Press Article - March, 2001
horses are willing to live and work within human boundaries.
always exceptions such as the horse with a nervous disorder,
severe chemical imbalance or dysfunctional temperament. But
for the most part horses have acquiesced to the world of people.
As youngsters, foals are socialized both with us and their own
kind to find their place; they grow up learning how to balance
their own weight and gradually how to carry us feeling like
top-heavy bags of sand. We balance and rebalance together and
establish a basic level of communication to take us forward,
left, right and in reverse.
As we season
together, layers of communication become deeper and more subtle.
Our voices, body weight and distribution, pressure, vibrations
and adjustments become a common language. Along the way, however,
the horse may begin to show signs of disagreement with your
pronunciation. That breakdown in communications can happen with
an old friend or a new horse you have just purchased.
time again, I have observed riders and trainers handle these
problems with a "quick fix" or a "band-aid"
approach. Many will initially change equipment adding a tie
down to control the head, a more severe bit to slow the horse
and access steering, a martingale of one variety or another
to add leverage, a tighter cavasson to keep the mouth closed,
a whip in each hand and spurs.
way people try to modify a bad behavior is to change the horse's
training: for example, wearing him down before the rider gets
on by lungeing him in small circles at a canter for 15 minutes
each direction. The idea here is if he's tired enough he won't
misbehave. He won't have the energy to do anything else but
to submit to the rider's commands.
others, the answer is to simply get rid of him by selling him
or sending him to another trainer. Some horses are shopped from
one trainer to another, each person trying their methods, equipment
gimmicks, feed supplements, farriers and exercise regimen. Even
the more conscientious trainer who gives the horse a chance
by starting from scratch, re-establishing balance in all movements,
will slowly but surely give up on a bad actor because they are
not willing to stop and rethink the origin of the issues.
trainers usually give up on horses because of the desire for
performance within time and money constraints. Safety concerns
can also arise from bad behavior, adding even more fuel to the
flame and quickly condemning the horse to the auction block.
a better way. Stop with the horse and conduct a thorough physical
evaluation to try to determine the origin of the behavioral
changes. Money and time may be saved and the horse will likely
return to a safe and tractable temperament once you've connected
the problem to the behavior..
the origin of your horse's issues, start with the mouth and
work your way through the operating systems.
horse's mouth examined by a professional master dentist. You
are probably already aware of annual teeth floating from your
vet but this is simply scratching the surface. A dentist will
arrive with a speculum and a myriad of tools to level, align,
balance and thoroughly check out any ulcers, abscesses, lesions,
discolorations, lacerations or swellings which may be irritating.
Mouth issues cause headaches, TMJ issues, biting difficulties,
improper mastication and digestion.
has a sheared mouth, meaning her incisors have always been angled
slightly sideways instead of the uppers and lowers meeting equally
in a relatively flat and solid contact. Having her mouth realigned
and leveled when she came into my ownership produced a profound
shift in her behavior. She has greatly improved in attitude,
her willingness to accept the bit, her happiness and comfort
in work and movement. I am able to ride her in a simple noseband
with no flash. Her mouth remains quiet and moist in a simple
French snaffle. The older she gets -- she's 19 -- the more regularly
I must pay attention to how her mouth changes to make sure she
is comfortable and eating well.)
a vet and/or chiropractor give your horse a thorough going over.
(Colorado law states you have to be a vet to practice equine
chiropractic therapy.) Have the vet watch your horse move, turn
and back up. They should also be looking into saddle fit as
they move over the horse's withers and back as well as the chest,
between the shoulders and through the girth area. Every aspect
of the skeletal structure from the jaw through the ribs to the
pelvis and sacrum needs to be evaluated for health and function.
It may take a few sessions to get the horse totally comfortable
again and you may have to have the horse adjusted every few
months while he is in training. Humans and horses experience
subluxations and articulations of bones and joints, which leads
to pain, spasms and ultimately injury. If these misalignments
are corrected in a timely manner, injuries and pain can be avoided.
vet and farrier to evaluate the balance of the horse's feet.
In many areas of the horse world, the horse can be the unfortunate
victim of trends and styles. In the case of the foot, it's long
toes, high heels, squared toes, no heels, and so on. Balance,
trim and shoe the foot for the horse to stand "into"
his feet most positively, and forget about the fads.
there's saddle fit. Your horse's body and shape change often,
and your saddle must be able to accommodate those changes. Seasonal
weight changes, muscle development, age and types of work alter
the placement of the saddle on the horse's back. If you are
not sure of the fit, hire a specialist to come out to your barn
and give you a comprehensive evaluation. The saddle should be
checked with and without a pad, with and without a girth, and
with and without the rider in walk, trot and canter. Remember
that padding is to keep dirt and sweat away from the horse and
saddle, and is not meant to be used as a saddle fitting tool.
The integrity of the saddle fit should always be based solely
on the saddle. If you are not in a position right away to change
your saddle or have it restuffed, ask your saddle fit expert
to provide you with shims. These are thin wedges, which can
be placed under the saddle in various positions to improve fit
temporarily. Make sure the professional shows you where and
how to use them.
basic steps to finding the origin of the behavior issue, you
can consult with your vet on other areas such as feed and feeding
schedules, supplements, salt, water quality, allergies, turnout,
worming and vaccinations. If the horse is suspected of having
systemic issues, blood work and x-rays may be in order.
changes (too neurotic or too dull or stubborn), an inability
to bend and/or an unwillingness to accept your aids or cues.
Mixed messages and a lack of understanding between horse and
trainer, an unbalanced rider, or the absence of ground work
can also contribute to behavioral problems. However, nine times
out of ten, you will find the primary source of the disagreement
in the form of a pain or discomfort issue.
horse the chance he or she deserves by simply stopping your
program and investigating the real issues causing poor behavior.
Find the source of the pain and you will find the source of
the behavior problem.
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D. Midkiff's new book, She Flies Without Wings: How Horses
Touch A Woman's Soul (Random House, Delacorte Press)
is now on sale at Amazon.com