August 2, 2011
Why Dressage Training for Your Fjord
Dressage means training. Ridden and driven dressage training has been the classical main stay of horse training principles for generations. Volumes have been written about methods used to train horses in dressage. Though I have taken some ridden dressage lessons I prefer driven dressage as my body ages. My favorite book on the subject is “ Driven Dressage with the Single Horse “ by Sandy Robinowitz.
In her glossary of terms Sandy defines Dressage in the following way; “The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose, and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the driver”.
What more could we ask for? Her book is easy to read and well illustrated with line drawings.
So training for driven dressage trains the horse’s body as well as its mind in a methodical, sequential, and layered way. Thinking about training in this way results in a happier more confident horse and a happier and more confident driver.
If your goal with your horse is to drive up and down flat roads in mostly straight lines driven dressage will still help a lot. Dressage helps even more when you want to drive your horse in circles and arks such as in an arena. When you begin to understand dressage, then driving Pleasure Shows or Combined Driving Events CDE becomes much easier and makes more sense. If fact, driven dressage is the foundation for the CDE.
Norwegian Fjord Horses are well suited to driven dressage especially at the lower and mid-level range. I have competed in American Driving Society ADS pleasure driving shows and CDEs around the country with my Fjord ponies. If you want to show at the highest level you will need an exceptional Fjord with loads of athletic ability. But that is the case with any breed. Exceptional Fjords do exist and have reached the top levels in both ridden and driven dressage.
At the lower levels the horse needs to show good rhythm and relaxation along with being submissive to the bit and aids. The horse should show a good relaxed dynamic walk and a nice working trot. Fjords should be able to score very well in the Training Level tests all the time. Once you have mastered the Training Level you already have a mighty nice driving horse and your driving skills and attention to safety and proper harness and hitching techniques will serve you very well. And you will have a happy well- balanced horse.
January 5, 2011
Reading your Horse;
Trust and Respect
When you are together with your horse either you are training your horse or your horse is training you. Often people are not aware that they are being trained by their horse while your horse is always aware that either it is being trained or it is training you. So you need to learn to read your horse.
Often people assign human traits, human reasoning, human motivation to our animal friends. As I see it horses is horses and people is people and dogs is dogs and fish is fish. Certainly we have motivations and responses in common but we are different. In a horses life the space they take up and the space they can control makes a big difference. It’s about how they make a living.
So if a group of horses is out grazing the one that can graze wherever it wishes to graze and whenever it wishes to graze is the top horse. The one that is lowest on the pecking order gets what is left over. Often the boss horse enforces special control even when it seems not to make any difference. It is in the horse’s interest to maintain discipline just for disciplines sake, just to make sure the other horse understands its place. While the horses further down the pecking order are always testing in small ways, then in larger ways to see if it is possible to move up the rank.
So horses are testing their people as well constantly. You might think they are putting their head in your space to be cuddled but if you did not invite the horse into your space the horse has taken space from you and it knows it. The same with its hind end. When a horse swings its hind end into your space it is threatening you to a lesser or greater degree. Horses bite and horses kick and they can strike with their front legs and they can run over you and knock you down or push you into something. These are some of the ways that horses hurt people when the horse does not respect the person’s space.
In the end I believe horsemanship has a lot to do with trust and respect. The horse needs to respect my space and I need to be able to trust my horse. I don’t like to get hurt. I need to respect my horse in its ability as to what it can or can’t do and my horse needs to learn to trust me in that I will never hurt it or allow it to be hurt. It needs to learn to trust me so when I ask it to do something that is not in its interest it will do it for me. If there is little or no respect from the horse for the handler the horse will evade or resist. And if it is used to winning these little tests it will win the big tests as well and the horse will be essentially useless as a mount or a driving horse. But the horse will still make good company as long as you stay out of its space. Just hand over the food.
The horse has trained you to this end by winning the small tests. Often the handler has no idea of when they are loosing the small tests. Either the handler is unable to read the horse or they choose to ignore the small things. And small things lead to big things. To turn the table and gain respect it is important to enforce discipline in small ways just like the lead horse in the herd. Spacial issues and giving to pressure are little things and big things. Sometimes you enforce seemingly less meaningful discipline, the small stuff, just so the horse fully understands who is giving directions and who is taking directions. If you are successful with the small stuff the big confrontations never happen.
When your horse understands what space it can feel comfortable in and what you expect of it the horse learns to trust you. And the horse is much happier, less nervous and more comfortable.
If you give the horse meaningful work to do it will be even happier since meaningful work is life’s greatest blessing for man or beast.
December 3, 2010
Horses need to learn to walk before they run
Horses need to learn to walk before they learn to run. Once you have accomplished all the ground -work and preliminary steps needed to saddle and ride your horse or hitch your horse to something to pull and the horse seems reasonably comfortable with the task, it is important to be mindful of how you proceed. So the horse should already know how to stand quietly, stop when asked to whoa, and turn right and left. You have steering, brakes and a park. Reverse isn’t real important yet but the horse should have been introduced to the back command during the groundwork.
During each training session (every time you handle your horse you are training it or the horse is training you) I like to start with a calm walk after we have stood quietly for a period of time after mounting the saddle or mounting the cart or carriage. Perhaps the horse will start out with its head high and very alert. I want the horse to be aware and willing but I want the horse’s head to be in a relaxed athletic position. I am looking for a relaxed flat -footed walk to begin with. Eventually the walk should be relaxed and rhythmical.
I want my horse to take contact with the bit as it walks rather than avoid contact with the bit. When the horse has accepted contact with the bit, has a nice relaxed and rhythmical walk, then some trotting strides are in order. If the horse continually avoids contact with the bit maybe you need to make adjustments with the bit you have or try a different bit. I have come to believe that a bit that offers tongue relief is important for Fjord Horses. Whatever it takes, your horse needs to learn to walk well before it can learn to run.
It needs to learn to walk straight and it needs to learn to walk in comfortable circles both right and left.
November 1, 2010
A Standing Horse
My horse mentor often said that the most important gait for a horse was the stand. I have to agree. I feel the horse needs to learn to first tie well then learn to stand well. After that it can learn to walk and then trot. The canter comes after that and then the gallop. If it can stand it is much easier to work on the other gaits.
The stand is important when being tied, when being tacked up and when being mounted or hitched. The stand is important when things begin to fall apart. If you have a good stand built into your horse you have a measure of safety and you may be better able to relax if your horse is able to stand still and relax. A horse is unable to learn much of anything positive if it is unable to relax. The stand just doesn’t happen it must be trained. And it must be in the forefront of the training scheme, an early goal.
After the horse learns to tie and stand still I begin to lead it and ask it to stand still. At about 2 ½ years of age I teach the horse to walk in a circle on a lead rope say 4- 10 feet long. I start first with maybe 4 feet of line out with the lead line in one hand and the driving whip in the other hand. Sometimes I might use a chain under the jaw but I rarely jerk the chain I just rattle it to help them understand whoa. The first thing I am looking for in this exercise and the thing I continue to enforce is that the horse focuses on me and what we are trying to accomplish. When the horse is in motion I am looking for a slow controlled walk. I ask for several pauses or stands. We go both to the right and to the left. I want them to start, stop and stand on command. With controles in front and in back and just a short amount of line out it is quite easy to get the right response. After they get used to the exercise I let out more line as long as I get the same results.
If they get sloppy I pull them in closer so we are eye to eye again.
After they are ready for a saddle or for harness I ask them to stand with their working dress. You can draw a box around their legs with a stick in the sand. If they move, reposition them inside the box again. Once they can handle this they are more likely to stand when hitched or when mounted.
When I tack up my horses with either saddle or driving harness I ask them to stand still with the lead rope draped over my left arm so I can stop them if they decide to leave. When I mount the horse it needs to stand still for the count of 200 before we leave. The same goes for hitching. It takes just a short time and they understand that standing still is just part of the game. Standing still away from the barn and away from their buddies is more difficult.
When they want to go I ask for the stand and try to let them go just before they feel they need to go. Often it is very difficult to get them to stand alone away from the barn so I do the best I can then bring them home and ask them to stand where we usually unhitch. Here they are usually ready to stand still but I don’t unhitch them. After a period of standing ( it is nice to have someone to talk to at this time to distract the horse ) we go back to the field for some more work. After this routine the horse is much more likely to be ready to stand out in the field or on a trail especially if the horse has had enough work to get it a bit tired.
Another challenge comes when you take the horse away from home but eventually with consistent calm enforcement of the stand command your horse will learn to stand anywhere. Remember to use a calm rather than sharp voice for whoa and stand commands. A sharper or louder voice increases the energy in a horse while a calm low voice tends to lessen the energy in a horse. If your horse moves even one foot that you have not asked for it is running away. Stand means stand.
