Whose fault is it anyway? The truth about vices.

QSE front cover 3Why is it that we are so quick to blame the horse when he does something ‘wrong’ and yet are quite happy to take the credit when things go right.

In this day and age when there is such a huge amount of information and advice on understanding horses and why they do what they do, as well as how to achieve a better relationship by learning how to communicate with them, why is it that we still cling to our traditional beliefs that the horse is our possession, one that should succumb to our will and perform in a manner of which we approve?

As horse lovers, there is so very much we admire about the horse. We love their speed and their stamina, so we race them against the clock and over great distances. We love their agility so we compete with them in sports like dressage and reining. We stand in awe at their strength and power so we show it off in show jumping and hunting. Their versatility amazes us, along with their instinct and intelligence so we enjoy sports with them like eventing, cutting and camp drafting. And we are awestruck by their beauty and presence, so we parade them in the ring in-hand and hacking. All are sports that require attributes like speed, strength, alertness and finely tuned instincts. And yet somehow or other we expect our horses to automatically understand when is the appropriate time to show these attributes and when they should remain dormant…..as if they can turn them on and off like a light switch.

Horses on the whole are fairly simple creatures to understand, provided we take the time to study them from their perspective instead of trying to pigeon-hole them into our human idea of what they should be. And this begins by simply looking at the world from their point of view. Basically horses are flight-response prey animals. A lot has already been said on this subject so a little research will reveal enormous amounts of information regarding this. Horses therefore, are pretty much finely tuned creatures, totally aware of their surroundings and naturally suspicious of predators. They are skeptical so they are easily scared and they rely on their flight-response to escape harm so they are quick to take flight. Some horses are more prone to flight than others. Yet others are more prepared to stand and fight to protect themselves or the herd. In a herd situation these roles are easily filled by various herd members….those that signal when to run and those who hang back to fight the intruder. Horses are also capable of overcoming their fears very quickly and recognizing familiar things that pose no threat.

And really that’s about it. Horses have survived and thrived for millennia because of their incredible awareness of their environment and their ability to listen and react immediately to their instincts. Unfortunately, these finely tuned instincts that aide the survival of the horse in the wild, very often work against us in a domestic situation. For example, horses that run off, bolt or shy are overly impulsive and lack confidence in movement. Horses that are dull or heavy lack impulsion and in the herd would most likely be the ones who stand and deliver. If a horse won’t go on the float, he’s telling you that he is unsure about this place you are asking him to go and doubts your leadership in what you are asking him to do. And horses that kick or bite are either fearful, or lacking respect for the receiver of these ‘gifts’…..or possibly both. There is no ‘naughty’ behavior or vices displayed, or evil intent lying hidden in the horse……these are simply labels applied by humans in an attempt to shoehorn the horse somehow into our environment and to things we understand.

In this case then, it would seem that there are no such things as vices, only misunderstandings of the horses survival instincts! The word vice implies that the horse is somehow being bad or naughty….misbehaving if you will. And yet for thousands of years, good horsemen have understood that any action or reaction of the horse, only reflects the level of knowledge or skill of its handler. Take any horse that is showing some level of ‘bad behavior’ such as bucking or being hard to catch and put him in the hands of a truly knowledgeable horseman and almost miraculously the behaviors disappear. Just about all horse owners can relate from their own personal experience, a situation where they have witnessed this first hand. And yet for some reason we humans, the most ‘intelligent’ creatures on Earth, seem to find it easier to proclaim that the doer of these deeds was either lucky or gifted in some way, than to
face the fact that perhaps we need to take some responsibility for becoming a better horsemen ourselves.

Of course, training horses is always an option and one that we seem quite happy to accept to fix our ‘bad’ problem horses. And because the horse is such a tolerant and compliant creature, training does often work – to a point. Horses on the whole are non-confrontational easy going souls who would rather do nothing than something, so if they find a way to find some peace and comfort, some way of being left alone even if it means doing something they don’t like, they’ll often submit and comply to keep the peace. And of course they are genuinely fearful of predators and of punishment, so if we strong-arm them enough, we can get them to do as we wish. All these attributes make them fairly easy to train, however any good trainer will tell you, that while they themselves can get the horse going nicely, it means little down the track if the horse’s owner lacks the skill to duplicate what they’ve done.

Some of our best horses, those with the most flair and panache (and therefore ability) are those who have spirit and opinions. These can prove harder to train as they will stand up for themselves and may not comply. Because of this, many great horses therefore end up in the dog food can. It seems while we admire a horse for its beauty and majesty, we prefer to buy one that is quiet and submissive. These are the traits that we most favour as manageable and yet they are not those needed for success in sport nor are they those that draw at our hearts.

What we see as vices are just our horses giving us feedback. Calling something a vice is just our way of saying that our horse is doing something that we not only don’t understand but that we also don’t have the skills to deal with. Training horses then, is something that we can live with because it shifts the blame for the problem onto the horse and the responsibility for it off of us.

All horses and humans can develop a relationship that is fun, safe and interesting for both parties. We just need to take the time and the trouble to look to ourselves and realise that it is us that needs to step up and become more worthy of them.

Meredith Ransley

Quantum Savvy 2004

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They’ll never understand

Where will today take us?

Where will today take us?

This is my favourite picture of Spydie and I.  It’s not a good photo in that it is blurry and the light was bad.  I don’t remember when it was taken.   I know where it was, but I don’t know who took it, nor was I aware that it was being taken.  And that’s why I love it so much.  It was not a photo taken deliberately with me smiling at the camera or trying to get a good angle or doing something clever….it was just a snapped moment in time of my best mate and I, so obviously enjoying ourselves.  Look how happy and relaxed we are, just loping around having fun together.

That is what makes it special.  Together.

A lot has happened this year.  For me, I’ve lost two of my dearest 4-legged mates and we’ve seen people losing their lives during bushfires here in Oz, trying to save their precious horses.  Once more I have found myself trying to explain to my non-horsie family and friends, just how important our horses are to us and what our relationships means.  I find it almost impossible.

Our horses are not pets, nor are they possessions.  They are our partners in almost every sense of the word.  We make each other better.  Achieve more together than we ever could on our own.  But that still doesn’t say enough does it?  People still don’t get it.

It struck me to the heart this last week, what it is that makes it special. I’ve been editing the last of the QS Lesson Modules this last week and in doing that, I need to write editorial about each Module;  what they mean, what you learn as a student and what you’ll achieve when doing them.  Over and over again words like trust, connection, rapport, communication, understanding, repeat themselves throughout the entire thing.  Of course, there are many ‘tasks’ that we achieve also as we go through the programme, but it is all these things that our students want and demand from the QS programme.  This is what we search for eternally with our horses.

They are not just a companion that provides a pleasurable way to get around and see the sights on the weekend.  We are, for the most part, constantly working on a deeper relationship.  It’s not enough just to be together, hang out, go for a ride…whatever.  We want that thing that bring us together, that unites us in spirit and soul and that leaves us both feeling like we’ve connected, achieved and come out the other side filled with the joy that only a shared experience can bring.

Spydie died on Christmas day.  It was sudden…he had had a paddock accident two weeks prior…and it was devastating for me.  He was there, and then he wasn’t.  He was 24 years old and at the end of his career but not his life.  He had so much still to offer in so many ways, for many more years.  He was an emotional horse, not brave or confident in himself, but with me he could do anything.  He got his confidence from me and in return I got his try and his dependability. He had my back.  Always.  He was so reliable and always put in his best effort, even if he was tired or sore or found things hard.  We did things together that neither of us could do on our own. He was always there for me.  We traveled Australia, literally, and did countless demonstrations for countless people in both the biggest of arenas to the meanest of showgrounds.

I remember one night, having arrived late after a long day of hold ups, doing a demo in the semi dark.  The lighting was bad as they had flood-lights pointing straight at us so we couldn’t see….we were blinded by the light.  The sound system was cranked full bore and pounded out of just one speaker straight in front of us instead of spread around, so we also couldn’t hear.  That night, I pulled him out of the float, had about 10 minutes to warm him up after he had traveled all day and then we were on.  He couldn’t see me, he couldn’t hear me….we had to virtually feel our way.  And still he put in.  Our demo was working at liberty and then bareback and bridle-less.  He sailed over those upright barrels that he could barely see and carried me around doing lead changes and pirouettes and didn’t put a foot wrong.  He had never been in that arena in his life, he hadn’t even had a chance to check it out and although he would have been aware of the hundreds of scary humans somewhere out in the darkness beyond the lights, he could not have seen them.  But he trusted me then as he had many times before and since.  When the music stopped and it was my turn to speak, I just cried….I couldn’t speak for a moment because the tears of gratitude just overwhelmed me.

Another time when NSW was flooded over more than half of the state, we had to go 400km out of our way to get to a demo in Victoria.  So instead of arriving in the morning with time to rest the horses and settle in, we got there right as the demo was due to start.  The crowds were all seated and waiting, the music was on.  We literally got the horses off of the float, tired and stiff after a long hot day of travel and once again, he just stepped out there and made me look good.  Spydie, you were a Legend.  There is no other word.   You never understood a word of what I said but you always knew what I meant.

I still don’t know if I can explain to non-horse folk just what our horses mean to us.  Why we put our lives on the line for them and can never do enough to thank them for all they give us.  Maybe it’s because they never ask anything of us, that we feel we can never do enough in return.  They make us better for knowing them.  We constantly strive to be better for them.  To be worthy.

