Women & Horses Women & Horses (tm)  by Mary D. Midkiff

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1 - Systems and Individuals
2 - How to Ask A Horse to Canter

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The Women & Horses Newsletter - May 2006

Systems and Individuals

The methods of teaching children and how they learn has always been a source of heated debate in our society. We created different school environments - private, charter and public - to teach our children because we cannot agree on a curriculum or delivery method. What they all share is the reality that the individual who does not learn as quickly or in the same "style" as other children can easily fall behind becoming difficult in temperament and frustrated at the lack of “success” as measured by whatever system he or she is in.

While some children will do well because they are instinctively smart or figure out ways to work within the system, others would fare better if in more individualized programs based on their learning “style” and rate of absorption and processing of information. Home schooling has become increasingly popular, along with specialized learning centers that try and address a child’s individual needs. We now better understand that a “C” student might be an “A” student if the learning were based on visualization; a failing student might rise to average or above if the learning were based on touch and feel, for example, as it might be if associated with animals. Teaching and the metrics of success should be based on how each student can learn best and most effectively process information.

I believe horse training should follow a similar path to more individualized learning.

During one of my demonstrations at the Minnesota Horse Expo in April, I encountered two very different horses. They were both strangers to me, and I met each of them with the identical approach and watched the reactions. I intentionally introduced a common denominator in this case.

First, I rubbed W&H InBalance Oil into the palms of my hands.

I approached the three-year-old filly with my hands open to her and let her smell and take in the aromatherapy. I rubbed my hands around her muzzle and nostrils further infusing the aroma into her brain. I spoke to “Storm” gently as I stroked her face and applied acupressure above her eyes, behind her ears and on her upper neck points, then asked the handler (her owner JoAnne) to take her for a walk. The filly stretched her neck and yawned numerous times and went down to the end of the arena. I asked for time and patience for the filly to absorb the chemical shift I had given her. I asked her to wait there while I worked on the other horse.

I approached the second horse the same way. He was a five-year-old stallion who was full of himself and acting out with his handler. I used the oils on my hands, offered it to him and massaged his muzzle and nostrils. The handler warned me that he would bite if I weren’t careful. He did not bite. I started working on his upper neck right away as I could tell this horse was very tense. I also massaged the nuchal ligament area at the top of his mane line and massaged his withers to try and bring down his blood pressure.

This horse was a beautiful, athletic horse that clearly exhibited the characteristics we know in humans to be Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD. His issues had not been addressed outside of the stall. His owner told me that in the stall he was quiet and mannerly. He presented a completely different set of issues from the filly who was still relaxing down at the other end of the arena. These two horses were closely related and yet the stallion was nervous, hot, agitated, bucking, pawing, and jerking his handler around. The handler had a chain around his nose and a tight hold meant to control him. His tail was bound up because (they said) he didn’t like his tail hanging down naturally. I found this to be very curious and unwound his tail. I spent several minutes massaging and lifting his tail and stroking all the way down his tail giving him a comfortable feeling.

I talked to the handler about being the calm "rock" with him and constantly going to the neck and wither massage while walking him to bring him around at least for 30--second or 1--minute intervals of “attention” from him. I recommended that the crowd not applaud at the end of the session and that we let the stallion walk back to the barn in a quiet and mannerly way.

The filly clearly was calm and happy within herself, while I felt the stallion needed a great deal of ground work (without chains on his face) along with aromatherapy, Rescue Remedy, a possible de-toxing of his system, massage, acupuncture and acupressure and short sessions where he could totally focus on his trainer and learn to contain and behave himself.

In a large training operation, as in a large public school system, this stallion might be isolated from other horses, handled with chains and poles, tranquilized, over-equipped with draw reins and tight nosebands, and treated with force in training.

The filly might be able to adjust to a large training operation where horses can become numbers rather than individuals, but the stallion, in such circumstances, would become the proverbial train wreck, seen to support the stereotype of the incorrigible, difficult, rank, rogue of a breeding horse. As a child, he would have visited the principal’s office, been repeatedly sent to detention and sentenced to drug therapy.

With appropriate attention, the stallion would have a chance to become a happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved, comfortable, safe horse for his entire life.

There are thousands of horses that don’t fit the "average mold" and fall somewhere in between the quiet, calm filly and the obstreperous stallion.

How does your horse process education the best? Is your horse functioning at a safe, happy, comfortable, well-adjusted level?

Treat each horse individually and you will find over time how to best teach and train them with the respect and trust they deserve.

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How to Ask A Horse to Canter

I was recently asked by a beginner for the best way to get her horse to canter. No one needs to struggle with this transition as it can be brought down to simple terms off of the horse.

1) While standing on the ground in an aligned manner, place your feet approximately 12 inches apart and pretend you are sitting in the saddle. In this position both legs are at or near the placement of the girth around the horse.

2) To ask for the left lead canter, widen the knees out and gently squat (just a slight ballet plie) and slide your right foot back. The toe of your right shoe should be just behind the heel of your left shoe or the right foot is one foot’s length behind the left.

3) You are standing with the left leg at the girth, the right leg behind the girth with slightly opened knees.

4) Your hands are equally connected to the horse’s mouth and elbows soft near your waist. Now think about sinking slightly down through your lower spine, scooping your tail bone slightly deeper toward the ground and doing a pelvic rolling tilt up toward your left leg. (I keep emphasizing “slightly” because these are very subtle moves inside of your body.) All of this happens in one movement. It’s as if you were dancing in this position rolling your pelvis underneath you and up with the left hip joint.

5) You can do all of this movement while sitting quietly on the horse in an aligned position. When you engage this entire movement, the legs, the seat and the hip joint into one you are saying "Canter" with your body. But you have to be “free” in the hip joints for your message to be clear, which means you need to stretch everyday and strengthen your core muscles to maintain your posture.

6) Practicing while mounted on the horse is the same, except that you will add the leg pressure as well. Use a 20 meter circle to learn the canter at first with someone experienced to lunge you. Find a nice balanced trot on the circle, go into the sitting trot for a couple of strides, place your legs into the canter aid position as described above and simultaneously squeeze with both legs (keeping the knees open is a must for the female rider to maintain the balanced seat) and give your horse the cue to go forward with your seat by slightly rolling under through the pelvis, with the emphasis up and to the left. I teach to squeeze or gently bump the horse with your heels from both legs because in the lower levels of training you emphasize the outside leg aid and in the upper levels of training you emphasize the inside leg aid. By using both legs, it will help you get the canter while you are learning and your horse will be clear about the aids. In the upper levels, your horse will not be surprised when you start shifting the aid more to the inside.

For the right lead canter, employ the exact same process using the left leg behind the girth and the right leg at the girth. The scoop under with the pelvis is the same, except this time you will send your hip joint toward the right shoulder of the horse.

Once you have the canter, sit quietly, squarely with even legs again and focus on your direction between the horse’s ears. If your horse is lazy, breaks from the canter easily or is not balanced yet, you may want to hold your canter aid leg position. If you feel him loosing balance or beginning to slow too much, reinforce the outside leg aid with a little bump with your heel. This will remind him to stay in canter at an agreeable rhythm.

I hope this helps and simplifies this cue or aid. (In western style lingo it is "cue" and English style lingo it is "aid".) It is just like taking a dance position and putting it into action. In fact if you have ever tried cantering yourself, you will generally be in the right leg position.

**A Helpful Hint: Worm your horse during a full moon. The worms are the most active at this time and you will get the most efficiency from your wormer.

Maggie Parker and I are working madly to get the next Dynamic Rider System® DRS installment ready. Stay tuned and happy riding!


Mary Midkiff

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