Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sky Angel Cowboy

Logan, 13 year old, called the Sky Angel Cowboy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Understanding Rein Aids


By Faith Meredith
Director of Riding, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

WAVERLY, WV--Beginning riders often 'mythunderstand' rein aids. They initially view them very simplistically in the same purely functional way they view the steering wheel and brakes on their cars. And, to be fair, that is all many new riders can manage in the very beginning. However, as they move up the riding tree and finally gain the holy grail of an independent seat, they learn how to apply rein aids properly as far more than simple indicators of direction and speed. When they can use their seat and leg aids to shape the horse in the direction of travel, to indicate the gait, to set the rhythm, and to regulate the horse's speed and impulsion, they can use their rein aids to manage the subtle coordination of all of these performance parts. Until they have that degree of control over their own bodies, they can work on the 'parts' of applying rein aids correctly until the two come together.

For starters, the rider's hands must be in the correct position. Hands should be close together on either side of the horse's withers. As the rider looks down, the thumbs should be the highest point and the pinkies should be closer together than the thumbs. When the hands are in this position, there will be a straight line from the knuckles through the wrists to the elbows. The line of the wrist should neither break toward nor away from the rider's body nor down or up relative to the forearm. The hands should slightly in front of the saddle. Their height above the horse's withers will vary depending on the horse's conformation and frame but the line from the bit to the elbow should never break. The elbows should rest relaxed at the rider's sides. Keeping elbow joints relaxed allows elastic rein contact.

Secondly, a steady grip on the reins is essential for steady bit contact. For that reason, I require all my riders wear gloves, especially in hot weather when hands can get sweaty. While the decision to wear or not wear gloves may be an individual one, riders must achieve 'grip' without 'gripping.' If they tense their hand or forearm muscles in order to keep the reins from slipping through their fingers, they cannot achieve the soft, elastic contact that is the ultimate goal. Riders can experiment, if necessary, with reins of different widths or different materials to find a set that allows them to grip the reins comfortably without the kind of gripping that tires muscles and interferes with an elastic feel of the bit.

Finally, when horse and rider are in motion, riders must hold their hands steady. This means the hands move neither up nor down, nor side to side, relative to the horse's withers. The steadier the rider's hands, the steadier the horse will move. If a rider's hands wander around chasing contact with the bit as the horse moves its head, the horse will never learn to seek that steady, elastic contact that allows clear communication between horse and rider. Again, the hands should be slightly in front of the saddle and raised above the withers at a height that maintains a straight, unbroken line from the bit to the elbow.

Riders cannot achieve truly steady hands until they first achieve an independent seat. That means they are relaxed, balanced over the horse's center of gravity, and can follow the horse's motion at every gait. As they work on that independent seat, however, beginning riders can make a habit of checking their hand position from time to time, especially when making up and down transitions, until they are sure they can 'feel' when it is correct. They should glance down with their eyes rather than tipping their head down which changes their body position and balance. Arena mirrors are useful here. And, as always, feedback about hand position and steadiness from an instructor or friend on the ground is invaluable.

With the correct hand position and an independent seat, riders can modify their steady, elastic connection with the bit in four ways: keeping, taking, resisting or giving. A keeping rein aid is a steady connection that allows whatever the horse is doing to continue. The degree of connection (sometimes referred to as 'weight in the reins' or 'pounds of pressure') is highly variable depending on the horse's conformation and the horse's frame. In a stretching frame the horse stretches the neck forward and down to the rider's hand. In a working frame the horse stretches the neck forward and out to the rider's hand and in a collected frame the horse stretches the neck forward and up to the rider's hand.

The amount of 'weight' in the rider's hands when keeping contact not only varies from horse to horse due to conformation but also varies from frame to frame. The 'weight' feels heaviest in a stretching frame, becomes lighter in a working frame and becomes even lighter yet in a collected frame as the horse now 'carries' himself (self carriage). The lighter feel of contact in a collected frame occurs because the horse's impulsion is more 'up' than 'forward.'

The rider must learn to accept the contact from the horse as he moves into the hand. Riders sometimes 'give' the rein as soon as they feel the horse coming to their hand. If they do this consistently, the horse will never be able to step to the contact. I tell my students to feel for the horse stepping to their hand. Then they must be sure to keep a steady hand that 'accepts' the contact and closes the circle of aids. If riders give away the connection at the same time they are asking the horse carry more weight on his hindquarters and come under himself, the effect is like squeezing a toothpaste tube with the top open. All of the horse's added energy runs out the front and the horse never achieves the rounded frame the rider wants.

A taking rein aid interrupts what the horse is doing. Ideally, riders move only a little finger (or both little fingers) closer to their body. If this is not enough to influence the horse, however, then the 'take' occurs by moving the elbow back. The wrist should never change when taking with a rein. Breaking at the wrist is a common mistake.