Spydie, I miss you and I thank you; for being my rock, my mirror and my shelter in the storm.  I could always count on you.  You were faithful and true and stepped up to the plate each and every time I asked it of you, and there were so, so many times.

Only a horse could give so much and expect so little in return.

-Meredith Ransley

Quantum Savvy January 2016

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Building Rapport – Part 1

Spydie_Rapport

Have you ever been in a relationship with perhaps a spouse, family member, friend or workmate, where you felt that no matter what you did or said, or how good your intentions were, the other person just took everything the wrong way and you had to be careful what you said and how you went about them? What about the opposite situation? Have you been in a relationship where you and the other person just clicked, you understood each other and were ‘on the same wave-length’?

Which relationship would you prefer to be in? Which would you be happiest in and more likely to work at if it experienced difficulties? It’s a pretty simple question to answer isn’t it, however when it comes to horses, a great many horse / human relationships fall into the first category. A relationship that has little or no rapport.

So, what is rapport? More and more these days, horse owners are beginning to understand the need to communicate with their horses. And communication is a great thing to have, however it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Can you think of a time when you were communicating with someone but it wasn’t necessarily pleasant?

Rapport is two individuals who see eye to eye, who have trust in each other and who are both willing partners in the relationship. The ultimate connection if you like.

As horse owners, so often we get all caught up in the ownership of the horse; we buy the horse thinking that that makes him ‘ours’. We take really good care of him…..feeding him, brushing him, perhaps rugging him and providing him with shelter etc and then when it comes to handling and riding him, we subconsciously expect him to just do as we wish and be nice to us because we have been nice to him. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. We might be providing him with what ‘we’ think’ he needs, however, how many of us truly take the time to consider what ‘he or she really’ needs.

If we want to catch him, we just go get him without pausing to see how he feels about it. Then we are baffled to find out that maybe he doesn’t want to be caught. We want to ride, so we just saddle him up and get on; again in many cases without even considering how he feels about it. We want him to jump the jump, cross the ditch, leave his friends behind and we are surprised and a little annoyed when he shows some resistance to doing as we ask. After all, we bought him that nice new rug to keep him warm and got the really juicy crunchy carrots he likes. He should do what we want!

As much as horses like juicy carrots, they really do not care too much about whether they get them or not, if they do not first have a few basic needs of their own filled. For horses, their number one priority is to feel safe. Being a prey animal, this is an absolute must. Until they feel safe with and around you, nothing else matters, no matter how ‘nice’ you think you’ve been to them, this will count for nothing if he feels insecure. If you take the time to build the kind of relationship he really needs, gain rapport with your horse, he will relax with you, give you the benefit of the doubt and trust you…….even if he feels like you are asking a lot of him, he’ll still try for you. We’ve all experienced the huge amount of heart and desire horses can have for a human……imagine if you had that kind of relationship with your horse ALL the time!

If you do not have rapport in your relationship, chances are that you will find some resistances in your horse. He may be hard to catch, or lead, or to pick up his feet. He’ll be more prone to kick out if you are around his back end, or it may show up with him not wanting to go onto the horse float. If your horse truly saw you as his great leader and friend, would he ever try to bite you or buck you off? On the contrary, when riding, if he felt you getting a little unstuck, he’d be more likely to duck back underneath you to keep you on. Can you imagine what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with your horse; one where he was an equal and willing partner in it and really enjoyed his time with you. Where he tried to help you out rather than help you off!

Take the time to build rapport with your horse, in all things ask him first how he feels about it. It will pay off enormously if you do.

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The illusion of safety – it’s not about the horse!

20121015 HIM 063 Humans are the most incredible of species. We are so creative, inventive and full of fantastic ideas on how to make, fix or improve things that it’s almost mind-boggling. You’ve only got to pay a visit to the nearest tack store to see evidence of this……bits and training aids for all occasions, books full of handy hints on how to fix your horse and train him to do what you want and for almost every unfortunate mishap that has ever prevailed itself upon the poor human, we have all sorts of safety aids and devices to protect us. And yet, even with all of this wellintentioned advice and equipment, unfortunately everyday somewhere in the world, people are still getting hurt and killed around horses.

Studies show that in Australia alone there are more than three thousand serious injuries each year, just related to actual horse riding, not including horse-handling injuries like biting, kicking and crushing. That’s more than eight people per day. More than twenty of these result in death and seven hundred result in serious brain injury!

For the ever safety and security conscious human, it seems that almost every month there is some new device invented that will control or contain the horse in some way and failing that will protect us if the worst should happen. And each thing seems to take us further and further from our dream of freedom and exhilaration, that only the magnificent horse can bring us. Perhaps then, we should content ourselves with riding a push-bike or perhaps just watching videos of other people enjoying their equine partnerships!

For all of us horse true lovers though, this is not an option is it! And of course, we all want to be as safe as we can around our horses for both our sake and theirs…..after all, who gets the blame when things go badly for horse and rider; whose reputation is tarnished once again?