There may be other ways to reach the top of the mountain but these techniques seem to work for me. Do what it takes but do get your horses to stand still.
October 21, 2010
Horses Need to Learn to be Tied
When I first got started with Fjord Horses I was eager to learn as much as I could about horses. Still I am eager to learn as much as I can about horses. One of the more important lessons I have learned is that a horse should lean to be tied. Why? In my world a horse that can tie is much easier to teach to lead for starters. A horse that can tie quietly has learned a measure of patience. When working multiple horses it is nice to be able to tie those that are waiting to be worked. Your veterinarian will appreciate your horse more if it will stand quietly while tied. In an emergency when suddenly you need to attend to something more important it is important that you can quickly tie your horse and have confidence your horse will not become part of the problem. Think trail riding. Your partner's horse just spooked and dumped her. Her horse may be scared or hurt and your friend may be scared and hurt. If you can quickly tie your horse and catch and tie your friends horse you can attend to your friends needs.
I think it is best to teach a horse to be tied when it is young. Probably the younger the better but I usually start to tie them when they are a month old or so. I tie them next to their mother who is also tied. I use a small baby horse halter that fits a foal. At first they may struggle a little but they soon understand that they can stand still while being tied especially if their mother is standing quietly close by. It is important to be close by in case they need assistance if they get tangled. But don't step in and untie them if they begin to struggle. If you let them loose when they struggle a little they will soon learn that if they struggle you will give in. And they will use that strategy forever with you. If you wait for them to grow older and stronger the struggle can become much more vigorous and difficult but it is possible to teach a horse that is older to tie as well. You may need to use a body tie with a lead that follows through the halter or a neck strap with a short lead that follows through the halter. The neck strap works for horses that become adept at scraping off their halter while tied. If they scrape it off once you can bet they will scrape it off again. And if they scrape it off again you will never be able to tie them and be sure they will stay tied unless you use a safe wide neck strap together with the halter. I use a neck strap that dairymen use to tie their cows for this purpose.
My horse mentor said, “Tie them two feet or twenty miles”. Two feet of rope between the halter and the tie is about right in most cases. Just make sure their heads are not tied so high that they are unable to relax. If you tie them too long they will start to eat grass and probably get tangled in the lead rope. That can lead to lots of problems. Learn to tie a bowlen knot or another knot that can easily be untied.
I tie my horses together inside the barn and give them a little grain. In doing this they are very willing to be tied so they get the grain. Since they are tied close to their buddy they tend to be quiet. Later I will tie them further away from their buddy and in the end I tie them out of sight of their buddy. In this way they begin to learn to get along on their own and begin to solve the problems of being herd bound and barn sour.
The next problem with tying a horse is that it often will begin to paw. You can stand or sit close to them with a buggy whip and tap their feet when they begin to paw. If you do this concistantly eventually they will learn not to paw. I am one to hobble them when they paw. In the end I want to be able to bring the horse to a horse show or to the national forest or to my neighbor’s place to ride or drive. The people at the horse show your neighbors and the national forest ranger does not want large holes pawed in the ground where your horse has been tied. So it is important that your horse learn to tie quietly without pawing or tearing up the ground.
Ideally the horse should stand perpendicular to the wall and it should respect you when you walk up beside it. That is to say the horse should not move into your space or threaten you with its hind end when you come up beside it. Rather the horse should yield to pressure from both sides to step over when asked as it is tied.
My horses get to live in a pasture with other horses day in and day out. For all that time they are able to do just about anything a horse wants to do. When I bring them in they are on my time and I want them to focus on me and help me accomplish the things I want to do with the horse. Sometimes what I want to accomplish is for them to stand quietly tied until I am ready to work them. Sometimes I just want them to stand quietly tied. That is their job for the few hours they are on my time and it is a good basis for other work we have for our horses.
In the end I expect to have a horse that I can drive to the woods, unhitch, tie and stand there while I saw firewood, load the firewood and then re-hitch and pull the firewood home. I need a horse that I can tie to the trailer when I am at a horse show or off on a trail ride. The ultimate test is to have a horse you can ride several miles into a wilderness area in a foot of snow, tie the horse to a tree and know that it will still be there to take you back to camp when you are finished hunting for the day.
Like I say, I like to tie my horses and the practice serves me well.