The degree of pressure on a taking rein will be relative to the response of the horse. The rider will always try to use the least amount of pressure but if the horse does not respond then the pressure will increase. A resisting rein aid follows a taking rein aid and simply means that the rider does not immediately follow the taking rein aid with a giving rein aid.

A giving rein aid removes the resistance applied by a taking rein aid. The little finger that moved back in a taking aid now moves away from the rider's body and back into a keeping aid position (or the elbow moves forward again). The amount of giving will be in direct relation to the amount of taking. The taking and giving usually last just a stride until the horse moves forward and back to the keeping rein.

Using steady, elastic rein contact to communicate with the horse is far removed from the concept of reins as a steering mechanism. But it takes many, many rides to develop the necessary feel and timing to apply rein aids properly. Pay attention to the successful tries until they become more and more habitual and just keep riding.

© 2008 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Faith Meredith has successfully trained and competed through FEI levels of dressage during her more than 30 years as a horse professional. She currently coaches riders in dressage, reining, and eventing in her capacity as the Director of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (147 Saddle Lane, Waverly, WV 26184; 800-679-2603; www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Freestyle Bridleless

Nice Arabian Horse freestyle.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Horse Handling and Riding Through Feel

Horse Handling and Riding Through Feel

This is the first of fourteen articles by Leslie Desmond for EQUESTMAGAZINE.

We admire the horse for his power and grace, for his beauty, strength and mystical qualities. It seems that nearly all who are involved with the horse are drawn in by these noble and magnificent attributes. Through the ages, people have wanted to merge with the horse and merge with the horse they have . . . in work and war, in literature, in sport and in art.

During the evolution of post –war “modern horsemanship” people developed an impressive range of seemingly opposite notions about the term “horsemanship” and the best use of horses for entertainment, sport and recreation. Confusion between the human and equine species nowadays is well established and, when one considers the diverse range of expectations that horses have about their handlers, owners and trainers because of the inconsistent things they all do to him and with him, it is little wonder that people look for help in all directions. For a couple of decades I did, too.

Because the hope for a quick fix leads to the search for one, this quickly spreading phenomenon often leads to a new equipment choice which, in some cases, actually works. Rarely, however, does the new bit, draw rein, martingale, whip, noseband or headstall configuration produce a lasting solution to the problems that new horse owners encounter. In this business everyone should expect to negotiate with the road as its bumps and turns are revealed .

To preserve the spirit and the grace of his natural movement when you get around the horse, or touch him, you must first learn to feel of the horse. If we are good students, then the horse is apt to help us develop better feel when we ride him by responding to our slightest effort to “read” him correctly, and to “feel” or sense his responses accurately.

For this reason, I have two goals for myself when schooling young horses.

1.) Establish a relationship with the horse’s mind.

2.) Gain control over the root of the neck, both laterally (left and right) and longitudinally (up and down).

This is my second main goal because it directly affects the maneuverability of the poll, neck, withers and shoulders, ribs and hips. Control over the root or base of the neck has an immediate, decisive effect on the flexation / relaxation of the jaws. In turn, this determines the capacity of the diaphragm to expand and contract. This important because access to the jaw and diaphragm affects the oxygen content in the horse’s blood and brain; and, it also influences the horse’s ability to use the hindquarters and it components -- the lumbar, sacrum and hip regions -- efficiently.

Taken together, these pieces are essential to build into a foundation if the handler-rider wants to experience control of the whole horse without a struggle. An observant handler or trainer working through feel will, ultimately, eliminate the need for force, fear and coercion to achieve compliance with his/her requests. A person can quickly learn to appreciate and emulate the way horses use feel among themselves. A particularly observant person may infuse the time they spend around horses with a new meaning learned from hours spent watching them interact. Some people become exceptionally good at this.

Why is this so important? Because, if the bottom half of you is going to set atop the upper half of the horse, it better be all right with that horse. A horse can put most riders on the ground in the blink of an eye if he wants you there.

After a few years working alongside Bill Dorrance during the creation of our book, True Horsemanship Through Feel, I was at last able to take a small portion of knowledge about “feel” on board in my horse training career. To my surprise, I discovered that this fantastic way to relate to horses added an entirely new meaning and depth to many of my connections with people. As a result, I now enjoy an even greater interest in the journey.

In the December issue I will expand on this month’s training tip about the importance of establishing freedom in the neck and shoulders of the horse. Whether you keep a horse for a pet and trail rides, or train and compete professionally, a free head, neck, withers and shoulders are essential parts of a safe, comfortable ride that feels natural!

6 Easy Steps to Freeing the Shoulders on Your Saddle Horse
By Leslie Desmond

Training Tip 1 of 14 for November 2008


1. Getting control of the neck, withers and shoulders.

In the attempt to control the position of the head, remember that the head is connected to the neck and shoulders! Practice lowering the base of the neck for bridling, grooming, leading and backing.

2. Free up the Poll, Right and Left

After the neck can be raised and lowered with the offer of a slack line toward the horse’s head, take the poll left and right toward each shoulder -- just as if he were going to nip at a fly in the cinch / girth area. I stand with my hip at the cinch area, just behind the elbow.

