FUNDAMENTALS If methods are important (and let’s face it countless books have been sold off the back of some ‘new’ method) then fundamentals stand as the footing for all methods. If equitation is a join the dots puzzle then the dots are the fundamentals. I feel a great big maybe coming along but I have to ask the question anyway. Do we all agree on the fundamentals? Well I doubt it, truly, who ever agreed in the field of equitation? I’m not sure it really matters if we can all agree about what constitutes the basics. What really matters is that you understand the things that are fundamental to your relationship with your horse. Sure there are things in equitation that are more solid, based in science, like physiology, and are pretty much immovable. So this ‘list’ is MY fundamental list. It may (and almost certainly WILL) evolve with time but it is mine all mine. You dear blogger will have your own; we can evolve and learn through/ with each other but mainly through our experiences with horses. FEED ME I am human and I have fundamental requirements (not unlike my horse). I need to eat, drink and keep warm above all else. In these days of modern living where we keep warm by central heating and have the supermarket deliver our weekly shopping then it is easy to overlook these fundamental requirements. These modern times when growing your own has become a hobby rather than a necessity, we may have lost sight of the need to feed ourselves. It has been pushed into a small corner of our lives and has assumed such little importance that many of us don’t actually know where our food comes from or in what conditions it’s grown in. Nor do we care too much because we have bigger fish to fry (excuse the pun) in our human world. In our egocentrical world we look for self-fulfillment, self-esteem etc and if we hit the jackpot we may even be generous enough to help others climb the slippery slope to self-fulfillment and cling contentedly to the raft of joy with us. So how the hell do we balance this modernity with the basic needs of food, water and shelter? Well of course those needs still exist, most of us could do with lots less but we couldn’t do without any. Our horses are no different. In the world of warm showers, duvet rugs and feed balancers our horses still share the same fundamental requirements to be fed, watered and sheltered from inclemency. My aim is not to suggest the perfect lifestyle for a horse (or indeed a human) and in many cases it’s a compromise of sorts and we must seek to offer the best we can; always keeping in mind the way a horse is designed to eat and drink and protecting him from harsh weather and parasites. So here is the first fundamental; just like us a horse cannot be comfortable if he is hungry, thirsty or cold.
KEEP ME SAFE For most of us there is an overwhelming desire to be safe. Unlike us though, horses are hard wired to be scared of even the unseen hazards of life. Hard wired from birth, nurtured by mum and the herd to be a creature of flight rather than fight (although of course there comes a time when they may feel cornered into fighting). This need to run first, look later can be a thorn in the humanâ€™s side. It gets in the way of training and general relaxation for all horse activity. Later I will look at why some horses are just rocky steady Eddy and some are fizzy Lizzy but for the moment I think the most important thing is to make providing a safe environment for your horse another fundamental.
BELONGING Now I think this is a big part for us humans; needing to 'belong' to a group or a family. You, I and many others spend time blogging and whilst we all insist we do it for 'ourselves' I think we all know it's nice to be followed and receive comments. The internet has filled a space for some of us that live in rather remote lands not served by huge communities and their facilities. It doesn't mean we no longer desire face to face friendship and comradeship but it does help fill the gap that this new century can leave us with. Horses and the www, now that's a thought. It's just not going to happen though, is it? Horses are tactile creatures and the thought of our equines getting their friendship fix online is just impossible. There is a lot of science available regarding horses, herds and interaction. Wade through it and get a feel for it but remember that much of it will be a compromise. We really can't recreate nature and I'm not sure that some horses would actually want us to. Horses really do like companionship, they like a mate to scratch and groom and some like one to kick and bite so it's never just a question of parking two horses in their well fenced, watered, safe paddock and leaving them to it. As humans we have a huge responsibility to our horses and in keeping them safe we need to consider their field friends with care. I truly believe that our horses feel a sense of belonging to us. It's not love and it's only respect if you have instilled that in your relationship but I do think they derive pleasure from being with us. Grooming, massage, groundwork or riding it's all the same to a horse; shared experience. I always think it's so unfair that we insist our horses stand still to be groomed and not scratch us back in return; after all that is what horses do to each other. Of course we can't just let them gnaw at our backsides while we brush their itchy spots but it does help us to understand why many horses are very fidgety when being groomed and this is just one example of trying to look at it from their point of view.
HABITUDES So does our horse weep into his pasture when we don't turn up to ride? Does he pace the fence waiting to see us arrive in our car? Well actually yes, he does (OK well maybe not the weeping) because if we do it regularly (and worse still always at the same time) then he will expect it. I remember Richard Maxwell saying to me that the best routine to have was no routine...think about it! It's not that our horse yearns to be ridden but that he is a creature of habit, he EXPECTS things to happen like they did the day before.
