1. Understanding the Horse
– is all about learning to “think like a horse”….. so how do horses think?
They constantly think about THE most important thing for a horse – survival, then to procreate for the survival of the species.
- To survive, horses need three things:
- Safety (of the herd) = emotional health
- Food, water & shelter = physical health
- Play which includes breeding = mental health
Humans are predators with a natural instinct to fight so for a successful relationship with the horse, we need to learn to think like a prey animal – the horse, who’s natural instinct is to flee.
There is always a reason for horse behaviour that is linked to survival, based on fear then being gregarious/curious.
Horses communicate with body language and are extremely observant and perceptive to change.
They learn new things when discomfort (pressure) causes them to do something that gives them comfort (release of pressure).
They develop comfort zones (familiar tasks, places, herd members) which we can expand to help a horse accept anything we want them to.
2. HORSE HEALTH
is all about the emotional, physical and mental health of the horse. EMOTIONAL HEALTH relates to how we keep our horses.
In nature, horses live in a herd and rely on the herd for safety. They naturally become emotional when taken away from the herd but horses can learn to trust humans as herd leaders if we demonstrate leadership skills.
Horses that are kept alone or seperate from a herd often show emotional stress by developing undesirable habits such as running the fence, wood chewing, weaving, wind sucking etc.
They also lose or never develop adequate social skills so that when they are finally allowed to run with other horses, they are bullied until they learn their place in the pecking order.
Horses need physcial contact as much as we do so keeping them in seperate yards and stables does not allow them to groom each other, feel comfortable enough to sleep lying down or learn important social skills for herd living. For more info on this topic click here:
PHYSICAL HEALTH comes from us providing the best food, water and shelter closest to what they would naturally find.
No scientific studies have been done on what horses actually eat in the wild, but from observation, we know they survive very well on a broad range of dry native grasses, herbage and mineral deposits in the soil.
They also travel many miles or km a day to find their food and water, and browse for approximately 20 hours a day. While its not easy to replicate this in a domestic situation, we can do better than allowing them to gorge (and founder) on lush green grass or be confined to a stable or yard with only 2 or 3 feeds per day.
We can provide them with constant access to dry grasses in the form of various types of hay, preferably harvested from a mixture of native grasses. We can restrict their access to green grass so they are not treading the fine line of founder and we can keep them in larger, poor quality pastures with various herbs to browse and mineral licks to choose from.
We can also exercise them to mimic the many miles per day they naturally would travel. Movement helps to keep their hooves in shape and their bodies fit and able to live a longer, active life.
When the way we keep and treat our horses causes health problems, then the least we can do is try to make informed decisions about how to treat those problems.
There are many alternatives to traditional veterinary medicine which is an important starting point for treatment.
We need to ask for more than one opinion, look at all the alternatives and select those that suit each individual situation.
With so much information available these days through books, newsletters, the internet and trained practitioners in your area, we have no excuse for being ignorant about the advances in theraputics for our horses.
A HORSE’S MENTAL HEALTH relies on our ability to provide play (and breeding opportunities for stallions). Young horses especially need to have herd mates of a similar age to learn social skills through play, but all horses are happier when they have friends to scratch their itches or flick away flies, to run and rest with.
When we want to do things with our horses, do we think about ‘playing’ with our horses or ‘working’ them? If its not fun for your horse, how can it be fun for you?
If we listen to our horses and find out what they like to do, we can have a lot of fun playing games that also teach a horse how to cope with our environment and enjoy their interaction with us, while still satisfying our goals.
Horses show that they have mental health problems when they display what we call vices:
biting,bucking,bolting,rearing,requiring all sorts of gadgets to control them, shying, kicking, head tossing, stubbornness, barn-sour, being herd bound.
Mental health problems can develop because the horse has physical and/or emotional problems caused by us. We can overcome these problems by improving our knowledge of Horse Psychology, Horsemanship, Equipment and Hoof/health care. – for more information on Natural Living for Equines click here.
3. Hoofcare …. Naturally
Along with a growing awareness of natural horsemanship there is a growing awareness of keeping horses more naturally, treating them and feeding them more naturally and now, caring for their hooves more naturally.
So what does this mean? Basically, its all about looking to the wild (natural) horse as a model. In an ideal environment, a horse lives in a herd, has 10,000 acres to roam, travels 20 -30 km or more a day foraging and watering and never has the need for shoes due to general wear and varied terrain keeping the hooves in shape and condition.
When we confine horses, if we want to keep their hooves in good condition we need to simulate the wear, provide hoof contact with water for moisture and contact with hard surfaces to toughen the hoof.
Unfortunately, many people have grown up believing that you just can’t ride over any distance or on rough or hard ground unless the horse is shod.
For millions of years horses have survived without shoes perfectly well. Its only in the past few hundred years that shoes have become a necessary evil.
Fortunately, there are now vets and farriers along with other barefoot enthusiasts who are proving otherwise.
Dr H. Strasser (Germany) and Jaime Jackson (USA) have studied high performance barefoot hoof trimming and rehabilitation of horses with diseased hooves for several decades now and have written several excellent books.
There is also a wealth of information on the internet and many support and discussion groups available to help anyone wanting ot follow a more natural hoof care regime.
Personally, I have been trimming my own horses hooves for the past 15 years and have not used horse shoes for the past 4 years.
