Saturday, October 27, 2007

Observations from the Rail at Pacific Rim

Because the Pacific Rim Arabian Horse show is held while all of the "big boys" are gone to the US National Arabian Horse Show, the people who participate at the show tend to be a handful of diehards (like Rachel and Grandma) who didn't get enough showing in the regular season, a handful of trainers who don't go to nationals and lots and lots of beginners. It's really nice that there are shows like Pacific Rim and the Daffodil Arabian Summer Show that are geared to those beginners to the Arabian horse show circuit. But sometimes it's also hard to watch, for me anyway.

As a breeder I always seem to look at how horses are being ridden and I "feel" for the horse. I think "it could be one of my babies out there being treated that way." I know in a perfect world all riders would be perfect and never grab a horse in the face. But this isn't a perfect world and many horses get grabbed in the face, over and over again.

Sitting on the rail, watching all the new participants, and some old ones, can be an eye opening experience. Most of the problems of the horses in the ring all come down to one thing, grabbing them in the face. It's clear that each rider may not be grabbing the horse for the same reason. It's also clear that each horse may not be responding to the assault the same way. But what is also clear, is grabbing the reins and bumping, holding, or reaming all cause problems with and for the horse.

Many beginning riders tighten their arms and hang on for a sense of security. Most will be unaware that they are even doing it. However, the result will always be the same. You see those horses going around the ring pushing, pulling,rooting or tipping their heads upside down trying to find some way to relieve the pressure on their mouths.

Usually the more the horse tries to find some release, the harder the rider will hold onto the horse's face. Some horses will tolerate the death grip without escalating their behavior, particularly in the Arabian breed. But there will be those horses who just cannot tolerate the pressure anymore. Those horses may run off, buck, back up, rear or anything else they can think of to generate a release, including dump their rider. Can you blame them?

The answer for the rider when the horse is trying to go through the bit in any form is ALWAYS to push the horse forward and then release at the first sign of give by the horse. The horse learns from the release. I know it is instinct to want to grab the horse's face to fix the problem, but that grabbing is really the problem. No amount of grabbing is going to soften a horse up and cause it to give to the bit. The only thing that can do that is moving the horse forward. That means more leg!

It didn't matter whether I was watching classes or watching practice sessions, there was not a time that there weren't horses fighting that pressure on their mouths. It made me feel so sad for the horses and sad for the riders too. Most of those riders are frustrated and can't figure out why their horse is behaving that way, when the rider is really the problem. Soft hands are essential for the creation and maintenance of a soft horse.

More legs and soft hands can not be emphasized enough as far as I am concerned. Every single problem I was watching in that ring could only be fixed by using more leg and softer hands. There is nothing more basic about riding than that. A horse cannot rear if it is going forward. It cannot buck if it is going forward. And it cannot run off if it is going forward and soft. But a horse can do all of those things if it is braced against the bit.

That is what holding on to the horse does. It causes the horse to brace against the bit. The horse braces its body stiffly against the rider's stiff body. It isn't a pretty picture and it sure isn't comfortable for the horse or the rider and it can lead to much bigger problems.

Collection is not about pulling the horse's head down and into a position. It is about pushing a horse forward into a barrier. The barrier is the bit in the horse's mouth. It does not have to have pressure on it to be effective. On the contrary, too much pressure will cause the horse to brace. A bracing horse is the opposite of a soft horse.

I guess I've stated the same thing over and over here but it can not be stated enough. The evidence to that fact is that so many riders are riding off of their hands and so many horses trying to get away from that pressure.

Look at the arm position and posture of this rider. She is bracing against her horse and the horse is bracing back. The horse's jaw is set against the bit and his ear position and tail tell you he is not happy. With more leg and less pressure both horse and rider would be happy.

Sorry about the fuzz but since this is "someone" it's better not to be recognizable.

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  1. It's funny that western and English riding are such different styles but they operate on exactly the same principle and most riders have the same fault. Too much hand too little leg. I bemoan the fact that they don't teach children to ride without stirrups any more. How can you get impulsion if you don't use your backside?

  2. It may not be a good idea to post a picture of someone without blocking their face. If this person should take offense to your blog post and the use of their picture you might find your self in a pickle.

  3. Good picture to show the infamous 'horse-eating' white plastic liner on the arena wall. No wonder Dandy spooked when his tail hit it. What were they thinking?

  4. Amen to that. This is also my biggest peeve at the momnet, my hreart breaks for some of those horses out there. I also hate it when people say its strong/wild etc lets use a stronger bit. Oh yea all that will do is escalate the behaviour. Gosh its incredibly frustrating.

  5. Great post! I go to Quarter Horse Congress in Ohio every year to watch Reining. There are several other events be held at the same time and everyone shares the warm up pens. Watching people "prepare" is disheartening to say the least. Misuse of rein and spur is the most common offense. Most of awful horsemanship I see is born out of ignorance and inexperience rather than intention. So many people don't seem to get the fact that the most severe bit in the right hands can be harmless, yet a snaffle in the wrong hands can be torture. Not to mention the horror of watching Western Pleasure warm up. Nearly every horse is ridden in a four beat canter, with zero forward and at least half appear to be lame. Its uncomfortable to watch... Horses are truly forgiving creatures.

  6. ro, yes, you are right, it's all built on the same principles no matter what discipline.

    equinespirit, thanks for the support, I always feel like I'm ranting when I get onto this subject but I just feel so bad for the horses.

    anonymous, thanks for the info, I will have to figure out how to do that.. This actually is a friend of mine and she knew we were taking pictures for the blog. It was her very first horse show and she was terrified. She was even holding her breath.

    notablogger, you are right, that is a good angle of the horse eating plastic. Poor Dandy.

    beckz, me too, seems like most of a horses problems under saddle all start right here.

    kelly, yes it is getting to be the same way with the Arabians. Few horses have the talent to go that slow and so they look lame and out of balance. I've even seen some lately throwing their heads like the QH horses do. There is nothing pretty about that to me at all.