GRANDMA, WHAT BIG EYES YOU HAVE
Horses have large eyes placed, conveniently for a prey animal, on the sides of their heads. This means that, unlike us, the horse has a great field of vision being able to see around itself on either side in monocular vision. That is to say he has a wide angle of *single* vision in each eye except for an area of binocular vision in front of him. I'm not going to go into great lengths about equine vision because there is plenty written in books and, no doubt, on the internet on the subject. What I would say is that without some understanding of how a horse sees (and truthfully I don't think even the scientists know it all yet) then we can't begin to get an understanding of what makes them tick. If there's one thing that I am frustrated to hear it's humans berating their *stupid* horse for worrying about something that is almost unseeen to us humans. 'Stupid horse, what is it, a man eating paper bag?' Well just lets stop and think how that bit of paper may appear to a horse. Our horse has an excellent monocular vision using each eye independently but also has a blind area behind it and a small one in front of it. If our bit of paper moves from being in the blind spot to being within the field of view then this may appear to have *jumped* out of nowhere...instantly alerting our horse to a perceived potential danger. The entry point of a spook is often going to be a sudden appearance of an object in the monocular field, the horse then has an instinct to move his head (and thus often his body) to get a *proper* look at the object with
his frontal binocular vision et voilĂ ! let battle commence. Of course it shouldn't be a battle but inevitably that's what it becomes. I once watched a top dressage trainer spend literally a whole lesson (at more than 50 quid a lesson) trying to get a student's horse to work in the *spooky* area of the school. Of course the obvious answer to me is to work away from spooky corner to achieve some trust and thus relaxation may be possible, perhaps even enough trust to work through the spooky bits. I was often told to work a spooky horse in shoulder-in looking away from the object that was causing consternation. Sometimes this works but if you think of how the horse's eyesight works then often I've found it beneficial to position it such that it can actually SEE the problem and begin to accept it rather than expecting it to cope with the offending object coming in and out of vision. It does help though, to give the horse something else to think of and by asking it to engage it's body in perhaps a lateral movement whilst still having it's eye on the object can be beneficial. Let's remember then that our steeds are hard wired to avoid predators and their eyesight is not like ours, let's cut them some slack and hope that they will one day trust us enough to accept that if we don't believe it's harmful then probably it ain't. Next I want to think about human vision ;-)
Eyes Wide Open This fundamental is down to the human, it's our responsibility. I'm not really thinking of human vision in terms of what we actually see compared to a horse; more how we educate our eyes to see what's under our very noses. I'm always amazed how little I know about how my own body works but then that's down to me, I have choices and can ignore common sense if I choose. My horse, however, has no choice; he doesn't get a choice in what saddle he wears, how his feet are trimmed, how he's bitted (or not) and so on. It is my responsibility to keep my eyes wide open and 'see' what he tells me. Now please don't get me wrong, I have my eyes half closed most of the time and it's not something I'm particularly proud of...however...it is our duty to open them wide and to learn to decipher exactly what it is we are seeing. At the very least we should understand how to gauge our equines weight and general condition and understand his gaits and some basic physiology. If we want to improve the canter we need to understand the fundamentals of the gait, what leg fires the canter up, which legs lift into the moment of suspension and so forth. Now I am regularly chewing someone's ear about technicalities and sometimes even those who sit on the same side of the fence will disagree over the finer points but the fundamental principles of movement are undeniable. Today we have the www, a huge resource at our fingertips, and we have no excuse not to hone our visionary skills but the best resource remains, as always, in our yard (barn)! Spend time watching horses, learn to decipher their body language; YES read
books but open your eyes and minds to your horse and be amazed.
The EARS have it Where was I? Ah yes hearing. Another sense that sets us apart from our horses is hearing. It is generally accepted that horses can hear higher frequency sounds than us humans and that we can detect sounds of lower frequency than horses. Horses also have those radar-like ears, capable of gathering up as much information as they can, however, they are less able to detect sound sources as well as we do. So yet again with 'senses' we differ and it is not possible to hear how our horses do. It does explain why horses can feel sensitive around squealing kids (mine are pretty used to this now) and other high pitched noise that they can't identify. I find generally that mine are quite comfortable with an unknown noise once they have experienced it a few times. Spook busting for noise is on my list 'to do' for my youngster, it's not something that I've had to do with a baby before as I've always been on big yards with plenty of 'nanny' horses to help teach a baby but now I'm pretty much alone it's down to me to educate his reaction to sounds. I'll let you know how we go! Patience is a virtue! Well if anyone is still reading this I would suggest that you possess one of my essential fundamentals, patience. It is very strange that the years teach us patience - that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting, said Elizabeth Taylor. That certainly rings true for me and as time rushes
past too quickly I am finally able to sit things out, wait and watch without sitting on my hands and be itching to get stuck in. I know horses have patience, they often have no choice in the matter and that seems a whole other sort of patience, the patience of waiting, boredom springs to mind! Some horses seem to have infinite patience whereas others can barely tolerate a moment of waiting. Most horses seem quite able to switch off from things but boy if you have one that doesn't or can't then you will know about it. If you have an impatient horse then the pressure on YOU to be patient is even greater. The bonus with patience is the sweet reward of success, it may be a long time in coming but rewards achieved through patience are usually good for a lifetime.