I have learned from watching farriers, taking courses with natural hoof trimmers and reading many books along with lots of practice that 14 horses provide and my horses hooves have never looked better.
I used to have problems with cracking, seedy toe and abcesses but these have all gone.
Even though I don’t get as much opportunity to condition my horses hooves to hard surfaces, I have never had to say no to a trail ride over any surface. If its rougher than my horses are ready for, I simply use Old Mac boots to protect their front hooves which take most of the weight.
I’ve also seen and heard many good stories of hoof soundness and recovery from navicular and laminits from my students who have decided to try barefoot for their horse’s health.
While I recognise it won’t always be easy for some, it is possible if you really want, to develop a strong healthy hoof for barefoot riding.
Many people expect instant results but like anything worth doing, it takes time, practice and patience to be rewarded.
Some horses who haven’t been shod regularly may only take 3 – 6 months to be sound and with the use of boots for the transition can cope with barefoot riding most of the time.
Others may take 12 months if their feet are badly contracted (caused by shoes) or have other medical problems.
The old saying ‘take the time it takes’ can never be more true and in the end you will be rewarded with a healthier, happier horse all round.
I could rave on for hours but I’d only be repeating lots of excellent information so do your horse a favour and look into going barefoot.
I’d be happy to show anyone my herd of healthy hooves or how to start. You will find more articles on Barefoot hoof care here and on the Hoofcare page.
For even more info on Natural Hoofcare go to my Links page.
This is the front hoof of a Brumby (Australian Wild Horse)
– Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ford.
This is the same brumby hoof underneath – never touched by humans but kept in good working order by constant movement and a good diet.
This is the hoof of a successful barefoot endurance horse.
To Bit or Not To Bit – by by Janene Clemence
This article details the damage bits can cause to horses.
Humans are predators with a natural instinct to fight so for a successful relationship with the horse, we need to learn to think like a – the horse, a prey animal, who’s natural instinct is to flee when frightend.
These are the cornerstones of Caring Horsemanship:
Compassion + Communication + Cooperation = Happy, Healthy Horses.
Do you always consider how your horse feels?
Do you really care about your horse’s quality of life?
Can you empathise with your horse’s feelings?
Are you doing things for the horse – not to him/her.
Compassion is when you make an effort to always consider your horse’s point of view first, then to know enough about horse behaviour to decide how you will effectively communicate to your horse that you are the herd leader, so your horse will feel safe following your decisions.
Do you have a clear communication system that your horse easily understands based on body language?
Communcation can be telepathic too – click here for more articles.
Do you understand how horses communicate with each other?
Comfort and discomfort motivate your horse so we use various types of pressure and well timed releases/rewards to show the horse what we want.
Communication must be consistent to be understood.
There are three kinds of pressure we can use to communicate our wishes to horses:
Is about getting our horse used to all the objects we want to use around/on them.
We can use friendly pressure to de-sensitise our horse to all the things that aren’t natural for them.
ie; our tools and equipment, human things in their environment and things they are naturally frightened of.
Horses learn to trust us when they overcome their fear of things.
Friendly pressure is also rhythmic and uses approach and retreat to help the horse get used to scary things, gradually.
Is moving the horse away from the rhythmic motion of our bodies, a stick or rope.
Rhythmic pressure teaches a horse to yield to a suggestion.
Pressure can be applied from our body, hands, ropes, sticks or string.
The pressure should start as light as air then decrease the distance between you and the horse and/or increase the rhythm until you get a response.
Phase 1 can be just focus with energy in your body and phase 4 is touching the horse with rhythm.
Is moving the horse away from constant, graduated pressure of the rope, hand, leg or our seat.
Steady pressure teaches a horse to follow a feel.
Pressure can be applied from our hands, legs, seat, ropes and sticks and is mostly used when we are close to the horse.
The pressure should gradually increase, as a continual touch starting from phase 1 = hair to 2 = skin then 3 = muscle then 4 = bone, to get a response.
If you always start at phase 1 with focus and energy in your body, your horse learns to be light and very responsive.
Steady pressure and Rhythmic pressure together can help a horse learn new things easily and to respond to lighter pressure (phase 1 or 2).
For example; if you are using rhythmic pressure to yield your horse backwards, by adding steady pressure to the chest with your hand, you will not need to use a high phase of rhythmic pressure (from the rope).
If you are yielding your horse’s hindquarter by using steady pressure where your leg would press, by also lifting on the lead rope with rhythmic pressure, your horse will yield to a lighter phase.
Cause our ideas to become interesting enough for them to want to play the game. Pay them well – like reinforcing a good behaviour with food.
Have a focus but….be flexible enough to fit the situation.
Give your horse a job to do or make training fun through tasks, or train while on the trail rather than always in the arena.
“All we need are a few main ingredients to convince a horse we are a leader:”
- Trust – through either gradual or continual desensitisation.
- Two kinds of pressure – steady (follow a feel) and rhythmic (follow a suggestion).
- Focus – both physical and mental and both horse and human.
- Feel, Timing and balance (that independent seat factor).
- Having a plan – for the end result and daily sessions.
- But….Be prepared to be flexible in any situation.
- Use common ‘horse’ sense and think ahead to reduce unwanted incidents.
- Be able to diagnose what isn’t working (ie. Respect, impulsion or flexion) and use the right tools to fix it.
- Use patterns to help a horse find comfort, to learn and relax then build on them incrementally.
Click here to read the following articles on horsemanship: