Tag Archives: horseback riding

Nurturing the “Seeking Mechanism” in Horses

The “seeking mechanism” is a part of most mammals, according to neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp, author of the book and concept, Affective Neuroscience, the study of  the neural mechanisms of emotion. For the sake of understanding our horses, it is a huge part of what makes us interesting to them. Curiosity about food, what we’re doing, what we might do with them, can help nurture and define our training process.

In nature, horses will seek different types of grasses, seek shelter, water, companionship, safety. Those are basic needs. How do we engage their interest? Is it always with a cookie, or can we engage them in other ways?

At the same time horses spend all day doing repetitive actions, such as moving each other off food, or space, and so that may seem very dull and uninteresting to us. They are moving each other for their health, and to find out what the other horse might be eating that might be more tasty. And that brings us back to the seeking mechanism. With their noses to the ground, they are seeking new plants, smells and experiences.

This type of natural foraging isn’t something we can provide much of in the west. Our grasses get eaten and take awhile to grow back since we have limited rainfall. But when rainfall occurs, grass pops up overnight, and the horses’ excitement about those new shoots is noticeable.

Here are some ways we can foster curiosity in the horse and get him interested in what we might have to offer:

  1. Take an interest in what your horse is interested in. This may not be easy to do if you’ve got limited time, but it can make a huge difference to how the horse views you and how relaxed he feels in your presence.

When you think about other humans, it’s difficult to be in the presence of someone who has no interest in what you’re interested in. In this way, horses are a lot like us.

Jicarita Peak ride, 12,000 feet elevation

2. Change things around. Ride somewhere different, do some of your schooling on the trail or down the road in someone else’s arena. My horses always loved the trail, though I know all horses don’t. I took them everywhere, all over our state and three adjacent states, riding new trails.

 

 

Take the focus off the horse. Kids get so immersed in what they’re doing, horses can often find them fascinating. In order to be more interesting, sometimes I’ll take a piece of tack to repair and sit with the horses, so I’m fully engaged with something other than the horse. In this photo, Kaiden is playing with one of his toys, and Patches wants to be a part of it.  Little did I know at the time that building a fort would be an activity of interest for my young mare, Jazzie.

 

 

 

4. Introduce something new. While my mares are not very interested in toys, my geldings have always enjoyed big exercise balls. You can see the different responses of these four…

Little Gizmo
Fearless Khami
Patches showing off

 

 

 

 

Zuzka is not thrilled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Add laughter to your day.  I’ve had some funny experiences with laughter and horses.  Once in a clinic, we had a very shut down horse who thought humans only wanted him to do things, so he simply went through the motions like a robot. We changed things up and brought him into the arena while we were doing a human energetic exercise. People began laughing as they practiced being horses and played with the idea of moving each other around. This horse Tank was so curious about the people laughing that he came to hang out with us so he could be part of the fun. This changed everything for him. From thereon he began to have fun and got very engaged with each person who worked with him.

Tank wants to be part of the fun

Jaak Panksepp did a lot of research on varying topics, but one I love is the research on laughter in non-human animals. He researched primates, dogs, and rats, but no horses. While I have no clinical research, I think it would be fun to see if horses emit sounds like laughter, and will laugh with us. Certainly sometimes their expressions suggest that they do!

(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)

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Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops. 2018 calendar is developing! Workshops scheduled for Santa Fe, Florida, Wisconsin and Oregon!

Tank joining the group

 

 

 

When should I ride my horse?

This question comes to me often: When can I ride my horse? How much can I ride my horse?

Jazzie_trail

In our society, there is a strong push to get horses back to work after an injury or illness, just as there is with people. If you have a surgery, you can be back to work pretty quickly these days after some procedures. The problem with this is that the body may need longer to recover and may be playing catch-up.

At the same time, movement is essential to the health of the body. The horse may need a gradual curve of gentle techniques and movement exercise before actual work. Surgery interrupts the regular function of  the body. Any injury or surgery affects the entire organism.

The liver controls tendons and ligaments, for example, so when tIMG_0324hose areas are affected, the liver is deficient in fluids and therefore the tendons and ligaments are also not getting vital fluids and don’t move as efficiently.

I use the example of a horse hitting its head really hard and getting stitches. Just because the vet has deemed him “fine” and patched him up, doesn’t mean he is ready to roll. The horse may exhibit strange behavior after the bump on the head, sometimes neurological symptoms such as wobbliness. Or sometimes symptoms take years to manifest.

I’ve often asked clients if their horse has had a head injury at any time, because of something I’ve seen happening (or not happening) in the body. “Oh, yes, ten years ago he hit his head on the trailer but it healed up just fine.”

As we know, our bodies hold a road map of everything that has happened in our lives, and horses’ too. Everything – physical, emotional, you name it, it’s in there. That’s why every injury or illness needs support from within, not just from without.

Usually the vet will have a timeline for when to begin hand-walking, or lunging your horse after an injury. The timelines after specific injuries, such as ligament and tendon injuries, falls, illness, etc. will help you understand how many weeks of one activity you may have and how long to engage in it. You will have to depend on your knowledge of your horse and how he is feeling to know whether the vet’s expectations meet what your observations bear out.

Z_cavalettiWhen I was endurance riding, our ride vets would remind us that we knew more about our horses than they did, in one way. We were around our horses all the time. We knew their habits, and we knew when they were doing fine and when they were not.

My gelding Khami was a funny example of that. He used to like to sleep flat out on the ground, while tied to the trailer, with his eyes wide open, when at an hour-long vet check. The local New Mexico ride vets knew this habit of his and didn’t worry. When we rode in Paonia, Colorado once, he did this and the vet was frantic. He said I must get my horse up, he was worried and couldn’t find any vital signs. Khami got up to see what all the commotion was about, but he was very well rested. His vital signs were fine and he went on to finish a 2-day 100.

The question of when to ride your horse is going to vary with some horses a great deal. It depends on whether they are fit to be ridden, and for how long they can be ridden. It depends on their age, and their temperament and training. The saddle and bridle. The person who is riding them. The owner may have to modify his/her expectations of what the horse can accomplish for awhile.

I look at a lot of factors:

  • What is his facial expression?
  • Can the horse cross over behind?
  • Is he shrinking from touch anywhere on the body?
  • Can he lift his legs?
  • Can he stride forward on all four legs?
  • Any swellings or inflammation, stiff places or obvious injuries?
  • Does the horse hop like a bunny, lope like a giraffe?

Since I have a roller coaster experience with one of my horses — sometimes he’s sound and sometimes he’s not — I’m really tuned into this question. People may say, well, he’ll warm out of it. Maybe yes, maybe no. I want to understand the problem and help him with it, before I ask more of him. I want to ride in such a way, if I’m riding, so that the horse does not become more stiff afterwards. The exercise, whether riding or ground, needs to support and heal rather than set him back.

And when I do ride him, I ride him gently, and therapeutically, going over cavalettis, gentle trots, sometimes on uneven terrain, exercises designed to strengthen his muscles, tendons and ligaments. I must check in with my own body and do a Mounted Body Balance session on myself to make sure my body is not restricting him in any way. I try to focus on the things that feel so good about riding him – he’s so peaceful to ride, I love the way my legs drape down his sides. I love that I can sit his trot, he feels like an ocean liner. I continue to ride and mix it up, doing some Equine Body Balance on him before or after each ride, or in between, which supports the exercise we’re doing.

With the horse who may not want to lift a hind leg but is otherwise sound, yes, you can generally ride the horse, but we need to continue to work on why it’s hard for her to lift that leg. With the horse who can’t disengage behind, there is something more complicated going on that needs to be addressed. Some suppling exercises added to the program of bodywork will help with that in a lot of cases. You can possibly ride that horse in a straight line but not do any lateral work. I may need to look at how the rider’s position may be impinging on the horse’s movement. We may add some gentle suppling ground exercises to increase lateral flexibility. If the horse is having trouble raising a foreleg or striding forward, I want to flex the forelimb to find out where restriction is without causing pain. Sometimes the problem is at the far end of the horse from what appears obvious.

While the body is complicated, with its elegant and efficient network of nerves, blood, bones, lymph, muscles, nerves, tissues, organs, etc., it is possible to support the health in the horse with non-force techniques specific to certain conditions. When we are mounted, we can increase our knowledge of how our bodies affect our horses and how they might also help us so we can be more comfortable and efficient in the saddle. This work plus self-care can do wonders for horses and their owners, making it easier to develop a treatment/ rehab program that best suits their needs.

(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)

Related link:  What? No more riding?

Please see my

Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops.

 

 

 

Leadership revisited – both horse and human

 

JazziefaceIn horse training, leadership is discussed a lot. If the person doesn’t have leadership, the horse will not be as responsive to them. There are people who are born with innate leadership. In horses, leadership potential can be recognized the moment the foal drops to the earth.

A breeder friend of mine once said, of certain foals, they recognized it in themselves and you as a person could immediately recognize this presence, this ability to be a leader. It wasn’t necessarily attached to physical attraction or size. It generally has to do with the presence of the individual and their awareness and caretaking ability, of other members of the herd.

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Horse-olutions for 2017

I am not one to make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t want to get upset with myself for not keeping them. So my “horse-olutions” are ones that can be easily be accomplished and kept in mind during the year.

herd_grooming

Personally, this year, my holiday was wonderful in that our two older grandsons came to visit. What was not so great was that throughout their visit I had very painful sciatica. While I work with people and horses on painful physical conditions, it’s another thing when it’s happening to me and others need to make room for my disability in their life.

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What? No more riding?

Many people have expressed to me great sadness over not being able to ride a beloved horse anymore. In many cases, it’s not just that they want to ride, they want to ride their own horse, whom they have spent countless hours riding, who is no longer rideable for health or other reasons.IMG_0240

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The spectrum for horse and human

There is a spectrum from 0 – 100+ or maybe more in terms of engagement and levels of interaction for horse and human.

Oliver_Tina2016
Oliver takes a really long time to come over to Tina to get treats.

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Build a horse bridge from “the way we’ve always done things” to true liberty

Lately, I have been suggesting people go back to the traditional “the way we’ve always done it” training and see if they see a difference in the way their horse responds. Does she like it or not?

IMG_0797 Continue reading “Build a horse bridge from “the way we’ve always done things” to true liberty” »

The great unknown of rescue horses

Everyone who has taken on a rescue horse, or a horse from families who have passed them on, or a horse they have purchased, but then found the horse really is a rescue – experience the great unknown.

Cathy_Ambertalking Continue reading “The great unknown of rescue horses” »

Liberty Foundation Training: What’s the Point?

Liberty Foundation Training for horses is the most subtle kind of work you could be doing with a horse. Because it is so subtle, sometimes its purpose can be missed.

Anne with Cherokee, photo courtesy of Rene Trebling
Anne with Cherokee, photo courtesy of Rene Trebling

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The robot horse

Have you ever met a robot horse?

IMG_0728 Continue reading “The robot horse” »