On being bigger, and being able to enjoy my horse

By guest blogger Jane Broomfield

So, a couple of things that have been mulling around in my head…
I am not a “small” person. I am quite tall and have shoulders that are wider than most, and I have curves….perhaps not all in the correct place right now, but I am working on it.
I am also, like most equestrians, strong. I have a large muscle percentage and I do not fit in the normal range for clothing. To be honest, this is a general thing, and not just related to “equestrian clothes”. (I not even going to the long boot place today…)
Now, I appreciate that there are companies out there that are making equestrian clothes for the more “curvy” rider, I am not just not sure I enjoy being singled out because I am built a bit like an “Amazon”.
And when they do have the “full” size stuff, it tends to be shaped like a tent. Tents do not look great when riding, especially when competing. And I am not sure my horse would appreciate it either!!

Big does not always equate to “tent shaped”. We need the same clothes as everyone else, just in a cut that does not cut off our circulation!

My horse,Keane, who is a Percheron cross, is really good fun, and he is great to take out and show. But something odd has happened. I have had a number of my fellow competitors stop and say what a cute horse he is, and he seems like lots of fun to ride.
Which confused me….. are their horse not fun to ride?
Looking around the collecting ring… it became clear, no, no they are not. This is an issue that we are seeing more and more. We are buying horses that we are not ready to ride. The following saying comes to mind.
“Most do not need a $50,000 dollar horse, but need a $1000 dollar horse and $40,000 dollars worth of lessons.”
Sometimes, we need to be realistic. We need to determine what we want to get out of our riding and buy the horse we need, not always the one we want.

With thanks to Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

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Women who own horses live 15 years longer!

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

This article talks about a study which found that women who owned a horse lived on average an astounding 15 years longer than those who didn’t!  The criteria for ‘owning a horse’ was that you’d owned one for 5 years of more.  The researchers don’t know why this is the case, but think that perhaps it might be down to more time outdoors and increased levels of exercise, which would make sense.  I wonder if it’s also linked to improved emotional well-being?

Unfortunately I don’t have a link to the original research (if you know it, or happen to come across it, please post the link in the comments!), but I found this link while I was searching, which is a freely available dissertation from Linda Koch towards her Degree as a Doctor of Philosophy in 2008.  Dr Koch talks about the experiences of eight women of the links between horses and emotions.  I haven’t read it all, as there are well over 100 pages, but the snippets that I have read are interesting, and so I’m including the link in case you have the time and inclination to look through it further 🙂  I also found this link which does a ‘personality test’ based on how many horses you see when you look at the picture (I saw 16) – no truth in it whatsoever I suspect, but it’s a bit of fun if you’ve got a few spare minutes!

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What is ‘correct’ training?

By Sue Palmer
Last night on the Ethical Horsemanship Association Study Group Live (basically a members-only online discussion for an hour), we discussed an article titled ‘The Veterinary Basis of Correct Training’ (http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2017/09/the-veterinary-basis-of-correct-training/). Several members felt that it is quite a complex article, and so I am disseminating what I see as the main points here. If you’d like to see what Ethical Horsemanship Association has to offer, you can get 24hrs free at www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk.

An Overview of ‘The Veterinary Basis of Correct Training’ by Chris Hector

Chris was reporting on a veterinary lecture given by a German equine veterinarian, Professor Stadler. I’ve been unable to find anything significant out about Professer Stadler through Google, and would be interested to hear from anyone who knows more about him. There is no date given as to when the article was posted, although from the comments at the bottom of the article, it seems likely it was August or September 2013.

Professor Stadler discusses how the training of horses has progressed through the ages. He refers regularly to Xenophon, ‘pointing out that his essay had aimed to outline a training regime that inflicted the least damage to the horse that is being used…’. In the Age of Chivalry (dates not given), pictures of medieval knights and their steeds bore similarities to the hyperflexion that some horses are worked in today. The Baroque Age (1575 – 1770) saw an aggressive attitude to horses, until replaced by more civilised values in the Age of Enlightenment (1750 – 1780), where equestrianism was led by the teachings of Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere.

La Gueriniere published Ecole de Cavalerie in 1733, a work that stressed three key points:
1. Knowledge of the horse
2. Adequate training, stabling and grooming
3. Maintenance and promotion of health

Around this time the first vet schools were established. It seems that ‘horses has become valuable so veterinary schools sprung up to keep them sound’.

In the 19th century, there were opposing schools of training, including using ‘maximum flexion and absolute head elevation’. The article includes pictures of various of the equestrian masters. in 1901, Otto de la Croix wrote ‘The time has seldom been more favourable for a detailed evaluation of the natural basics of the art of riding. Almost simultaneously we have hyperflexion and high elevation, and the riding world remains clueless who is right.’ Does that sound familiar?!

In 1912 the military published the Heeres-Dienst-Vorschrift (HDV 12), the Cavalry rule book, which became the basis for the modern German training scale. The aim was ‘Teaching riding must result in a reduction of temporarily unusable horses’. Again, does the concept of that sound familiar?! The HDV 12 was last revised in 1937, with the aim now ‘By preserving and promoting its natural abilities, the horse will be brought into a shape and carriage that allows full development of his strength.’

The scales of training that emerged from HDV 12 are well known in the dressage world: rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, collection. In 1997 the FN resolution stated ‘Dressage means gymnastic schooling and careful education of the horse to develop its natural talents, to improve its performance, to maintain its health and to achieve harmony between horse and rider’. These seem to me pretty good goals to have, although I’d probably prefer health to come before performance.

Professor Stadler then moves on to explaining why it is so important for the horse to develop slowly, and to be muscled correctly for his workload. However he feels that the ‘modern riding style’ involves ‘a significant deviation from the natural head-neck carriage’, which over time could contribute to lameness since the horse is using its body incorrectly. He reminds us of the FEI code of conduct, which stipulates ‘at all times the welfare of the horse must be paramount and must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences’. That’s quite some goal to work towards!

One of the things I most like about the article is that Professor Stadler talks about psychological and emotional well being of the horse. Jean-Marie Denoix and Jean-Pierre Pailloux in ‘Physical Therapy and Massage for the Horse’ point out that ‘emotional equilibrium is as important for optimum sporting performance as the physiological fitness of the anatomical structure.’ This is something we’ve known in the human field for many years, but is applied less in the horse world – perhaps because we understand less about the psychological and emotional health of horses?

I love the author’s phrase ‘Psychological stress results in dysfunctional muscle tone and tenseness’. He explains that there can be many causes of psychological stress, including environmental, and he discusses how some ways of going can also cause dysfunctional muscle tone.

The article then moves onto some areas that I’m not always in complete agreement with. There is more discussion around the ‘modern riding style’, but I’m not clear what that style is – to me, I don’t think there is just one style of riding dressage. Perhaps I’m just lucky in that I meet so many different people in my job as a horse physio, and that since these people are employing me to treat their horse, they are by nature more likely to be focused on the physical health of the horse in relation to their training techniques. It’s interesting though that La Gueriniere in the 18th Century felt that ‘impatient trainers attempt to school them too quickly and destroy them’ – this impatience to reach a goal is certainly still seen today, not only in the horse world, and it’s something every one of us can be vigilant about.

There is an implication that the military horses stayed sound for longer than todays competition horses, but I’m not sure how the facts would lie on this. The implication is based on the working life of the military horse (including going into civvy street at the end of his career in the military) and the working life of today’s competition horse. I suspect, though, that unsoundness would traditionally have been less recognised and less relevant in the military than it is in the competition world today.

A 2010 study into dressage horses found that lameness was the most common disease or injury in the dressage horse, but is this because we can’t detect other forms of ‘dis-ease’ such as psychological or emotional, or at least we can’t scientifically measure them? This study found that 20% of dressage horses suffered from back pain, but I don’t know how that was assessed – in my experience the numbers would be much greater, but it depends on what’s classed as ‘pain’, and how it’s measured.

Professor Stadler was very clear that much needs to be done to improve the quality of training of horses, in order to promote soundness and health, and I am entirely in support of this belief. We are all continually learning, and we have some great teachers available to us. However, I feel it is unrealistic to expect the average horse owner to develop the muscle tone and training skills required in order for every horse to be trained to it’s optimum level of performance, and I prefer a more holistic approach, including an awareness of the relevance of tack, farriery, dental work, nutrition, environment and more as well as the musculoskeletal health of the horse. I believe that we should all strive to be the best that we can be on any given day, but that we should also be accepting of our weaknesses, and seek help where appropriate, for the benefit of our horse as well as ourselves.

All too often I see a horse being pushed into discomfort because the rider believes it is their own incompetence that’s causing the problem, rather than recognising that the horse is struggling physically or emotionally. Some are very quick to blame their tools (the horse), others are much too quick to blame themselves. We cannot expect to know everything about horses and riding, especially if we have horses as a hobby. The overriding advice from the 27 guest contributors to Brain, Pain or Training was to have the right support team around you and your horse. Prevention of injury and promotion of health can only enhance the enjoyment of your time with your horse, and asking the right people saves time, money and heartache.

For a list of recommended equestrian organisations in the UK, click here: https://www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk/Network/Links/

For a list of contributors to ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’, click here: https://www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk/Network/

Is your horse’s cup full?

Listening to a book called ‘Playful Parenting’ I heard an interesting description of ‘attachment parenting’. Please note that I’m describing this in my own words and not quoting, but as I recall it the author Larry (Lawrence Cohen) talks about the child having a cup which needs to be refilled often with attention, love, support, encouragement, warmth, hugs, kisses, and all the good physical, emotional and spiritual things that a parent or care giver can give a child. When upsets happen, the child is hurt or their energy is drained, the cup empties a little, and they’ll need to return to the parent for a refill. Some children have leaky cups that need refilling even more often, and some children have broken cups. If a child’s cup becomes empty he will find if difficult to cope, and will often show this through undesirable behaviour. It can be hard as a parent to see that behaviour as a request for a refill of love and caring.

I’ve been thinking for a while about ‘attachment theory’ in the parenting world in relation to working with horses. This description struck a chord with me, because the author talks about how if you make a mistake, perhaps for example you yell at your child when you really shouldn’t have, then the cup is emptied a little and you will need to refill it. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to do a course walk around Gatcombe Horse Trials with Harry, where he described his relationship with Meade his horse when he was jumping around the cross country in terms of banking. He said that when he got things right and helped his horse out, it was like putting a deposit in the bank. When he got things wrong and his horse had to help him out, it was like making a withdrawal. The aim was always to keep in the black!
I think this can apply equally well to the leisure rider who is simply looking for a trusting relationship with their horse. We all make mistakes, have bad days, and take our feelings with us to the yard on occasion. But if the rest of the time we can balance this with oodles of time, affection, and as much understanding as we can manage, then hopefully we can keep our horses cup full.