Current trends support supposed safety measures that contain the horse and protect the rider from physical harm and no one can blame the powers that be for doing so……something must be done. How much better though, if we put this large brain that we have and all its powers for fixing problems, to the issue of achieving real and consistent safety for riders by equipping them with by far the best safety tool available…..true knowledge!

Real safety is knowledge, not wrapping yourself up in protective clothing or body armour, which may even give you a false sense of security.

Through our journey to achieving horsemanship, we have discovered that you can try to control the horse, his environment and circumstances as much as you like. Don all the protective gear you can find, take every precaution and while you will certainly be better off should some mishap occur, you are still far from guaranteed safety. In fact, knowing what we do about how the horse perceives emotions, particularly fear in the rider, you are more likely to cause something to happen with your very expectations. I agree that we should take every safety precaution possible and helmets and vests do make a difference, however it’s not enough. And wearing protective gear can, as I’ve mentioned already, give the rider a false sense of security. Far too many people are still getting hurt. So how then do we increase our chances of being safe around horses and even better, enjoying our time with them?

Knowledge, pure and simple is the key. Even now after many years of ‘natural’ horsemanship being available to riders, common sense around horses is still largely based on the human perception of the world. Looking at things from the horse’s point of view, understanding his behaviour and why he does what he does, is still not commonly considered. His actions and reactions are still interpreted from a human perspective and dealt with accordingly, which more often than not simply makes the situation worse. The results of which then sadly become just accepted behaviours and beliefs about horses. In the eyes of many, they become creatures that are flighty, highly strung, unpredictable and potentially dangerous, when in actuality the opposite is closer to the truth. You have only to look at a herd of horses in the field to see their true natures. For the most part they are quiet, peaceful creatures content to graze and socialize. For only a small portion of the day do they play and on occasion, when they perceive danger, do they run and express postures of fear and confusion. And yet, all around the world every day, there are horses interacting with humans displaying the latter far more frequently than the former. And still we, the intelligent species, have not quite managed to make the connection.

We already have a natural barrier between us, that of predator and prey. Treating a horse like another predator, a dog for instance, is more likely to create an adverse reaction than a favourable one. Reprimanding a horse for not standing still – for example growling at it, yanking on the lead rope, or trying to make it stand still – will only cause the flight-response prey animal to feel even more fearful at being in the hands of a predator. All of these actions portrayed by humans, are those of a predator. So even if the horse was initially feeling only slightly uncomfortable, his fear could quickly escalate into something more serious and more dangerous, when treated this way.

We’ve all seen what a horse can do if he desperately feels the need to escape. Freedom to a horse, is even more important that the risk of injury and they will often hurt themselves and any poor human who happens to be in the way, in the process of achieving it. The big problem is that the horse then gets labeled naughty or crazy, which is our human perception, rather than more truthfully seen as simply being scared. We reprimand the horse for misbehaving, the horse gets more scared, we reprimand him some more and again he gets more scared until the whole scenario ends up being dangerous for both horse and human and of course the horse gets the blame for our lack of understanding.

True knowledge and understanding about what makes horses tick, why they do what they do and how to influence their behaviour in a positive way that is beneficial to both horse and rider, is the only way to increase safety and security for both. This is the ultimate case of prevention being far better than cure, as only with this true understanding can a huge proportion of horse related accidents be avoided and in many cases be prevented altogether.

A little bit of knowledge goes along way, however until we set the standard of seeking this knowledge and educating all horse riders to truly understand horses, nothing will change. While we continue to accept the current methodology and beliefs about horses and try to use traditional forms of control and containment, people will continue to get hurt.

Meredith Ransley
co founder Quantum Savvy
©2006

http://meredithransley.com.au/

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So you think you have Control! – even Thoroughbreds can do it.

Meredith Ransley bareback ridingI often wonder why so many people, of the horse riding variety, seem to be under the false illusion that they can control a horse…..at all. By what logic do we think that a mere human can control and contain a 450kg, 60kph, reactionary, emotion driven, flight response prey animal? Worse still, control them by strapping something to their heads and then pulling on it! If you stop to think about it logically, how could a tiny little human, not even a quarter of the size and strength of a horse, ever hope to get control of it, if it decided to be ‘elsewhere’? When you think about a horse’s power and speed coming from it’s hindquarter, and it’s emotional triggers coming from it’s instincts, what good is a bit of leather on a horse’s head and a piece of metal in it’s mouth going to do? About the only thing it can do, when a horse really wants to flee, is cause incredible amounts of pain. And if common sense then prevailed, no one would want to be sitting on the back of such a big, strong animal if it was scared AND in pain….so where is the sense in that?

Why would you want to control your horses? As a horse lover, I don’t recall ever thinking, or hearing any of my horse-loving friends saying, “Gosh, I can’t wait to get out there and control my horse today! What fun.”

In the more than 20 years that I’ve been teaching horsemanship, by far and away, the most commonly shared goal or dream with horses, is people wanting a better connection with their horse. Between this desire and wanting to be safe and confident, there is never a mention of more control. And yet that is what many people resort to when the connection just is not there. We dream of this incredible partnership, but are reduced to accepting what we believe is control, because that is the extent of our understanding of horses. After thousands of years of interacting with horses on a daily basis, it’s a pretty sad state I feel.

Being successful as a rider and surviving the ride isn’t about control. It isn’t even about the horse’s head. Why, for so many centuries have we continued to get it so wrong?

I ride in a bridle. Quite often. But I never use it for control, nor am I under the impression that it will give me any control. That is not what a bridle is for. I can also ride all of my horses, in varying degrees, without a bridle either bitted or un-bitted. Many of my friends and all of my students ride without a bit and bridle as do many thousands of people around the world, on all types of horses. I even ride my thoroughbred ex-racehorses without a bridle, or anything on their heads at all!

We all do this because we know that success with horses is not about control. In fact, horses (being prey animals) react very badly to any form of control and the more control you try to force onto them, the worse their response tends to be. Control, to a horse, equals lack of freedom of movement…which is a horse’s primary survival technique. I doubt that any human ever really achieves control. At best I would say they achieve containment. And again, containment of such a big, strong animal is the last thing you want, especially in the event they become scared or feel trapped. We’ve all heard a long-standing horse owner say things like, “He’s never done anything like this before, then one day he just…….(bolted, kicked, bucked etc)”. And they say it with some surprise! There should be no surprise. You can’t control a horse anymore than you can control the weather. You may be able to contain it for a time, or even direct it, again for a time. But sooner or later you’ll repeat those words, “All of a sudden he just…….”

Maybe you’re one of those people lucky enough to have a quiet horse who doesn’t need controlling? If so, that is wonderful. As long as your horse isn’t one of those who have simply surrendered their soul. One who realises that the fight is already lost, who has truly been ‘broken’ and who exists as a kind of shadow of the horse it was born to be. Believe me, there are countless of these and it is heart-breaking. The ‘Good Boys’ who just exist within the shell of themselves, having discovered how to keep their humans happy and off their case.

In this instance, you don’t need anything on your horse’s head anyway. Wonderful! Until the day he wakes up again.

But this is not an article about riding in a bit or with no bit. Whether you do or whether you don’t, is up to you and what you do with your horse. There are some who say that their horse is so strong, so impulsive and so hard-headed that they need a bridle and every kind of torture device known to man, to stay safe. To maintain control. I’m sorry, but that just speaks volumes about their lack of horsemanship knowledge. Or their lack of knowledge about horses even.

The point is, that it is not about bits or no bits – there are plenty of bitless bridles that are no better than bitted ones and that are still controlling, pain inducing devices. This is about the whole idea of controlling the horse by entrapping it’s head. Communication, safety and connection are about pretty much everything but the actual head, unless you refer to what is inside it! If you think riding horses somehow revolves around leveraging the head you’re way off track. Plenty of horses with the worst kind of bits, tie-downs, gags and so on, have still managed to run off with, buck off or lay down on, their riders. Inflicting more pain and more control on the horse, does not work and makes even less sense.

Have you ever stopped to consider why it is, that so many people nowadays can ride their horses, even their hot blooded Thoroughbreds and Arabs, with no bridle and nothing on their horse’s heads? And if so, why the rest of the horse owning world is so resistant to change, even to point of ignorance and stupidity? Horses are safe, simple creatures. If you take the time to truly listen to them and understand them, to build a relationship of trust and connection with them and teach them to think and to be confident in your leadership, you’ll find out what true horsemanship really is.

You can resist it all you want, if you persist in thinking that rider control and safety comes from containing a horse’s head. But each day, more and more people are discovering true communication with horses and are realizing what a dinosaur this makes you. Like the dinosaurs, this kind of thinking will also become extinct.

Time to change.

Meredith Ransley

http://meredithransley.com.au/

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What good is obedience without understanding?

Meredith & Dirk BCHF 2004 009I was watching ‘The Miracle Worker’ the other day…the story of Anne Sullivan; the amazing woman who gave a ‘voice’ to another incredible woman – Helen Keller. During her childhood years in the late 1800s, until about aged 7, Helen (who was deaf and blind and hence mute), lived and behaved much as a wild animal. She had no way of communicating with anyone, or of having her thoughts, wants or needs met. No way of expressing herself other than through physical violence at the frustration she felt on the inside, and no way of getting feedback from others other than restraint or punishment from most and cuddles from her Mother.

