Way back in early 2006 I was at a clinic with Ken Faulkner. Ken Faulkner - Australian Horsemanship It was the first session of the day and a student walked in (or at least tried to) leading a stunning black mare, she was about 4 or 5, and she strutted into that arena with almost flames coming out of her nostrils! The owner was struggling to keep her in control, and so the Ken asked if she would like him to work with her.
He proceeded to work with the mare to help her become more focused on him, instead of everything else around, and she began to settle and calm down. When he returned to the group the owner said to him “she can be really naughty” and he said “no, she just has her party clothes on, and she’s not ready to go to a party”.
He went on to explain that the mare was in peak physical condition, shiny, well muscled - ready to enter a royal show, but she had not yet received the education she needed to be able to ‘handle’ her party clothes.
Over the years I must have heard Ken use the term “party clothes” a thousand times. And it’s true - there are many ways to say it;
Too much feed, not enough work.
Over fed and underworked,
I get it, we all love a good looking horse, myself included, but if we are going to feed them, rug them, stable them, or any combination of the 3, we must understand that this is fuel - fuel for a body and a mind that might not yet be ready for it.
And fuel that the rider may not have the skills to ride.
Horses are made to eat grass, walk long distances to find it, and that’s about it.
Through domestication our horses travel less distance, have high nutritional food available year round, have it delivered to them. This lack of stimulus surrounding forage, coupled with energy that has no way of being burned off, can often lead to;
Stereotypical behaviors such as;
‘Bad’ paddock behaviors such as;
Poor behavior in handling and riding such as;
Short attention span
Not wanting to walk
A few ways we can avoid this issue:
Have a diet custom made for your horse - his workload, his access to forage etc. we use and recommended CEN Horse Nutrition - use tkh5 at the checkout for discount
Adjust feed to workload (for a lot of people this means to reduce feed during the week when feed is minimal
Put the work into your horse before you put his party clothes on!
Understand it is ok (and actually normal) for your horse to drop condition in winter.
Remember we aren’t suggesting you have horses in poor condition, we are suggesting that you have your horse in a condition that is relative to his workload.
Enjoy the ride!
July 30 & 31 - Liberty clinic, Port Macquarie NSW
August 7 - One Day. Laterals to connection and collection. Maclean Nsw
August 13 Cowboy Dressage Gathering Glenreagh NSW
August 18 - 27 Cadillac horse course 10 days, Glenreagh NSW
September 3 & 4 - Connection & Self Carriage - Gold Coast hinterland QLD
September 3 & 4 - Cowboy Dressage clinic Wauchope NSW
I recently saw a video of an (imo) unskilled colt starter, using archaic and frankly cruel methods to start some horses under saddle.
The claim was that all horses buck, and the correct way to teach them not to was strap a saddle on, leave them in the arena to ‘figure it out’ and to come in and chase them either on horseback, with a quad, or with a car, every couple of hours, until they just didn’t react anymore.
Those of you who follow my page have seen my many articles on learned helplessness, and can probably come to your own conclusions about what is happening to these horses mentally.
Those of you who are reading and think those methods are needed, should probably step aside and let those of us with the skills to do it without, do it. I’ve started plenty of colts and none found the need to buck with the saddle.
The point to this post is the other part of his video - where he says “this will upset the snowflakes”.
“Snowflakes” being used as a derogatory term to somehow undermine anyone who disagreed with his method and stuck up for the horses.
I just wanted to let you all know,
When enough “snowflakes” come together it becomes an avalanche.
Avalanches destroy anything or anyone stupid enough to think they can stop them.
My friends, continue being part of the avalanche for the horse
I was late to the mechanic today. My car was booked in at 8am sharp, and I rolled in the driveway at 8.05.
Many may read this and think that ‘5 minutes’ doesn’t really matter, and I guess 100 years from now it won’t. It did however get me to thinking about something my mentor said to me many years ago.
I was attending his clinic, and I was already ready to go in the arena, like many others. It was about 8.55am for a 9am start and I was chuckling about one of my fellow attendees who was ‘faffing about’ still brushing her horse and saddling up. I said “I don’t think she is going to make it” as I saw his gaze cross over to her. “You watch how it reflects in her horsemanship” he said - and then he had my full attention.
I must have looked at him with a quizzical expression because he went on to say “it’s true. If you watch the people that are late, then watch them with their horses and you will see it makes a difference”.
Over the years I have learnt that there are many areas where this is reflected.
Rushing. Usually when you are running late you have a ‘hustle’ in your movements. This is picked up on by the horse and can translate into confusion in aids and a general air of anxiety in your interactions.
‘Good enough’. If you thought that 5 minutes wasn’t really a big deal, this can translate into a ‘good enough’ attitude. “Oh he did the movement, it wasn’t perfect, but it was ‘good enough’. Good enough is the enemy of excellence.
Loss of training and learning time. Every 5 minutes is 5 minutes you could have learned something, trained something or taught something. Did you know that if you miss 5 minutes per day on a 5 day week, over the year that is 21 hours of training!
It would be remiss of me to not mention the impact to others. Turning up late to a clinic or lesson is not only disrespectful to your coach who has made the effort to be on time, but is disruptive to your fellow students.
Back to my being late to the mechanic. I had allowed 1.5 hours to get there, and it is usually about an hours drive, however certain things happened at home which caused me to get on the road late. At 7.55am I was still all set for being on time, but then was caught in roadworks just before the mechanics shop. This caused a delay of 10 minutes. I could ‘blame’ the roadworks, but at the end of the day preparation is not about leaving 45 minutes before your appointment when you know a ‘good run’ gets you there in 45 minutes. It’s about leaving an hour or an hour and 15 minutes before to have time for any ‘unexpected’ issues.
As we practice this preparation in our day to day life, it is reflected in the quality of our horsemanship.
July 30 & 31 - Liberty clinic, Port Macquarie NSW
August 18 - 27 Cadillac horse course 10 days, Glenreagh
September 3 & 4 - Connection & Self Carriage - Gold Coast hinterland
September 3 & 4 - Cowboy Dressage Wauchope
Shine by CEN Horse Nutrition
Restriction of movement
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
As horse owners, at some point we are going to restrict our horses movement. Tieing him up, trailering, stalling, stabling and riding are all ways we can restrict the freedom of movement of our horses, and a necessary part of horse ownership.
But did you know that the way you restrict movement has a huge impact on your horses mental health, and can promote calmness and confidence or shut down and learned helplessness depending on the who, what, when, where and why?
It is so important that we look past the apparent success of our task, and consider the body language and processes of the horse.
For example, a horse that is tied, trailered, stalled etc and goes through a phase of distress or fight (calling, pawing, fighting against ropes or panels), and then arrives at a place of ‘calm’ could have succumbed to the final phase in the prey animals survival mechanism - acceptance of death, and is simply demonstrating this. It is often after this acceptance phase that ‘learned helplessness’ kicks in, as the horse also arrives at the understanding that he has no further options.
Prior to the acceptance of death phase comes;
Do the opposite of what the predator says
Run away from the predator
Fight the predator
Push into pressure
Accept your fate.
This is why the idea of ‘letting him figure it out’ in the cases of separation anxiety and situations of that nature can appear to have ‘worked’ as the horse gives up his options.
Restrictions of movement can also result in a horse that appears more trainable, quiet and accepting, as he believes he has no alternatives.
I am not suggesting a world in which we do not restrict the movement of our horses, as this would be both unrealistic and unsafe, but one where we consider how we are training these things.
Take hobbles for example - You can throw a set of hobbles on a horse, let him fight, struggle and figure out he can’t go anywhere, and you’ll have a horse that is ‘hobble trained’, but he will also have a little bit less spirit. Introduce the idea of hobbles through training and confidence building, and you’ll have a happy and confident hobble trained horse.
Teach a horse to be trailered by loading him and then ‘quickly shutting the back’ so he can’t escape will teach him he can’t leave the trailer - but he may still be worried and tense about it. Teach him to load confidently and with time, and you’ll have a horse that trailers confidently.