3. Observe and reward all tries with space and release.

I like to see a horse without concerns or confusion. I prefer that he wait patiently for me, so I move slowly and plan things out before I act. When he moves about and nudges me out of the way, he is not ready for new information. I avoid the mouth and nose, and pass his head in a way that doesn’t disturb him.

4. Take up all the feet, one at a time.

The shoulders and hips should not weigh anything, but swing freely when the hoof is offered. Patient and clear presentations leads to patient and clear horses.

5. BACKING Straight:

Lift up the horse’s neck from the halter knot or a spot directly under the bottom jaw behind the lower lip and chin. This frees up (elevates) the withers and shoulders before he steps back. Follow the feet back as they lift off the ground in diagonal pairs -- do not keep them stuck down by pushing him back.

6. BACKING in an Arc:

When you have a straight, slow and accurate backup, begin to arc. Step the forehand away from you, as the reaching foreleg comes off the ground. A few steps in each direction will do it at the beginning.

In the December online issue if EquestMagazine, this process will be explained more fully.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Action of the Curb Bit

There are many bits for horses; this video will show, in general, the action of the curb bit. No animals were hurt during the filming of this video, neither was the sofa cushion, the book, nor the vacuum hoses.

And, hey, I could be wrong! :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Socks, Mustang

An article about Laurie and Two Socks is here: http://www.bestfriends.org/twosocks/

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Haflingers as Therapy Horses

Haflinger Horses being used as therapy horses at Pretty Pony Pastures.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Craig Johnson Bridleless Riding

The horse can be stopped without pulling on his mouth.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Parelli Patterns 2

Here's a couple of good videos where you are able to follow the progress of horse and owner in the Parelli Patterns exercise, Figure 8.

Parelli Patterns

The new Parelli Patterns material is now available.

Pat Parelli's Blueprint for Developing Horses Naturally. The Parelli Patterns cover Four Levels of learning in the Parelli "Four Savvys" of natural horsemanship: Playing on the ground "On Line" and at "Liberty"; as well as riding "Freestyle" (without contact) and with "Finesse" (contact and precision). Learn more at www.parelli.com

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bridleless Horse Riding France

Intense concentration by a horse, ridden bridleless.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bridleless Dressage

Bridleless dressage with David O'Connor.

And jumping with Lynn Palm and Rugged Lark:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lyons Training 101

Links to Lyons Training 101 Articles:

An Easy Way to Look At Training

An Exercise For When You Can't Ride

Back Easily With Hip Shoulder Shoulder

Backing Up

Biting Horses

Cinchy Horses

Four Things You Need to Train Your Horse

Get Your Back Up

Give Your Horse A Want-To Attitude

Good Now Bad Later

Horse Riding Tips

Horses That Kick On The Trail

Horses That Kick On The Trail

Horses That Pull On the Bit and Head Tossers

Horses That Want To Bolt, Buck or Blow Up

How Do I Get My Horse's Attention?

How Far How Fast How Little

How Long Should I Ride?

How to Halter a Horse

How To Make Horse Training Affordable

How to Pick Up Your Reins Like a Pro

How to Teach a Horse to Pivot on Its Hindquarters

Hurry Up and Stop

Keys To Improvement

Make Your Horse Stop

Ready for Your Next Spook?

Reins: 5 Tips to Improve Your Use

Rider Checklists

Riding Exercise: Steer the Tail

Riding Mechanics and Bad Habits

Scared of My Horse

Simple Steps to Power Steering

Slowing Your Horse

Snaffle Bits vs Shank or Leverage Bits

Solve Every Horse Problem

Speed Up Your Slow Horse

Steering Your Horse

Stop Your Horse With Hip Shoulder Shoulder

Teach a Horse to Sidepass Toward You on the Ground

Teach Neck Reining and more with the Clockwork Exercise

Teaching Your Horse To Stand Still

The First Thing I Do

Thought vs Action

Three Step Stop Exercise

Train Your Horse To Travel Straight

What Not To Do When Your Horse Bucks Or Rears

Why Does My Horse Still Have This Problem

PNH 7 Games

A five-year-old girl practices the Parelli 7 Games, after only four lessons:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Walter Zettl and Pat Parelli

"Legendary Dressage Master Walter Zettl Finds Harmony with Parelli Principles"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saddle Fit Drama

A very interesting set of saddle fit videos!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Understanding Leg Aids

By Faith Meredith
Director of Riding, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

Riders communicate with their horses using horse-logical pressures we call aids. The 'natural' aids include the hands (reins), seat (weight), and legs. Riders use a 'circle of aids' to create a corridor of pressures that asks a horse to perform a specific combination of gait, rhythm, pace, direction, and other nuances.

Even though riders do not use one natural aid in total isolation from the others, discussing leg aids separately can help riders understand their options for applying leg aids and how those options influence the horse. The rider's right leg pressure influences the horse's right hind leg while the rider's left leg pressure influences the horse's left hind leg. The basic leg influences are:

•Leg on—driving
•Leg on—keeping, or
•Leg off.

Driving leg pressure asks the horse for movement, for energy. Keeping leg pressure asks the horse to hold or maintain a shape or direction or gait. When a leg is off the horse, there is no pressure from the leg on that side.

These basic influences are further refined when leg is applied:

•Unilaterally—one leg driving, one leg keeping
•Bilaterally—both legs driving, or
•Variably—the leg pressure varies from stride to stride.

The ability to vary a pressure is one of the primary differences between an aid and a cue. Whether the leg is used as a driving aid or a keeping aid, the degree of its pressure can vary. When we teach beginning riders, we use little pictographs as tools to explain which combination of aids riders use for a given movement. The reality is that these visual recipes provide only limited information because they cannot illustrate variability.

Our green horses receive extensive groundwork until they develop a full understanding of corridors of pressure and how to respond to them. When we start them under saddle, the first ride occurs in a small arena that limits the horse's ability to move too far too fast. The rider leaves the reins alone and waits to see what the horse offers. Depending on the horse's personality, it may amble away from the mounting block, offer a trot, or even strike off on a canter. As soon as the horse moves, the rider softly applies the correct leg and seat aids for whatever the horse offers. Gradually, the horse makes a connection between the feel of a specific corridor of pressures and a particular gait. And gradually, the trainer introduces rein aids for a full circle of aids.

As the horse's understanding of aids increases, variable leg pressures allow a sophisticated conversation between horse and rider. For example, a dressage rider can ask the horse for a working trot, medium trot, collected trot, or extended trot. In order to communicate which trot she wants, the rider has to do more than just drive with both legs. Did the rider use the appropriate degree of pressure? Did the rider use the right degree of driving or keeping from each leg? The horse's response is the rider's primary feedback. The degree of pressure that the rider uses will depend on the horse's training level, personality, and physical sensitivity. The rider's end goal should be to communicate with the lightest aids possible, invisible to those watching.

The rider can vary both driving and keeping pressures depending on what she wants the horse to do at a specific moment. For example, if a horse starts to 'chase' around the arena, quickening his steps rather than lengthening them, the rider can keep the driving leg pressure on just a little longer to slow the horse's rhythm rather than driving in the rhythm the horse is moving.

Whenever a rider creates a corridor of aids, it is important to leave an opening for the horse to release the energy she creates with her driving leg aids. For example, in the leg yield left the rider increases the pressure of the left leg asking the horse to move away from that pressure. The rider's right (outside) leg is back and keeping, suggesting an opening to the right to the horse. The horse picks up the left hind and moves it both over and forward instead of just forward. The outside rein (right rein) inhibits the forward motion slightly and redirects it forward and sideways, while also maintaining straightness in the horse's body.

Some riders are confused about whether they should apply leg pressure at the girth, behind the girth, or way behind the girth. Ideally, the rider would like her driving leg just behind the girth, but the conformation of some horses and the leg length of some riders make this difficult. The most important thing is that the inside of the rider's lower leg should be able to make contact with the horse's side. The rider should think of stretching her leg down and around the horse's side. There should be no gripping or tension. The rider has to have her seat and upper body in the correct position in order to control the position of her lower leg.

The rider's basic position is more important than exactly where her leg falls on her horse. Ideally, a plumb line dropped from the rider's ear will pass through her hip and ankle. The critical thing is that she needs to maintain the correct position of her thighs and hips so that she can give leg aids with the inside of her calf, not the back of the calf. The thigh should lie flat on the saddle. In order to use leg aids correctly the rider must not grip with the thigh muscles or the knee. Gripping with the thigh muscles or the knees locks the hip joint. The hip joint is the rider's shock absorber. If the rider locks her hip joints, she cannot follow the horse's motion and, therefore, cannot apply leg aids effectively. The upper body or torso must remain stable in order for the lower leg to stay stable. If the rider has to move around to apply the leg aids that movement interrupts her balance and her aids will not be clear to the horse.

Leg aids are just one of the natural aids we use to communicate with our horses. The 'circles of aids' we create with them are much like the sentences we construct from individual words to communicate with friends. As the rider develops an independent seat and the horse gains an understanding of the many variations possible in aid pressures, they can work together to write poetry in motion.

© 2008 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre.

More Articles by Meredith Manor

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Google Books Natural Horsemanship

In Google Books, there are several good horsemanship / natural horsemanship books that are available to preview. This means that Google Books has many pages of the books on-line for you to read.

Here are some of the books:

True Horsemanship Through Feel by Leslie Desmond and Bill Dorrance

Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship

Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship

Discovering Natural Horsemanship by Tom Moates and Harry Whitney

The Revolution in Horsemanship by Dr. Robert Miller and Rick Lamb

Understanding Horse Behavior by Lesley Skipper

Starting Baby Jaz by Charles Wilhelm

Mastering Natural Horsemanship

This is a good way to find out if a book resonates with you, before purchasing it.

