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7 year old mare appearing to be spur "dull"
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Molly's Mom
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 Posted: Wed Oct 27th, 2010 03:54 pm
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Please excuse my ignorance as I am just the mother of a horse crazy little girl...My daughter has been taking english lessons for four years now, we bought her a horse three years ago.  Her mare is now 7 years old (and moderately mareish) and showing signs to "ME" that she is not responding to my daughter's legs/spurs.  My daughter appears to be working way to hard, she is 11 and is rather short legged and fortunately or not she is a perfectionist.  It seems to me like we need to back up on our training and find out what the problem is that her mare will not move off of her leg. I see my daughter, in my opinion ,over using her spurs and not getting a good response.  Do you have any suggestions?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Oct 29th, 2010 05:32 am
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Dear Molly's Mom: Yes, I think your observations are likely valid. Your daughter has been taking lessons long enough to have become not only more confident but also more ambitious. And, given her "tweener" age range, there is probably some desire on her part to see her mare do as well as horses she sees belonging to other people, or other kids at the same stable that are her age.

This is where you as a parent get to step in to help her get her priorities straight. Although it is very, very tempting for young people to compare themselves with what they think others have, what they think others have accomplished, and what they think others can do....not one iota of such comparisons are beneficial to the horse. And it is the horse who must be considered first. This is not, in other words, "about" your daughter.

Your daughter's horse ought to be your daughter's best friend, or at least numbered among her best friends. This is, I assume, why any parent permits a child to have a horse: so that she can learn how to treat good friends well. So the horse should be treated as you would treat a friend -- instead of being treated as an object of ambition or as a mere vehicle. The horsemanship byword here is this: no one has ever accomplished much of anything on a horse, who did not first have the horse's willing cooperation. And kicking, jabbing, and spurring are not the way to obtain the horse's willing cooperation, any more than kicking, jabbing, or spurring your husband would be. It just teaches the object of such abuse to armor-plate himself. Dr. Phil would say: "and so how's that working out for you?"

So the frirst suggestion that I have for you is to take off the spurs entirely, in the recognition that if the horse seems not to respond to the spurs, it is because you and your daughter, and your daughter's instructor, have jointly taught the horse to IGNORE the spur as well as all more subtle aids.

It's easy to get suckered into making this mistake; horses are expert at teaching humans to do as they wish them to do. All you have to do is accede to kicking a little harder, squeezing a little harder or more like all of the time, or using the spur all the time. The horse says, "OK, I'll go, but only as much as you demand." And the rider foolishly increases the force of the demand, until only a very large amount of force "works". What never seems to occur to most people is that, when the animal does this, the correct response is to decrease -- not increase -- the amount of force!

The second point that all of you need to wake up to, is that no horse ever, at any time, "went forward" IN RESPONSE TO or BECAUSE OF a kick, a squeeze, or a spurring. It goes, instead, to AVOID PRESSURE. It would rather never even have the first ounce of pressure, and any horse in the world will 'go' when pressure is RESERVED BEHIND THE OPTION TO GO ON NO PRESSURE!

What the horse does, and what it lives for every minute of every day, is to have no pressure at all. So when a horse ignores your pressure, because you have taught it to ignore that pressure, it is simply out-waiting you. It knows that your kid does not have the strength, or the mental or emotional maturity, to hang in there longer than it does. So it learns to respond slower and slower, and less and less, to greater and greater amounts of physical drubbing, because it has learned that it can stand the force of the drubbing you are offering and it has also learned that it can stand it longer than you have been willing or able to dish it out.

What a horrid situation this is -- when you wake up to it. Your whole world is about drubbing a dumb animal!

So now that you are aware that you have made a mistake, you take the spurs OFF and lock them in a closet, and then we will begin all over again to teach the horse to respond willingly to the caress of the leg -- to love it, to actually look forward to it.

The byword from now on will be: how LITTLE MIGHT IT TAKE instead of HOW MUCH DOES IT HAVE TO TAKE.