Teach a horse to look to you when he is anxious or worried because you know what to do, makes him feel confident and happy in your presence, rather than teaching him he can only rely on himself, even after asking you for help.
In closing, it is crucial that we remember that one of a horses natural coping mechanisms to stress is to move their feet. Taking this away doesn’t remove the desire or need, it simply causes the horse to shut down and look for alternative coping methods, for example stereotypical behaviour such as weaving, crib biting or a complete disconnect to the environment.
I’ve had the pleasure of judging Cowboy Dressage for the past 2 days at @black_horse_lodge gathering.
Over the course of teaching, I meet a lot of riders who don’t compete. They may have competed in the past and no longer want to, or they may never have competed and feel nervous about competing.
I personally gave up competition for nearly 10 years, as I felt it brought out the worst in me, and was no longer a benefit to my horses. I returned to competition when I found cowboy dressage, and more recently ranch.
Competition can offer both the horse and rider great benefits;
🐴 Measurement of progress. Competition can offer us valuable insight into how we are progressing with our training. Judges feedback gives us unbiased evaluation of our and our horses skills.
🐴 Testing our training. Our horses may perform perfectly at home. The competition environment can give us great feedback on how our horse performs with external stimulation.
🐴 Inspiration. Heading out to a competition can help us become inspired as we watch fellow competitors perform on their horses.
🐴 Motivation. A competition deadline can be the motivation we need to continue working our horses in adverse conditions like weather.
The gathering over the weekend was well run, a fun, encouraging and friendly environment for people to show their horses at their best.
If you have been avoiding competition, why not nominate - it could just be the best thing for you, and your horse.
Huge thanks to Leigh and Paul at Black Horse Lodge for their hospitality and organising a fantastic show, thanks to all the volunteers, my super scribe Candy, and congratulations to all the competitors - you were great!
Not a frequently used word when it comes to our horses, more common we hear
‘Just get on him’
‘Make him do it’
‘Tell him to suck it up’
And truth be known, there are probably many things that our horses might ‘prefer’ if we didn’t do - veterinary treatments, worming, and sometimes riding and saddling. But just because we are going to move on and do something anyway, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to help a horse become happier about something, listen to his concerns, and even help him change his mind about something.
Take this little guy. I’ve been working with him and his owner to help get them working together as a team, and confident with each other. Over the course of a couple of clinics we found a few things that Dusty was bothered by, one of which was the saddling process. But he didn’t show ‘bad behavior’ when it came to saddling - he didn’t do anything at all - he ‘zoned out’ and disconnected from the process.
At the basic level this is a concern to me from a safety perspective - if a horse is disconnected from what you are doing, then they can ‘come to’ at any moment and react badly. But from a connection perspective, I don’t want my horse feeling like they need to ‘disconnect’ from what we are doing, in order to cope with it. I’m not familiar on his history so I can’t explain why he chooses this mechanism to cope, and there are many reasons this could happen.
So we started working around consent - asking him permission to put the saddle on. Now many of you might be thinking ‘of course he isn’t going to want the saddle on’ and this could be true, but the process of simply having this conversation can completely change a horses outlook on life. He goes from “do whatever you want, you are going to anyway” (a form of learned helplessness) to “oh, we get to talk about this, can I have a look please” (curiosity and interest).
With this guy we had to go waaaay back to the beginning and simply wait, hold space and ask him to even look at the saddle. Yes look.
This is a process I go through with all of the colt starts or restarts that I do.
Over time we have slowly progressed to looking, touching, feeling, consent to put saddle on, to the rider. We are essentially helping him change his mind from ‘this sucks, people suck’ to hmm maybe this is interesting.
Consent isn’t just a conversation we should be having with our kids. It’s one we should be having with our horses
Train with us
July 9 & 10 - Vaquero/ Hackamore clinic, Glenreagh
July 16 & 17 2 day clinic Fernleigh, NSW
July 30 & 31 - Liberty clinic, Hunter region NSW
August 18 - 27 Cadillac horse course 10 days, Glenreagh