  When I was a young colt, my friends and I had a long list of all the things we were going to have done by the time we reached such a milestone – we called it a bucket list, as it involved quite a lot of food.  We had such great plans; we were going to be famous, like my grandad. We were going to find a good human and go exploring round the world – riding through South Africa, spotting giraffes and outrunning lions.  Galloping along Australian beaches,  graze with Bison on the pastures of North Dakota….well, you get the idea……

So my birthday got me thinking……Life hasn’t quite gone the way I thought it would, but hay (see what I did there? ;-0), I’ve had a load of experiences that I bet most wouldn’t even imagine – I’ve been on TV, been the subject of giant internet forum discussion, been reunited with Wiljo (despite the clairvoyant who said I was dead) actually nearly died twice (perhaps she was really a confused fortune teller?) had my story printed in a Dutch magazine and, according to my human, have taught her more than she would ever have thought of – which has the very desirable result of her understanding “the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know”.
None of that means much to me as a horse of course.  Exceptional as I am,  I pretty much live in the moment. As long as I’ve got the right sort of food, friendly company, clean water (exceptionally clean for me, I’m very fussy……)  shelter from the weather and the flies (exceptionally good shelter, I have sensitive skin……) , enough room to roam and things to be interested in, suitable ground and my feet kept in good order (exceptionally good order, I have very unique feet……) then I’m pretty happy.
See, as horses, we’re not difficult…..Hazel always says it’s only when humans expect us to understand what they want, without taking the time to explain it, that it gets complicated.

So what else has May thrown up? Well, Hazel had a birthday too!  She’s got a bit cagey about how old she is, which must mean she’s getting on and past her prime.  It does seem to have had the effect of making her concentrate on getting me back in work, which has been a lot of fun, especially when I spotted the new chicken fence from my good eye………… I’m hopeful this might mean I’m going to get out to some parties again soon.  We’re just on the boring walking out at the moment (apart from when I liven it up a bit) but I’m optimistic there’s something “ahoof”…..

Doubtful tactics Hazel…….

Yep, Told you.....

Yep, Told you…..

I also heard a rumour that Hazel’s trying to get fitter.  Just as long as she doesn’t try to ride a bike….I’ve heard about what happens when she tried to ride a bike……

 

So the grass has grown, and with it, I have to say, a few saddle sizes. Not me, I hasten to add, but it’s interesting how just a few extra pounds affect the way some of my friends here move. Especially those that require a bit of effort to keep them right.   There’s been mutterings of restricted grazing paddocks, soaking of hay, and increased walking exercise. On the other end of the scale, Bess has continued to gain weight – she’s been here nearly 8 weeks now, and it was a bit of a baptism of fire, with her feet, teeth and a worm count all being done in the first few days. Once all the preliminaries were out the way, Sarah Bee, the lovely nutritionist from Allen and Page paid her a visit. It took Bess a while to work out how to get on the weigh bridge  but she seems to be doing well, and is a real character – I’ve got high hopes she’ll be a bit of fun!

In other news, Hazel took a holiday (!), and left me in the care of some randomers. She’d obviously briefed them quite well though, I received a very satisfactory level of attention, and would certainly use them again. Apart from the chap who tried to paint me as a Zebra.  Unacceptable behaviour.

Exmoor poniesShe seemed to have a lovely time, arriving home with stories of mares and foals in the wilds of Exmoor, and a reunion with a horse she sold many years ago.  Like me, that was one of the lucky ones – deemed difficult by subsequent owners, she was stuck through a sale, but eventually landed on her feet with a lovely lady who has taken a load of time and effort to put her on the right track. Here’s a picture of them catching up with each other after 10 years (I don’t think Zodiac had a clue who she was!)  Zodiac
When Hazel talks about the horses she meets who have fallen in to the wrong home, I understand why she so rarely sells any these days.  It seems to be a minefield, and whilst humans pay the price with a lot of disappointment, broken dreams and a big dip in the bank balance, it’s us horses who end up confused, uncomfortable and misunderstood…..Once you own us, we really are your responsibility, so please don’t just pass us on to someone else when you can’t cope with how we behave – it’s not our fault you don’t understand what we’re saying, is it?

So time keeps flying along – we’ve seen the last of our UEA riders for the Summer term, some for the final time :(  It really doesn’t seem like 3 years!  We wish them all well, and very much hope they’ll keep us updated on their future horsey exploits.  We’re looking forward to the new intake in October, and of course working with our private clients and watching them progress. We seem to have new faces arrive each week for lessons, so there’s lots going on. As well as lessons on the team of horses here, Hazel’s been busy teaching horse and owner combinations, of varying levels of experience, aspirations and challenges  (we all know what that means don’t we 😉 ), helping them to build the partnership they’re after.
Well, I think that’s quite enough for today.  To keep up with demand, I’m told the hunt for horses still goes on, with several to go and try in the next week or so.  I’ve given strict instructions on what I feel will be suitable additions, and as always I have the best view in the place, so hopefully I’ll see them, and you, soon  ^… ^

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My New Shoes’ News

Hi All,
It’s been a while since I got my little hooves to the keyboard as it’s been a busy few weeks for me.
The weather’s been rubbish – this is a picture I took from my house.  You’d have thought when it’s snowing like that we’d have been allowed to stay inside – but no! Hazel arrives bright and early and starts throwing us out.  She keeps informing me that horses are meant to move, it’s not healthy to stand inside all day.  Does she not notice that all I do is stand in my field? The only good thing is she feeds us adlib haylage out there too.  She does get some things right, my human. I overheard her explaining to someone that horses are trickle feeders – in the wild we would be grazing and roaming all the time, so our guts aren’t meant to be left without food to process.  I’m quite pleased about that – a constant supply of hay is very welcome, especially in this cold weather when I’m having to keep warm.
Aside from the weather, I’ve had lots of attention. (Naturally)
I had nice new shoes fitted – one of the reasons I know I’m the most important horse here is I get a pedicure every 5 weeks, rather than the 6 that most of the others go to.  Hazel used me as an example the other day to someone who wanted to learn about feet.  She says I have very interesting feet, which isn’t really a surprise.  Everything about me is very interesting.  But apparently the way my feet come to the floor means I put a bit of extra stress down my legs, so I get new shoes more frequently, to help keep all of me working as well as possible.  I heard her chatting about the effects of leaving shoes on for too long – most of it was the same old same old, but she’s obviously learnt some new stuff from one of these conference things she keeps running off too.  She says the pressure on the joints in our feet increase by 17% if we’re left for 8 weeks between farrier visits, to trim our feet up and prevent them becoming longer.  That’s almost an extra 5th of the normal stress and strain they have on them!  I’m sure if humans had feet that grew all the time, and they felt the extra pressure it puts through the rest of their leg, they’d be a lot more switched on to us seeing the farrier regularly.
I also get to see the physio, who I have to say has made a big difference to how I can stand – It used to really tricky for me to park with my front feet together, as I always put a bit more weight down one side than the other. Hazel does this too. When she helps me do my exercises, I encourage her to do hers by moving quickly when she’s on her less stable leg. It’s lots of fun.

Anyway,  Hazel seems to be really proud of my new way of standing, and how its improved my feet and the way I wear my shoes.  She’s forever crouching down and taking photo’s of my legs.  I do have very fine legs……
But I digress. So yes, new feet, and I had the dentist too! Since I smashed my face up, I’ve not been very keen on the dentist.  They insist on that ridiculous lump of metal to hold my jaws apart. It’s as if they think I’m a shark or something. I mean just Man Up will you, if you honestly think it’s ok to stick great metal rasps in my mouth, at least give me a chance to retaliate.  Hazel doesn’t seem to get that I don’t like the dentist.  Instead of leaving me in peace, they come to see me every time she’s here.  This time she offered me an apple core.  Why do humans give this behaviour such ridiculous names? “Positive Association” mutters Hazel, scratching my favourite itchy spot. That would be bribery then? You want me to want to see you, because you’re going to feed me an apple core, and conveniently forget the fact you’ve got that hoofing great bit of metal torture?  And you think you’re intelligent?  Actually, having my teeth done wasn’t too bad this time – it was all over and done with pretty quick – apparently they hadn’t got too sharp since the last time they were seen.  That would probably be because it was only a few months ago.  OBSESSIVE I tell you.  Hazel has a strange thing for teeth.  She can never just leave it to the dentist – she always has to feel them for herself.  If I was the dentist I’d be offended.  In fact I’d let the gag off just as she’s got her arm in, right up to her elbow.  That would show her.  She’s the same with all the people who come here to do a job – farriers, physio’s vets……  She’s always asking questions, wanting to know what they’re doing and why – she can never just let them get on with it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, I think I might go for a bit of a mooch, the sun has made a rare appearance and I suspect there may be a little bit of grass in that far corner, if I can just get there before Bran…….   ^^

 

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Introducing The Blog of Clogg’s

Hi Everyone!
First off, I need to introduce myself – I’m Cloggs, or, to give me my full title Clever Cloggs.  Some of you will probably know me, but for those that don’t (seriously?!), you can find out a bit more here, on my horse profile page.   You can also add me on Facebook – I’ve set up my own page, as my human (that’s Hazel, she’s around here quite a lot) is absolutely shocking at adding people – at last count she had 173 outstanding friend requests – which basically means ALOT of people are missing out on hearing all about me.
As she’s equally useless at sitting down and writing up this blog, I have taken control – from now on, this shall be known as The Blog of Clogg’s, updated regularly by my own fair hoof. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see, feel free to get in touch with me.  I have the best view of everything that goes on here, and I’m always the first to see the new arrivals, of which there’s been a few lately – Ali, Bella and Susie have all joined the team.  I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of photo’s being taken (I conceded to model for a few myself actually, in between mooching around my field with my friend Bran) so I expect you’ll be able to put some names to faces pretty soon. I’ve been enjoying this last week, we’ve all had our rugs off during the day as it’s been so sunny.  But today your British weather has kicked in again, and there’s more of this white stuff appearing on the ground,  so I pointed out to the humans that a bit of extra haylage wouldn’t go amiss, to help keep us warm…………….

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Horses Inside Out conference 2013

A great weekend at Gillian Higgins’ annual conference.  The notes are taking longer to type up than I’d planned (or perhaps I just have less time to type than I’d realised!?)

But here’s the first lot – this wasn’t a topic I’d thought would be of much interest, but having written them up, I’ve actually found it a bit captivating. It really shows how we need to look at the whole picture when working with any horse.
A warning to foals on the importance of good posture 😉

And here’s the second one…
And so to the rider…..

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