Anne Sullivan was a truly remarkable woman. She was able to get through to Helen, to teach her, to listen to her and to communicate with her. At one point early on in the story, she was able to teach Helen to behave; to have some form of manners and respect and to not lash out when she felt anger or frustration. Basically, Helen now did what she was ‘told’. Helen’s Father was grateful and expressed as much to Anne. But his well-meant compliment was only met by frustration and anger from Anne. “What good”, she said, “is obedience without understanding?”

What good was it for Helen, to function and behave in the human world without her needs being met, without her feelings being understood, without her ideas being important to anyone else? It wasn’t good enough for Anne thank goodness, for what would the world be without Helen Keller? And it is not good enough for me either, when it comes to horses.

Early this year  during an interview for a German magazine, I was asked what makes me sad? It was an easy question to answer but one I think many people will find difficult to understand. But these words from Anne Sullivan come very close to my meaning. What good is an obedient horse with no real thought to understanding them?

What makes me unutterably sad, are the ‘accepted’ norms and behaviours around horses. It is so easy for anyone to be up in arms about down-right cruelty when it comes to horses. The blood rule, bits and gags that look like devices from medieval torture chambers, over-flexion, whipping, tying-up, sacking out, severing nerves….the list goes on and on. These are the easy ones and any decent human would stand up to someone doing any of these things (I hope they would at least!) and speak up for the horse. But this isn’t it. This is easy. The truly sad bits are the day to day things that everyone thinks are okay and are accepted as ‘just the way things are’ when it comes to horses.

When I was asked this question, a picture came instantly to mind. A picture of a woman, riding her horse on a grassy oval, having the time of her life, much as I’d seen thousands of others doing all over the world. I’m sure she felt she loved her horse although at the moment I was watching her, her horse was not feeling the joy. She had lunged him for 30 minutes before getting on, so the poor horse was tied in and down, with little or no option and made to go round and round in mind numbing circles in a cramped position. He didn’t put up much fuss because he was a ‘Good Boy’. So pretty soon he was ‘behaving’ himself and ‘settled’. I would say he’d given up! Then she hopped on. Immediately he was pulled into contact – which continued for the full time he was ridden – kicked almost constantly…not in a rough way but certainly unnecessarily….and pushed forward. With his rider poised over his forehand and hanging on to his head, it was a miracle he could go forward at all. Between banging away on his back as many riders do, and pulling on his head, he got a little upset for a while. He started tossing his head, chewing on the bit and refusing to go forward. A couple of cracks with the riding crop brought on a few pig roots but then he figured out the only way to get any peace was to do as he was told.

This is what makes me sad to the core. A typical horse rider, riding a typical horse, on a typical day. Nothing out of the norm, nothing stand out, just a normal days riding that so many of us have seen, and come to expect as what riding horses is all about.  No real understanding of how the horse feels or what he or she is trying to communicate.  When things don’t go well he is ‘naughty’ and when they do he’s a ‘Good-Boy’.

How many times have I seen this picture before and since. An unhappy horse who is punished for trying to communicate how he feels, the stress and anxiety building up in his body over a course of many years until one day he either just gives up and shuts down completely – and becomes the robotic shell of the magnificent creature he once was – or turns rogue and lets his human know exactly how he feels in no uncertain terms. And hence becomes labeled as naughty and dangerous…..a bastard of a horse.

The ‘naughty’ ones are easy. They are obvious, so we send them to the trainer and try to get them fixed. Or we buy more gadgets to try to control or at least curb the behaviour. But for each of these there are hundreds of the other, who just switch off, give up, withdraw and comply. You know it’s true….look at any add for horses for sale and you’ll see words like, submissive, compliant and trainable littered throughout. It seems everyone soon gives up the dream of a beautiful connection and partnership with their horse and settles for control and obedience.

But what good is obedience without understanding?

How many of us true horse lovers, really just want our horses to do as they’re told? Sadly, probably a lot! Much easier to have an obedient ‘good-boy’ horse than one who can, and is encouraged to, express his real feelings. If he did that, we might have to look in the mirror and realise that the source of all of our horses issues or problems are looking right back at us. It takes effort to change, to develop knew skills and knowledge. But it takes very little effort to care!

I sometimes ask myself why bother? Why bother trying to help people to understand horses, to listen to what their horses are trying to tell them, to realise that it doesn’t matter what they themselves think, but it does matter how their horses feel. To know that communication isn’t just getting our message across, it is just as much taking feedback from our horses also.

Horses shouldn’t chew on the bit, toss their heads, get sweaty from stress, get anxious, be nervous, shy, need to be held back, kicked to go, pulled on to stop, cross-tied, kick up their heals, paw the ground, have their heads tied in or down, need any strength to ‘control’ them, be ridden in constant contact. These and many more things are not ‘normal’, and they shouldn’t be accepted by us as standard practice. It is time we questioned all this and saw it for what it really is. Control in place of understanding.

