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.

More Meredith Manor Articles

Dancing With Horses

A video of at liberty groundwork with a horse:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Leslie Desmond Audio Interview

Here is an audio interview with Leslie Desmond, by Wow Factor Radio:

Interview with Leslie Desmond

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


A combination of horse and zebra; this zorse looks comfortable being ridden in a rope halter.

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: