Building confidence in the consistency of inconsistency.
Sounds crazy right ?
We are working with a young warmblood at the moment, we have been going through a colt starting process with her to get ready for her ridden career.
As with any untrained or green horse, there are a lot of ‘new things’ for them to learn, and as such each lesson can look different from the day before.
This can quickly build uncertainty in the horse and develop anxiety, and worry when it comes to training sessions.
The solution is to make the ‘new stuff’ part of the routine, therefore building confidence in the process - giving the horse an understanding of what is going to happen.
When we are going through a training process I want the horses to have;
Confidence around a specific task
Confidence around the learning / teaching method,
And a confidence in the routine.
With the young horses having so much incoming new information it is vital that they get confident around ‘new information’ and that ‘new information’ becomes part of the consistency in training.
Within a few days colts learn that the ‘routine’ is a recap of something that they have learnt, a lesson in something new, and, depending on how the new lesson went either a ‘finish’ on the new lesson, or back to a recap if they struggled.
Part of my philosophy is that a horse always leaves the arena with their head held high, feeling great about themselves.
Train with us
June 11 & 12 Holistic Equine Education Lithgow NSW
June 18 & 19 Foundation clinic Glenreagh NSW
June 30 & July 1 - Cowboy Dressage clinic Glenreagh
July 2 & 3 - Cowboy Dressage gathering, Glenreagh
The patience pole, or, the ‘tree of knowledge’ is an exercise in basically tying the horse up to a pole or a tree, where they will remain tied up for hours or days.
Sometimes it’s 5 hours.
Sometimes it’s overnight,
Sometimes it’s for days.
It’s a long accepted practice and approach to teaching our horses to have patience, manners and the skill of standing tied.
The result is a horse that is standing tied, appears to have ‘respect’ and ‘manners’.
But why does it work, and what psychological and psychological impact is it having on our horses ?
The patience pole restricts our horses movement - both from a perspective of moving from one place to another, but also from the perspective of lowering his head, scratching, self soothing, and having a full range of motion - for an extended period of time. Of course all horse owners restrict movement in this way - when trailering, riding and tying - and our horses must have this skill, but the patience pole is designed to extend this to the extreme.
When we look at our horses survival mechanisms a horses 5 steps to survival:
1. Do the opposite of what a predator asks
4. Push into pressure
5. Accept my own death
The act of tying a horse to a ‘patience pole’ causes him to go through these processes - and eventually accept that they cannot escape, cannot fight, cannot push, and are going to die here. The act of not behind able to scratch or comfort themselves, defend themselves, all cause a ‘shut down’ coping strategy to kick in.
The more we learn about our horses physiology, the more we must reconsider these types of practices.
A horse when stressed is in sympathetic nervous system - fight or flight - and when we restrict that process from playing out, we prevent learning, and growth.
For a horse to come back into parasympathetic nervous system - rest and digest - he must move his feet, graze, and lower his head - all prevented by the ‘patience pole’
When a horse is unable to process from sympathetic to parasympathetic as nature intended, he enters ‘freeze’ as a protective mechanism.
This article isn’t ‘anti tying’ - my horses will happily stand tied for hours, and if they were in an emergency and had to -
All night or all day, BUT, I don’t want to take anything from them, I want to educate them, nurture them to become confident, mentally and emotionally balanced citizens.
There are ways to teach your horse to safely and confidently tie without ‘letting him figure it out for himself’ and breaking him mentally and emotionally. It just takes a little bit more time, effort and skill than just tying him to a post and walking away.
For the horse
We had this little guy at a clinic recently. He is fairly green in his education, and he more recently had a bit of ‘spooking’ happening, and had gotten away from the owner on the ground (spooked at something, and pulled away).
Even though he has been being ridden, we noticed he was not comfortable with the saddle at all, and in fact was quite spooked when it made a sound (not great when you want to ride him!).
So phil started working with him on the ground. One of the first things Phil had to establish was that he couldn’t get away (this can be a huge, and dangerous issue), so Phil helped him by teaching him to look to him when he ran off, instead of running off - this began with Phil putting in a hindquarter disengagement to his focus (not needing to physically touch him).
This starts on a smaller circle, and then you continue to make the circle bigger, until he is able to come in on the 22’ distance - note this comes from the hindquarters and not from pulling on his head.
Phil also worked on establishing a better feel in the halter.
All of this was done with the saddle on - a great way to help him be confident simply moving around with a focus, with the saddle on.
Phil then asked him to circle at the walk, trot and canter - and at the start, the little horse would take off even at the walk.
Phil held space and gently guided him to a stop, or a hq yield when he got anxious, to help expand his ‘thinking zone’, so instead of taking off, he began to think that stopping was a better option, and the stopping allowed him to reassess the saddle and realise it wasn’t so bad. With Phil's kind guidance it didn’t take long until he was confident at the walk, and tolerating at the trot - he still took off at the canter - it is so important to realise that increasing the gait reduces the horses ability to remain calm about something he is worried about.