Imagine if we swapped horses for dolphins! If we rode dolphins with spurs and a bit, in constant contact while we bounced away on their backs. And we kicked or whipped them if they didn’t do as we wanted! If we tied them into a forced position for hours on end. If we kept them in confinement and wouldn’t let them hang out with their friends. And yes….as some will remind me, they are wild animals, not domestic. So that means then that keeping an animal in captivity is an excuse to submit them to accepted abuse?

So, why bother? If, as it seems, most horse riders just want their horses to do as they’re told, to be their possession, to obey and behave, then surely it is a losing battle. But I don’t accept that. I still believe that there are many true horse lovers out there. People who really do want what is best for their horse and who, if they found a way to do it, would do better by them instead of just accepting the conventional ‘just because’ attitude we have at the moment in regard to horses.

What sort of horseman are you? Empathetic or apathetic?

What good is obedience without understanding?

Time to change!

Meredith Ransley

www.MeredithRansley.com.au

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Spurs

Meri and Geoff_EquitanaAnyone who ever uses a spur on a horse, is giving away a lot about themselves as not only a horseman but also as a human. Even if they think they are using them ‘kindly’ or ‘gently’……whatever. A spur indicates that the person is focused more on pressure than release; more on make rather than ask; more on getting the task done than rewarding the try; on getting what they want rather than on how the horse feels. And they don’t understand that even if they get the horse to do their bidding, it won’t last because horses learn by release and not by pressure. If you can’t get it done with a horse without using a spur, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it…..or maybe the answer lies in the mirror.

‪#‎TIMETOCHANGE‬

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‘Accepted’ Cruelty – Why do we turn a blind eye?

HIMtwoWhat is more important? What you want or what your horse needs? When it comes to many horse sports, tragically it seems that the answer is not as it should be. There are very many – actually even one is too many – beautiful horses whose mind, body and soul have been sacrificed in the name of the sport they’re forced to participate in. And sadly it seems, the higher the level of competition, the worse it becomes.

There are some people who would say that these horses are treated like kings. They get the best care, feed, stabling, health checks and so on. This of course makes it okay to use any amount of abuse in pursuit of the sport. If the horse is physically fit, shiny and healthy, it doesn’t matter about his mental or emotional state. As long as he doesn’t bleed from the mouth or sides, all is okay.

How does causing untold and often constant pain, fit in with sharing a partnership and love with a horse? It just doesn’t add up if you stop to think about it for even one second. Did you know that there are horse sports where they’ve had to put rules, such as the blood rule, into place to try and stop some people being cruel to animals? How crazy is that? How would any horse lover, seriously, consider it okay to kick a horse hard enough with a spur to make it bleed? Or use such severe bits and leverage on a horse’s mouth, to cut it’s tongue…sometimes in half? It staggers me that this even needs to be considered. If you don’t love horses and care about how they feel, don’t have one. You don’t deserve one.

How did we get to this degree of violence and cruelty to horses? And why does it make us ‘crazy’ and ‘dangerous’, if we have the skill, ability, knowledge and understanding of horses to be able to ride – if we choose – with nothing on our horses heads? Or backs? Plenty of us do ride in saddles and bridles, but because we choose to, not because we need to.

I’m sorry but where did our love of our horse get replaced by our desire to achieve personal glory? Why is a blood ruling even needed in a sport where one of the participants is an animal? Why are the riders and judges blind or ignorant to the mental and emotional pain of the horse and must wait until they see actual blood drawn before the can say “enough…..this horse is being ill treated”.

#TIMETOCHANGE

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Just who are the crazy ones anyway?

Meri and Geoff_EquitanaI was recently admiring a student of mine as she and her horse rode a round of jumps in a field, total joy on the rider’s face and I’m certain a smile to equal it on the face of the horse. He looked so relaxed and happy and was thoroughly enjoying himself. They were in total unison, both calm and having fun and at the end, she just sat back and they stopped…the horse lowering his head to enjoy the grass. Beautiful. And what was even more special about it was that there was nothing on the horse’s head at all, just a simple string around his neck. And yet he would turn, transition, steady up or go faster with no more effort needed on the rider’s part than a suggestion.

There is nothing unusual about any of this, at least not among people I ride with, as any number of QS students can do the same or similar with their horses. Some with nothing on their horse’s heads – not even a string! – some in a rope hackamore, some with a halter and one rein. Even some in a bridle!

And yet, there are still now huge numbers of people who think that we are unsafe, dangerous and downright crazy. I’ve had people say it to my face and to many of my students – that we’re mad and shouldn’t be allowed to ride like this.