And reading the preview pages may give you hints that you can use now!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Horse Playground

Here are some interesting obstacles for a learning playground for horses.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little Girl Bareback and Bridleless

A young girl riding bareback and bridleless with Tommy Turvey.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Best Whisper is a Click

Best Whisper is a Click, by Peggy Hogan, a clicker training video.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Four Elements of Success with Horses

The four elements of success:

[] Talent,
[] Skills,
[] Try,
[] and Luck.

Talent you are born with;
Skills you develop;
Try is intestinal fortitude or guts;
Luck is spelled w.o.r.k and is defined when preparation meets opportunity.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bits and Bridles

Here is a good set of educational videos with information, descriptions, and mechanics of horse bits.

We don't necessarily agree with using bits, in place of good horsemanship and good training, to control horses.

If you find yourself escalating to higher control-type bits, the horse may need more / better training.

How Horse Bits & Bridles Work

Bitless Bridles

Snaffle Horse Bits

O-Ring Snaffle Horse Bits

D-Ring Snaffle Horse Bits

Snaffle Horse Bits With Leverage

Combination Horse Bits

Shank Snaffle Horse Bits

Shank Snaffle Horse Bits With a Roller

Elevator Horse Bit

Performance Leverage Horse Bits

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Discover the Magic

Riding bareback, bridleless, in connection with the horse, natural horsemanship:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Snaffle Bit

Looking at the "balance" of a snaffle bit (click onto the image to see a larger version):

Icelandic Horse Connection

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ride With Your Mind

Ride With Your Mind Clinic, a book by Mary Wanless:

The exercises in this book are easily combined with clicker training.

Based on an understanding of the biomechanical demands of riding, the strategies in this book will teach riders how to connect with their horse in a way that makes sense to both and ultimately leads to better riding. It features real riders and horses throughout and takes riders through the mechanics of riding in a logical, step-by-step method that identifies common challenges so that riders may identify their own problems and learn to get the methods right. Case studies will help readers relate their own problems with those included in the book, and instruction on achieving a firm seat and proper posture will result in an immediate improvement of performance of horse and rider.

More books at Icelandic Horse Connection Books.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Bit Selection

by Jorene Downs

CEOates Ranch

Originally posted to the rec.equestrian newsgroup

People are welcome to link, copy or quote, but please give author credit.
For quotes or full reprints for distribution, please ask for permission.

re: a request to provide a mini-primer on how to identify quality bits

I'm a long way from being an expert on bits, so I hope others will contribute here, but I'd be happy to get some discussion started. But I'll back up a step and provide some thoughts to consider before someone goes shopping for a better quality bit ... because you'll have a much happier and more responsive horse if you bring the right new quality bit home. ;)

I reckon the toughest part for the average rider is just defining the correct bit for that horse and rider situation. For most people it is trial and error. Not just snaffle vs. curb (I'm ignoring bosal hackamores and such here ) but what kind of mouthpiece, what kind of metal (or combination), and design in general. One horse might go more comfortably in a 3-piece mouthpiece, and another might prefer a solid mouthpiece. A thinner mouthpiece tends to be less kind in a horse's mouth, but going extra fat is sometimes uncomfortable for the horse. Most horses go well in a medium thickness mouthpiece. Many horses prefer tongue relief, others don't need / want it.

In general [sweet] iron seems to be a favorite flavor with horses. Many horses like a little copper. Some horses like having a roller or something to play with when they're relaxed. Depends on the horse. And bit selection is also limited for some people by their discipline, where association rules of some kind will establish "legal" bit parameters, so people competing need to be aware of those restrictions. Training level is also a consideration, as is the horse's age and mouth maturity before any transition to a curb bit.

With shanked bits like the common [solid mouth] curb, a bunch of variables should be considered. A shanked bit is designed for use as a leverage bit. The most basic issues are the length of the shank, angle, and attachment .. and that needs to be considered according also to the kind of mouthpiece. Rider hands and horse responsiveness help determine the basic shank design. A fixed shank attachment is generally less forgiving than one that is designed to move a little, yet a shank that moves a lot creates a communication situation different than the common curb ... the rider needs to be aware of the difference.

Horse conformation and movement is a big issue, since even how the mouthpiece is set on the shank (high, low, forward, back) can change how a horse carries himself. (As an example, consider the elevator bit, with equal shank distance above and below the mouthpiece ... the location of the mouthpiece connection to the shank can really make a difference, and sometimes the difference is not correct for that horse.) Another conformation issue is the depth of the horse's mouth - where that mouthpiece would be carried correctly - in relation to the location of the chin groove. After all, part of the action of a curb bit is through the chin strap, so if that chin strap touches in the wrong place the bit will work differently and you may have a rather unhappy horse or one you're not communicating well with.