You will, then, be taking the horse in hand and finding out HOW LITTLE it might take to get the animal to untrack one, single step. Find out how little on the left side, and then change sides and find out how little on the right side. Untracking is the beginning of balanced departures from halt to walk.

You will also, I suggest, be purchasing the "Mannering Your Horse" and "Birdie Basics" disks from our "Membership" section, so that you can learn the protocol for mannering, the reasoning that lies behind it, the process of doing it, and ideas on how to apply it to your situation.

I also want you to go to the Google home page, click on "advanced search", and keyword "lesson of the spur" or "lightening the horse to the leg". These topics have been discussed in this Forum several times previously. At the bottom of the page be sure to dub in the following string: http://esiforum.mywowbb.com, which will limit the search to just this Forum.

Our elderly teacher usually gave the so-called "lesson of the spur" by means of a leafy branch, so I want you to know that spurs are not usually used in this day and age to give this lesson. It is merely called that after a phrase of Baucher's, from the early 19th century. Nonetheless, the principle is exactly the same. Now, in order to perform the "lesson of the spur", you will need to be with a competent teacher, and so I also suggest that you go find Harry Whitney at your very earliest opportunity and ask him to show you how to get your horse to be more responsive to the leg, and the whole business about the leafy branch, and tell him that Dr. Deb sent you.

As you work through this, you will of course also be welcome to write in here, as new questions arise. Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Nov 1st, 2010 07:30 am
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Today I am moved to add a little addendum to the above. Of course my gelding Oliver has been learning the Spanish Walk, and this past year has seen him make great strides on that (please excuse the bad pun).

What I want to report is that, in response to a photo session that I requested a month ago, I have renewed and redoubled my commitment to "seeing how little it might take". A lot of times when horses don't respond as 'big' as we would like them to, it is because we are either too forceful with our aids (overwhelming the horse), or else we are impatiently repeating the aid too soon when it does not seem that he is going to respond (tattooing the horse).

About six months ago, I decided it would be time to start Ollie on piaffe in hand. The standard method for this is to take the horse near the wall and parallel to it, and then lightly tap him with a whip (I use one of Allen Pogue's ball boppers) on the top of the croup.

When I did this the first time, Ollie looked back at me and said, 'Oh, she must want me to Spanish Walk'. And from then on, he has Spanish Walked very willingly, very expressively, if I set him up this way. Within two days I did not have to have him near the wall; and I did not have to have him in either a bridle or a halter, but completely free with nothing on his head. And as soon as he sees me lift the bopper over his hips, and tap him lightly with it, first on one 'bum' and then the other, then he will Spanish Walk at liberty anywhere we happen to be.

As to piaffe -- well, there are other aids for this and so I did not mind 'sacrificing' the tapping of the horse over the top of the croup to Spanish Walk.

The point of the story is this: after recently redoubling my commitment to seeing how little it might take, today was my first ride after being a week away in Oregon for the fall anatomy class. So when I had Ollie at liberty, today I did not carry any whip or stick, but merely raised my hand over his croup and tapped him with one finger -- with about the same force you would use to type the letter 'u'. And Ollie Spanish Walked with greater expressiveness and better forward-stepping of the hind legs than I have ever seen him do.

Horses are very sensitive animals; despite their hide and fur, I believe they are just as sensitive to touch as any person. And they are very intelligent animals that can learn anything when the teacher shows them how. And they are generous of spirit also, so that instead of quitting on you, they usually patiently hang in there until, as our elderly teacher used to say, 'the person figures out what the person should have been doing.'

Hope all your rides are going as well this fall season. -- Dr. Deb

 

Jeannie
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 Posted: Mon Nov 1st, 2010 09:23 pm
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 Dr Deb,  what a good example this is of making the horse's idea your idea. It is easy to miss those opportunities, and everyone is pleased with the result when we pick up on them.
                                            
                                                             Jeannie


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