There has been a lot of comment recently about a pair or contrasting photos doing the rounds of the internet. One is of a lady jumping her horse with just a neck string and the other is of a poor horse submitted to so much gadgetry on it’s head, it is heart breaking to even look at. The fear and anxiety shows on this poor creature’s face, as it is to reduced to this treatment that is nothing short of torture. By contrast, is the other horse, happily cruising over it’s jump, with not a piece of metal or leather in sight. And yet the stressed and tortured horse is allowed to compete like this, at the highest level of show jumping no less, but the other is not. Because it’s deemed unsafe….it’s crazy to ride like that!  Where is the logic?  You’re allowed to compete on a terrified, nervous horse as long as you have enough stuff on it’s head to cause untold physical and mental pain, but you’re not allowed to compete on a horse that is relaxed, happy and listening to it’s rider…with whom it obviously has a terrific partnership.

If you stop to think about it, it’s just more evidence of our ignorance when you see this kind of example. If someone wants to ride their horse in a rope halter, or hackamore, or with just a string around their horse’s neck, chances are they feel pretty safe, secure and confident that they have full communication and control of their horse. Why on earth would they want to ride or compete in such a way if they didn’t feel safe? So, telling someone else they aren’t safe when they do this, just says how unsafe you and your horse would be if the tables were reversed. It reflects a lot more on the accuser than the accused. Don’t you think?

The argument is, that at that level of competition, the riders need more control. So what does that mean? That so called ‘high level’ horses are crazy, terrified, right brained and reactionary? That without the use of pain, torture and cruelty they can’t be controlled? That the only way they can jump these huge jumps is if they are thinking more of their self preservation than anything else? And does that also then mean that the ends justifies the means? That it is okay to contain and use any force necessary on a horse, if it is giving high-end results? If this really is the case, why would anyone want to compete in such a sport? If that is what it takes, don’t do the sport. Easy. Just because it can be done doesn’t make it right.

Why would anyone want to ride a horse that is so emotional, reactionary and scared for it’s life that it’s only thought is self preservation. This is why they run away…this is why they buck, shy, rear and stop listening. I wouldn’t ride that horse. Now that would be crazy!

Pain causes fear and fear causes reaction. In horse riding terms a human on a horse that is fearful or reactionary is any thing but safe or in control. How is it in any way logical that a rider on an emotional horse is safe? No matter what type of gadgetry they have on the horse. It’s just another example of the illogical behaviour of humans when it comes to conventional riding. But they knock and disregard the rider of a calm, relaxed, thinking horse because she or he hasn’t resorted to entrapment as par for the course in their ‘training’. Instead they have worked on building a partnership of trust, communication and mutual respect.

I don’t want to focus on the level of cruelty to horses in some sports because this isn’t my point (but it will be in a later post). What I do want to focus on is just where the craziness lies.

We have progressed so much in recent years, with many aspects of our lives and yet people as a whole are still unbelievably ignorant about horses. We accept that horses are dangerous, unpredictable and crazy and that its okay to use force and pain to get them to do what we want. And worse, that even with all this accepted, it’s okay to get on and rider them like this! Yet all the while, there is evidence right in front of our noses that horses need be no such thing. There are many QS students and the like achieving incredible things on relaxed, confident, thinking horses.

‘They’ call us crazy! Because we often ride with no saddle, or bridle, or helmet, or gadgets or anything at all. And yet we have horses who like being with us, are easy to catch, we can and do take them just about anywhere, our horses are calm, relaxed, they have fun, they look after us. They are easy to get going and easy to stop. We can trim their feet without tying them up, led them without a rope, play with them with no fences, or ropes, or halters! We don’t need to give them treats, or punish them. We rarely get even a scratch when dealing with them let alone break a bone…..or worse, and yet all of these things are the stuff that ‘normal’ horse ownership is made of.

So who then are the crazy ones? Time to change!

#TIMETOCHANGE!

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Conversations that leave you……………?????

Amongst the many conversations I’ve had today, I’ve had two about people getting bucked off their horses.

One was about a friend of the person I was talking too, who was riding her horse, got turfed off and broke several bones in her spine and I think also her hip.  She was very, very lucky.  This is someone who has in the past done some horsemanship coaching but not for the last three years or so.  I guess she doesn’t need it anymore.

The other was a lady who was riding her young, green Arab mare who had been ‘broken to trot’.  Last time she rode the horse she got bucked off.  She was “lucky she wasn’t hurt because her husband is still recovering” from an injury involving his horse.  Anyhow…she thought she’d try it again!!!….and took the mare to a show and she didn’t get bucked off so all was good.

I’m not sure what staggers me most.  For one thing, getting bucked off is a serious issue.  It is not a random accident.  It takes a lot for a horse to buck a person off and it’s time we realised this.  Your horse has been trying to tell you something but you’re not listening.

For the other thing, and this is something I’ve never understood, what the heck is ‘broken to trot’?  A horse is either rideable or it isn’t.  If a horse hasn’t been ridden at canter it is not started….period.  If it can’t carry a rider when it’s back comes up such as in a canter stride (or going over a jump) then it probably will buck the next person who gets on it – off!

Phew!…..rather a long thought of the day.

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