Snaffle bits have a similar situation to the shanked bit / curb in that there are different options for what the mouthpiece is attached to. Small rings, large rings, loose rings, "hinged" rings, different "ring" shapes, etc. They'll all talk to that mouthpiece a little differently on a direct rein communication ... and sometimes a difference in the bit attachment design will cause a difference in the response from the horse even with the same mouthpiece.

A shanked bit with a broken mouthpiece works quite differently than either a snaffle or a common (solid mouthpiece) curb. Some of these are often referred to as "nutcracker" bits. I figure if you don't very clearly understand how that hybrid bit works, and have a specific reason for using it, you shouldn't be using one. Then again, there are bits in the snaffle and common curb bit category that should carry the same warning ... or in some cases serve no good purpose in a horse's mouth. Also, many bits were originally designed for use as a temporary training device, not intended for daily use ... yet many are in daily use. So understanding the different bits and what they are intended to accomplish is another important part of bit selection.

The design of the bit is critical to bit selection for any horse and rider situation. Correct fit and adjustment in the horse's mouth is important - makes little sense to buy any bit that doesn't fit, much less adjust the bridle wrong so it is too high or too low. (Neutral position just touches the horse's lips.) And it sure helps if the horse has been taught to carry a bit correctly. Other issues include appropriate training with that particular bit for both horse and rider. And trying a new bit in a horse's mouth generally takes about 3 rides so the horse (and rider) has a chance to get accustomed to that new bit. But in some cases you can put a different bit in the horse's mouth and see an immediate change, if you know what to look for.

That's my fast overview of issues to consider for bit selection. After you've narrowed down to a certain kind / design of new bit to buy - or even if you're doing a trial and error "winging it" purchase - actual construction will make the difference between a "cheap" bit and one of decent quality. There have already been several posts discussing what to avoid in a bit. That may be easier than describing what to look for. I've compiled some of those "what to avoid in a bit" comments so they're all in one place.

Possible problems to look for - and avoid - in bits include:

[] poorly shaped mouthpieces oversized hoods (this is in the "traditional curb bit" category)

[] bent shanks

[] sharp edges

[] rough areas / poor finish work

[] oversized joints mouthpiece set in shank / cheekpieces too high or low

[] improper angles

[] overly loose joints

[] poor quality metals and funky alloys

[] uneven balance mouthpieces

[] uneven balance shanks

[] non-round O-ring snaffles

[] places that will pinch

[] irregularities or discolorations in the metal

[] cracks in a snaffle joint or other weakness in the metal

[] Are all round pieces round and straight pieces straight?

[] Are shanks of equal size and shape?

[] incorrect weight and balance

I think the general summary of shopping for better quality bits - other than to avoid potential injury to the mouth with sharp edges and such - is to look for precision and balance in the construction ... not just something that is "close". Your horse will feel the difference, which will impact the consistency and quality of communication and response.

I was in the feed store the other day (not a tack store), thought of the discussion on bits, and looked at their little assortment of bits for sale. I found bits I wouldn't recommend anyone buy. The basic smooth snaffle had a 2-piece mouthpiece with one side longer than the other, and one side was thicker than the other at the outside edge. The common low port curb had the port rising off-center, and one of the shanks above the mouthpiece was bent out a good 1/4" from straight. I didn't even have to pull them off the wall, I could see problems without holding them for closer scrutiny.

It pays to learn about bits prior to any purchase, select something appropriate for the horse, rider, and situation, and be choosy about the quality you invest in. Your horse will thank you, and your wallet will appreciate making a single appropriate purchase instead of several wrong ones.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Be With Your Horse

Be With Your Horse (Getting to the Heart of Horsemanship) by Tom Widdicombe:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Training Tools


By Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

The training system we call heeding at Meredith Manor teaches a student how to train a horse by methodically applying directional pressures that the horse feels as a shape the student wants him to take.

Heeding is very simple. The trainer introduces a pressure to the horse then pays close attention to how the horse perceives and reacts to it. Then the trainer modifies the pressure to help the horse develop a better connection between the pressure and the shape the trainer wants him to take.

In order to become horse trainers, students first need to understand the full range of pressures available to use as training tools. Then they must learn how to combine these individual pressures into corridors of pressures and learn how to apply these corridors methodically. Methodically means that the way the trainer applies the pressures creates a feeling in the horse of a shape he wants the horse to take and a direction he wants the horse to move. When each new corridor of pressures is just a step or two away from what the horse already understands, training is horse logical and meaningful.

To help students start understanding the range of pressures they can use, we categorize pressures as either psychological or physical. We talked about the many psychological pressures trainers exert on horses from the minute they walk into a stall, catch a horse, groom him, and lead him, etc., in the preceding article. As riders, students arrive here with lots of experience with physical pressures. They use leg pressures and rein pressures and seat pressures and other kinds of physical pressures to get their horse to do or not do things. As riders, they understand what they intend those pressures to mean to the horse. But hardly any of them fully understand these pressures from the horse's viewpoint.

A horse feels physical pressures as relative pressures. He is walking in a straight line and a shift in seat pressure make him feel like carrying his head over to one side a little. Or a squeeze from both legs makes the horse feel like contracting his belly muscles and lifting his back. The trainer applies the pressure long enough for the horse to figure out the shape it means. When the horse figures it out, the trainer removes the pressure as a reward to the horse.

Horses can also feel physical pressures as a startle or interruption of something they are already doing. Physical startle pressures are quick jabs or jerks that do not last. They can be used to help the horse refine a shape but only if the horse already understands the shape in the first place.

We produce both kinds of physical pressures by using natural or artificial aids. The reins, legs, and seat are the most commonly discussed natural aids. I include breathing among the physical pressures students can use to influence a horse. And some people would include the voice. Whips and spurs are the primary artificial aids. Some people would also include training devices like tie downs and chambons. On analysis, the division of pressures into natural and artificial is somewhat arbitrary.

Some people like to say that natural aids always create relative physical pressures and artificial aids always create startle pressures. But this is a bit arbitrary, too. A rein or a leg aid, even a seat aid, becomes a startle pressure if it is used abruptly or sharply so that it raises the horse's excitement level. Keep in mind that how an individual horse perceives a pressure depends somewhat on his personality, on his trust in his trainer, and on where he is in the training progression.

In the same way, whips and spurs do not always startle. When they are used as an on/off correction or enforcement of something the horse already understands, they can reinforce a natural aid without interrupting the horse's activity. When people constantly jab with their spurs or tap with a whip, that becomes a constant pressure that the horse learns to ignore. But the same thing happens when a rider has heavy hands or balances on their reins. The horse just learns to tune out the bit noise. Selective startle pressures are effective; repetitive startle pressures simply become part of the routine and the horse ignores them.

As students become more sophisticated in their application of psychological and physical pressures, it becomes evident that the distinction between the two kinds of pressures is not always clear cut. For example, if any one pressure in a corridor of pressures becomes startling or blatant, it cancels out all the other pressures in the corridor. So if a student applies a physical pressure in a startling way that raises the horse's excitement level, the psychological result is that the whole corridor falls apart. That is why a really sharp bit can cancel out the effects of a trainer's seat and legs.

Training a horse means methodically applying horse-logical pressures, paying close attention to the horse's reaction to them, and then modifying those pressures to help the horse develop a better connection between them and the shape you want him to take. Horse-logical means the trainer uses the horse's feelings to make the horse feel like doing what the trainer wants done. Training is that simple. And it is that complex.

© 2008 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

Monday, July 28, 2008

Klaus Hempfling Dancing With Horses

A short clip from Klaus Hempfling's Body Language, Dancing With Horses DVD:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Art of Horsemanship

A video of natural horsemanship with clicker training included:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Discovering Natural Horsemanship

Discovering Natural Horsemanship chronicles one man's obsession to get better with horses in a gentle way. Author Tom Moates's life and work were on a horseless path until serendipity brought Niji, a sorrel gelding, into his life. Nothing has been the same since.

In his candid and plainspoken style, Moates shares the honest highs and lows of starting out in the Better Way with horses. Along the road, he works hard to follow the wise ways of many well-known clinicians and shares his personal experiences attempting to implement them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Judy and Vinur

Practicing some at liberty natural horsemanship work combined with clicker training, with Vinur, Icelandic Horse, circa 1997:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Training Tools / Psychological Pressures

Training Tools I, Psychological Pressures

By Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

The training system we call heeding at Meredith Manor uses methodically applied directional pressures that the horse feels as a shape we want him to take. Training is that simple. And it is that complex.

"Methodically applied directional pressures that the horse feels as a shape" looks like just one short sentence but it is actually quite a big statement. When we are training students to be trainers, the first thing they learn is how to define what the horse feels as a pressure.

If you cannot define what the horse understands as a pressure, you certainly cannot apply it, much less apply it in a methodical fashion so that it suggests a direction and a shape to the horse.

Notice that I did not say 'what the trainer intends as a pressure.' How the horse perceives the pressure and reacts to it is all that matters. Then the trainer can analyze the horse's reaction, modify the pressure and methodically apply it a little differently to make things clearer to the horse.

Most people repeat and repeat a pressure expecting that, if they just repeat it enough, the horse will eventually 'get' whatever it is they want him to do. That is not training. That is wishful thinking because any constant pressure, like a girth, just goes away as far as the horse feeling it. So the only thing that is eventual is that the horse will ignore the pressure altogether.

So the first thing students who want to train horses need to learn about is the range of pressures available to them to influence the horse. Then they need learn to learn how to apply those pressures in a methodical way that suggests a direction the horse should move and a shape he should take.

'Methodically applied' means that the application of a pressure or sequence of pressures is purposeful. The pressures are not random. They are horse-logical and the connection between one pressure and a new pressure is never more than one or two steps away from what the horse already understands.

'Directional' means that the pressure clearly suggest to the horse that he move straight, sideways, turn through a corner or stay on a circle, step back or stop, etc. A 'shape' means that the horse feels the pressure as a physical suggestion of a posture or gait or speed or rhythm, etc.

To help students start understanding pressures, we categorize the range of pressures available to a trainer as either psychological or physical. Both kinds of pressure can push the horse away from you, pull the horse toward you, or interrupt whatever happens to be going on at the time. A trainer uses those reactions to build a vocabulary of pressures that can gradually be combined into different behavior patterns.

Military boot camps train recruits to react to directions from officers by creating an atmosphere of fear and rewards. The rewards are not very big rewards but they are rewards, nonetheless. Training horses uses psychological pressure in much the same way.

For example, the very first thing a trainer needs to do is to get the horse's attention. He or she does that by putting a little bit of psychological pressure on the horse then removing it as soon as the horse notices it. The horse eventually gets into the habit of paying attention to the trainer and eventually develops the understanding that the pressure goes away when he reacts to it a certain way.

A trainer can exert psychological pressure on a horse in hundreds of ways. The way the trainer approaches the horse in its stall, any intended or unintended body language, the pitch or volume of voice, the trainer's pace and all kinds of other subtle things are perceived as pressures by a horse. In groundwork here at Meredith Manor, students learn how easy it is for them to influence a horse by paying attention to where they are relative to the horse's primary and secondary lines.

The horse's personality has a lot to do with how he feels or accepts psychological pressure. Some personalities are always looking for danger or excitement while others are totally uninterested in anything unless it is the end of the world or edible. So the trainer applies different psychological pressures, observes the reaction, and then modifies the pressure.

In a psychological context, how the horse feels the trainer's presence is pretty important. The trainer wants the horse to feel like he or she is the safest place for the horse to be other than their stall or with their herd buddies.

Watching horses interact socially is one of the best ways to learn about how they use and react to psychological pressures. The easiest thing for a trainer to do is to learn to speak this 'horse language' because it is easier to speak to a horse in a language he naturally understands rather than teaching him to speak English.

Most students arrive with a greater understanding of the physical pressures available to them than they do of the psychological ones. But the psychological ones are the ones every horse already understands even before any trainer steps into the arena with them. So, in the beginning, we do a lot of heeding groundwork so the horses can teach the students to pay attention to what they are really 'saying' to the horse.

As the students learn to speak horse, they can actually ask the horse to do things and get the reaction they want. And things just get better from there.

Heeding goes on forever because as long as a trainer keeps working with different horses with different personalities he or she will continue to learn more and more of the nuances of psychological pressures. When a trainer 'gets it' and heeding simply becomes a part of how they interact with every horse, every horse they work with 'gets it', too.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008


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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Parelli's Secret

Parelli Demo in UK

Parelli Celebration at the NEC Arena, 9th and 10th August 2008.

For Tickets, call 0871 945 6000

or visit www.theticketfactory.co.uk

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Horse Tail Knot

There are times you may want to put your horse's tail in a knot; for example, when taking conformation pictures for ease of seeing the hindquarters from the rear, or when taking video for studying movement of the hindquarters.

This video shows how to make the Doma Vaquera tail knot:


Monday, June 30, 2008

Parelli Trailer Loading an Icelandic Horse

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kids and Natural Horsemanship

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Interview with Lynn Palm

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Lynn Palm Podcast

A Life With Horses

A new book by Mark Rashid and Kathleen Lindley: A Life with Horses, Spirit of the Work:

Book Description

In this beautiful full-color book, popular authors Mark Rashid and Kathleen Lindley team up to provide the reader with an intimate look into a world of horses and horsemanship clinics that few people get to see close up. Lindley's vibrant photographs, accompanied by descriptive text by both authors, chronicle the spirit of their life's work. In covering subjects such as a young wild Mustang's initial handling, softness, friendship, and hands that employ the tools of the trade, this book offers the reader an unflinching and compassionate pictorial account of a life with horses.

About the Authors

Mark Rashid is an internationally acclaimed horse trainer known for his ability to understand the horse's point of view, and to solve difficult problems with communication rather than force. Mark's clinics center on one-on-one work with horse and rider and are immensely popular with people around the world. Rashid is the author of six previous books. He lives in Estes Park.

Kathleen Lindley got her first camera at age 14--about the same time she got her first horse. Upon graduation from high school, she professionally trained hunter/jumper show horses. Her photography has appeared in popular equine magazines in the UK and in several books.

Kathleen became one of Mark's students in 1995 and they continued to work together until 2005, when she became his full-time assistant. Together, the pair has traveled over 100,000 miles in three different countries giving clinics and helping people with their horses. Today, Mark and Kathleen both have busy individual clinic schedules, and also enjoy working together whenever they can.

Old Horsemanship Video

This video is circa 1997, with some bareback and bridleless starting of a young horse, along with clicker training:

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Soul of A Horse

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Joe Camp Interview, The Soul of A Horse

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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A book by Erica Frei:

Centered Self, Centered Horse

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

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