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.