Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things Horses Can Teach You


A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future. As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation's "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off" just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard- less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day. When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.  -Anon

Agreed – I think horses can teach you all this and more.  You learn responsibility when you have horses; as I said to a friend of mine the other day, owning horses is not all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns.  It’s hard work, but like many things, hard work is it’s own reward.  : )

See ya!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bite the dust


Yeh, so I bit the dust today, and not in the I’m-riding-fast-and-it’s-very-dusty-&-windy way either…  Joey, whom I have rechristened Sparrow incidentally, bucked me off today.  It was totally my fault though ~ I scared the living daylights out of him apparently!

See it went like this: we are in our lesson, trying to achieve a true right canter lead.  He does the left lead beautifully, but on the right, if I go straight for even one stride he’ll pop in a flying change{!!} and switch leads.  So we’re working, working, working on it; pushing past counter canters, and disunited canters, and he gets it right.  I wanted to make much of him, but couldn’t pat him or he’d take advantage and switch leads again. 

So I cheered.  Rather loudly too…  Ooops!  Next thing I’m above the horse, knowing I’m done for, hitting the ground{butt first ~ it hurt}, and rolling over while Sparrow heads for the gate.  My instructor said that he totally freaked out.  Which is all well and good for him, but of course I’ve got to get up and do it again, hopefully sans the bucking and falling off part!!  : /

I won’t lie, my legs were shaky.  It’s been quite a few years since I’ve taken a fall that bad.  I have come off a couple of times, but it’s never been a “What-The-Chocolate-Fudge-Brownies-Just-Happened??!!??” fall for oh, at least six years?  I have been able to feel it coming, rather than today’s BAM!  OUCH!  Oh, I’m off…

It’s rather disconcerting to say the least.  Still, I hopped on and the boring end to the story is that we did it again, got the correct canter lead, managed a full circle this time, and didn’t even have a hint of trouble.  I don’t think Sparrow did it to purposely dump me, but of course there is no WAY I am going to give him any clues that he can do that again!!!

In fact, I hope that never EVER happens again.  I used to think that I was pretty good a sitting a buck, but I didn’t even feel this one coming, so I certainly don’t want to test him {or me} out.

On the upside, I think he’s going to be pretty nifty at dressage ~ he was doing beautiful flying changes on both leads, left and right.  It was funny, but he taught himself to do them all in one go!  The first time he tried it on the left to right lead, he only changed his front end, and ended up cantering disunited, but after one or two turns like that he got himself sorted out quick smart! 

He certainly is exceedingly fast on the uptake, and he’s good at sorting his own feet out.  I am really happy with how the whole lesson went barring the one, rather major, incident that saw me tumbling in the sand. 

He’s moving into my paddocks this weekend, so we’ll see how he goes with a change of scenery.  Should be fun!  : D

See ya!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Developing Work Ethic in Horses

reading horseDeveloping work ethic in your horse ~ well, I didn’t know that you could actually do that!  I always sort of assumed it was mostly came down to a horse’s personality as to whether or not they would work willingly for you. 

But yesterday I found out that while I had considered things that I needed to do to keep my horse happy while working; i.e. not destroying his work ethic, I hadn’t considered that on the flip side that I might actually be able to go a bit further and do something to encourage work ethic in my horse.

 “The varying personalities of our equine friends might convince us that some horses just have more “try” than others.  However, a horse’s life experiences and how they are raised have a lot to do with how their personality develops.  Establishing strong work ethics takes time and dedication and once they’ve been established, if we’re not careful, they can all too easily be destroyed. …

 A horse that has been put under too much pressure or has been asked for extensive, repetitive hard work can quickly lose some of their “want to” and willingness to please.  It might be unrealistic to expect our horses to prefer loping in the arena to snoozing in the sweet clover.  However, we can all benefit from taking advantage of opportunities to positively influence our horse’s attitude toward work.”

In retrospect, it makes sense. After all, we know that if you over do it on the flatwork, your horse will go ‘sour’ ~ get cranky, not work well; basically his work ethic will be destroyed.   But what can you do to encourage a horse’s work ethic?  What does a horse with a good work ethic even look like?

There a lot of differing views on what a horse with a good work ethic looks like, but from all the different horses I’ve ridden I tend to think that a horse with a good work ethic tends to try to figure out what it is you want.   They actually try.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t have their grumpy days, or that they won’t ever be naughty, but I think that you can tell the difference when you are on their backs as to whether or not they will actually listen to you and try to figure out what it is that you want. 

A horse with good work ethic also tends to be more forward going{now having said that a horse can start with out not being forward going; then become forward going and gain a good work ethic!}; although you do have to take into account horses that are naturally forward going and horses with quieter, laid back personalities. 

It ultimately comes down to willingness and softness under the saddle and in the bridle and you’ll know it when you feel it.   So how do you encourage it?

1 –  Fitness.  Firstly, you need to take care of your horse’s physical needs.  If they are unfit, or their tack is causing them pain, etc, they will be unwilling to work; just like you would be if someone told you to run on a twisted ankle!

2 -  Engage their minds.  Make sure you don’t fall into a set routine.  If your doing flatwork, change the exercises up, or try schooling out in the paddock instead of the arena.  You could jump logs instead of fences, practise bending around poles instead of barrels, or how about skipping the saddle and riding bareback?   This is particularly important with young horses that get bored easily.
3 – Treat time.  If the famous Lipizzan horses from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna get sugar during their workouts, it wouldn’t hurt to give your horse a little something once in a while.  Do be careful not to over do it though, if your horse becomes insistent, or expects treats, then you might end up spoiling your good work.   

4 – Treat time times two.  If sugar, liquorice or carrots aren’t your style how about a nice long trail ride?  Most horses love getting out and about and trail riding, cross country or bush bashing are a great way to clear out the cobwebs. 

5 -  Mix it up.  Vary your training regime to prevent boredom.  Two days flatwork, one day trail, two days flatwork, one day jumping ~ etc.  Keep the flatwork limited to two days consecutive and don’t forgot to throw in a little cross training. 

6 – Be consistent.  If you allow dodgy corners and sloppy transitions, then your horse is going to think that that is okay, even when you don’t want them to do it ~ like in a dressage test or at a show!  Insist on getting it right every time.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accurate.  Repeat your exercises if necessary ~ even little things like straight lines and corners.  Go over it until it’s acceptable and don’t settle for less.

7 -  Praise.  Lastly, but probably most importantly; if they get it right; let them know!!  If you are having trouble with a certain exercise, go back a step and do something you know they can do.  If you set the horse up to succeed,  and you praise them, fuss over them and generally tell them they are good until you tongue falls off, they will be happy to try the harder exercise again.  If it’s a big breakthrough, like you’ve been working on it for weeks, get off!  Give them a massive pat and turn them out.  Nothing says “Great job” like stopping work!  ; D

Taking care of your horse physically and mentally will get them in the right place to work easily and from there on in, it’s easier to encourage them to work with you instead of against you.  Here’s to happy riding days!

See ya!


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