So Phil did the same at the trot - gently guided him and showed him it was much more comfortable to come back to a walk, rather than take off.
By the close of the session the little guy was confident at the walk, cautiously confident at the trot, and able to tolerate at the canter.
In future sessions the owner will work on increasing this confidence in all gaits until it can be relied upon.
The vital parts of this session were;
Phil remaining calm
Phil remaining connected to the horse
Phil keeping the conversation going
Phil showing the horse the comfortable spot
Phil giving the horse time to think, and also helping him
I often hear the train of thought - “just leave him, he will figure it out” - well, he might, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot more stressful for him than if you just helped him along.
After all aren’t we supposed to be the “superior” species.
By now, many of us here, in many parts of Australia, could be forgiven for mentioning that we are a little bit sick of the rain. We say this gently, as just 3 years ago when we were ravaged by fires, that came following a drought, many of us made the statement ‘we would never complain about rain’ again.
This is such a tricky subject, and one that I see people getting into strife with quite often, so I thought I would offer a few insights which may help you navigate the path to finding your next partner horse.
The 2 major ‘rules’ I have when it comes to choosing your horse are;
🐴 Have a list and stick to it! This will help you go past a lot of the adds you will see with a horse that might be tempting, but doesn’t suit - your criteria should include gender, height, age and breed.
🐴 ASK YOUR COACH - believe me your coach wants you to get the right horse, and will have an unbiased assessment of the horse you are looking at - this helps you remove the emotion, and also helps you avoid being star struck by all the ‘bells and whistles’. The last person I helped buy a horse had a very healthy budget, and we still took over 6 months to get one - but trust me when I say - he is perfect 🤩
🚻 Gender - yes hormones must be taken into account! Mares cycle and can be extreme in their responses, stallions or late cut geldings can be a handful - if you are a beginner, inexperienced, or needing to build confidence - go for a gelding - they are more often ‘the same horse everyday’.
📆 Age. I don’t care how ‘trained’ the young horse is - young is young and needs further education, and maintaining education - it’s that simple. When your kid gets their drivers licence they are ‘trained’ to drive a car but we all know a couple of years experience behind the wheel is not as solid as someone who has been driving for a decade. Young horses are for experienced people. Period. ‘I got a young horse so we could learn together’ is not a thing - it’s not fair on the horse, - horses need calm confidence to be calm and confident. It’s not fair on the rider either. Green on green makes black and blue.
Breed. We’ve been specifically breeding horses for jobs now for a long time - thoroughbreds are bred to be fast, others are bred to be shown, drafted, cutting, reining etc - breeding can bite you on the butt in both function and longevity - halter horses aren’t bred to be work horses, downhill horses aren’t bred to be collected, know what the horses breeding has been for, and understand the importance of it. Choose wisely.
Training. Your horses previous training has a significant impact on his idea of what the world of riding means - know and understand what it means for your horse to have been a ‘speed events’ horse - it means they think their job is to go fast 💨 and you will spend a long time trying to train them out of it (if that’s not what you want). Also know what it means for your horse to have been trained for arena events - sometimes this means your horses has seen arenas and Showgrounds and not much else - so if you want a quiet trail horse, look somewhere else.
Height - seriously consider what you are wanting height wise - I see many people still buying the horse they wanted when they were a teenager - a 17hh black Warmblood, whereas now you might be more confident and comfortable on a shorter horse. Just because you are tall doesn’t mean you need something tall - plenty of 6 foot riders can ride a 14.2 horse without it ‘looking odd’
What do you want ? Take the time to picture the experience you are wanting to have when it comes to horse ownership - some quite trails with friends, maybe some fun days out at working equitation, ranch or cowboy dressage ? Then buy that horse! Don’t buy a horse that is young, or bred to race, or that has some troubles, or that isn’t broken in yet! I meet a lot of students who say ‘oh I didn’t want to buy a horse that was already trained as I wanted to do that’ and yet they have 3 days a week to ride, and frankly not the experience to train a horse - and the trained horses aren’t always easy to ride - you learn so much from those ones as you can focus on your own learning and not the horses! Trust me when I say you will have fun, be safe and learn TONS if you buy the trained horse (and when I say trained I don’t mean 2 months with a trainer being broken in).
Alternatively if you want to train a horse and develop your skills then be ready to say no when friends ask you to go on a trail, or something like that. Be ready to have the trials and tribulations that come with young horse development. Be ready to ‘go backwards’ in your training.
I hope this article is helping to put some clarity into the minefield that is buying a new horse - and please know that I am not anti and breed, gender or age (I pretty much own them all!) what I want to see more of in 2022 is people smiling, enjoying their horses and having FUN.
Day to day, choice to choice, decision to decision. We are either finding solutions or finding excuses.
As adults we have usually established our core beliefs, our way of ‘looking at things’ and our ‘typical responses’ - so much so that it becomes habitual to us.
I often post training tips or concepts, and inevitably I will get a few responses in the negative - as in ‘well I can’t do that because xyz’.
Often it’s an excuse, and just as often it’s a reason - and to my mind the difference between an excuse and a reason is validity. For example this morning I didn’t want to go the full distance on my walk (4 kilometers), and around the 1 kilometer mark I started thinking ‘well today I’ll just go to the mill’ instead of going all the way to the 2km marker, effectively cutting my walk short.
My excuses ? I’m tired, it’s muggy, I’m already fatigued and I’m not even half way yet - all true, yet none holding any valid weight to cut my walk short. If I had a reason it would have been an actual thing that would prevent me going the distance (like a medical reason).
That said, sometimes it can be really easy to begin using our ‘reasons’ to ‘opt out’ more often than not.
As an adult I have had to retrain my brain to search for solutions - even with valid reasons.
We have to realize that everyone has reasons - at some point we all suffer from physical or mental challenges that prevent us from doing what we love - but instead of choosing ‘I can’t’ maybe we should challenge ourselves to start thinking ‘how can I’
Take care xo
An interview with Noelene
• Why did you book into your TKH Clinic and what did you hope to gain from it ?
I had recently purchased a (very large – 17.3hh) warmblood gelding at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t until I got him home and was exposing him to different things/environments that I realised he had a frightening problem with anxiety that I just did not have the experience to deal with. His anxiety gave me anxiety which created a crazy and unsafe snowball effect!
I started to feel like a failure and thought this should have been something that I was able to deal with. I ended up selling him on, but I felt like I needed to do something to address my lack of knowledge and understanding of horses, not just focus on getting better dressage scores. So I started my quest to become a better rider and horse person!! I put a post on Facebook asking for recommendations for horsemanship clinics in Northern NSW and Tanja came highly recommended! I really liked how Tanja had a focus on helping female horse people especially to gain back our confidence.
I was hoping for a relaxing weekend, meeting new and likeminded people (absolutely ticked that box!!) and what I was mostly hoping for was some “tools” that I understood HOW to use and WHY I was using them to help an anxious horse be more controllable. Hopefully I could deal with a horse similar to my warmblood gelding again in the future.
• How was your TKH experience different to what you expected?
Wow, in so many ways! I was expecting just to work on controlling and lowering anxiety levels in horses. What I didn’t expect, was that I would come away with an entirely new perspective on how to train my dressage horse. I have been to a number of dressage trainers in the past, most will have you riding circle after circle after circle. When you do get the movement right, we would then do it again and again.
I now look at training totally differently. To be able to teach the horse to break down more complex movements on the ground first then under saddle was a totally new concept to me. Also, the idea that I should STOP after getting the right move (even if so subtle to begin with) and let the horse have a breather…
sounds so simple right?
Also, I use to feel anxious if there was something different going on, I.e my neighbour’s kids kicking a ball around, etc but now I see it as a training opportunity and a valuable way of teaching my horse to lower her anxiety.
I’m now looking for ways to slowly “introduce stressful situations” to my horse so we can work through it together.
• Horsemanship is usually not synonymous with dressage training. How do you think the horsemanship has helped you with your dressage?
I know right! And I have absolutely no idea why. Tanja trains all of the same dressage concepts - such as self-carriage for the horse without pulling/bracing on the horses mouth or insisting on an impeding “frame”; to have a horse that is willing to move off subtle cues, be “sensitive to the aids” and changes in our bodies energy and to have a happy and relaxed horse are what I have always been striving for in my dressage horse!
I structure each training session differently now. I think about training one or two things each session and think about how I can ask for it using the subtle cues I have taught my horse on the ground. When she gets it right, even only just right to begin with, I stop and let her have a breather.
Also, I do strengthening exercises and stretches every day to help develop the muscles in her back which are crucial for a dressage horse.
• What surprised you most about the clinic?
You can have a horse that is HAPPY to do dressage work, that is willing and relaxed. You can perform dressage movements without harsh aids, over repetition, bracing on the horses mouth or creating anxiety in your horse. There is a better way to work with your horse.
Groundwork isn’t only to reduce anxiety and make your horse easier to control, it can be used to create a sensitive and willing partner.
• What was the biggest take-home from the clinic?
I’m now starting to listen to my horse and use my intuition. I’d always felt like I wasn’t confident enough or experienced enough to really know what was going on with my horse, but watching Tanja work with the horses during the clinic has made me realise that I should be watching, listening and responding to what my horse is trying to communicate to me. Not just throw the saddle on and go.
I have always loved my horse, but I now feel like I’m starting to really SEE her.
• Is there anything you'd like to add?
Can a warmblood do Cowboy Dressage? lol