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Eagerness vs Fear when approaching a jump
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Helen
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 05:06 am
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Hi Dr Deb and everyone,

In my time riding I have noticed many different attitudes and responses towards jumps; however, there is one in particular which I wished to clear up.
This is when you point your horse towards a jump and give them the aid to go there, and, once they have seen the jump, they speed up.

When at first I noticed (and rode) this... action, I attributed it to eagerness on the horse's part. However, over time I also saw that in some cases it could lead to horses refusing (usually stopping dead rather than pulling out) or 'flattening' so as to produce a poor standard of jump.
I have since been told (and this makes a great deal of sense to me) that often this speeding up happens when a horse experiences the 'flight response' associated with fear; they speed towards the jump, either in order to get it over with, or because they have realised that stopping from high speed can result in a fall, and that in not trying the jump again (most of the time I spend around horses is with riding school horses, so please note that the majority of observations here are in less-than-ideal situations).
However, there does also seem to me to be the honest enthusiasm of a keen jumper. Over time I (think I) have learned to tell the two apart, and deal with them differently: when fear is involved, the canter's beat noticably quickens and the horse feels to be running. The best solution is to canter a slower circle, then try to maintain that rhythm by pre-empting the change in speed, with seat aids and rein if the horse doesn't respond to seat. It is often necessary to keep the leg there, so the horse feels that the rhythm must not be either sped up or slowed.
When it is enthusiasm, the horse's ears will often prick and the canter will become 'scopier', feel more bouncy and, well, better. With experienced jumping horses there is often no regulation needed by the rider; the horse is able to judge the distance to the jump and height by itself and steady itself if needed. On a less experienced horse, it can be necessary to again canter a circle and/or use seat or rein aids to ask them to slow. Grids can be particularly useful in teaching horses of this sort to regulate themselves.

My main reason for posting this was to ask for your opinion(s) on this theory, and how correct it is? Has anyone else come across similar reactions in horses?

Cheers,
Helen

Pam
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:06 am
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Hi Helen,

My horse used to be a show jumper.  Very recently I hired a young woman at our barn to jump him twice a week.  Since she is a 3 day eventer, I thought it would be fun for both of them.  I have only had one jumping lesson and occasionally do little baby jumps with my guy.  I'm kind of chicken to jump anything very high.  But I have noticed on the little jumps I do with him that he is very careful and I feel as safe as I could jumping a horse.  You really don't have to do anything because he knows his job.  Oh ya, just stay on.  I've heard from other jumpers that is how it should be.  I've seen other people jumping their horses and they do all kinds of crazy things, like bucking and bolting right after the jump.  I'd say that is a horse that is not feeling very good about what he is doing.  You gotta wonder where their birdie is too.  Probably as far away from the jump as possible.

The woman who jumped my horse said that he was so much fun to jump because he slows down before and after the jump, not running off in a fast canter.  Her horse liked to speed up, which is very undesirable and scary.  Maybe the difference being in the amount of training. 

Well, that's my 2 cents worth, but I'm sure others have more to say than I on this subject.

Pam

Last edited on Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:07 am by Pam

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 07:32 am
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Helen, you have stated in another thread as well as in your post in this thread that you don't actually own a horse, but are instead taking lessons on "school horses" at a public facility.

You are correct in thinking that this will make it difficult for you to apply some of what you read about here. And you are right also to think that attempting to apply it to somebody else's horse is both confusing to the horse, and wrong. "Wrong" because the animal is somebody else's property, and they have a right and even a duty to see to it that the animal responds and works in a way that THEY are expecting.

None of this is to say, however, that you cannot get a copy of the Birdie Book and read it, and learn about what makes horses "tick" on the inside and how you can control them from the inside instead of by superficial, exterior means. This is nothing more than saying that it would never hurt any student to learn the true meaning of "subtle aids".

My experience teaches me, however, that you will not by any means be able to make these subtle aids work on the "schoolies" that you are riding. I'll give you an example -- this is a horse-rider combination that shows up at my clinics every once in a while:

In America, there is a style of riding called "Western pleasure" which is very popular. Typically, horses are trained for this style through a process of routinization. They are told, by means of ordinary aids and tack, by means of martingales and other devices, and by means of the trainer's use of his hands, seat, and legs, that what they are to do is move with very short, stiff steps; with their head projected straight out to the front; with the poll carried four or five inches below the level of the saddle horn (or lower, so low that they are jokingly called 'peanut rollers'). They are to move with about 1/4 the normal energy. They do a suspensionless pseudo-trot called a "jog", in which the animal steps from one diagonal pair to the opposite diagonal pair with no "bounce" or intervening period of suspension. The entire emphasis in judging the rider in this type of riding is whether she, with a stiffness equal to her horse's, maintains a certain textbook "position" with arms and legs held "just so".

Now, once in a while, this sort of rider and horse do show up at one of my clinics. The horse moves like a cripple, and the rider has a very superficial and artificial understanding of the entire process of horsemanship. I know as soon as I see them walk in that I will have two choices as to how to help this pair over the two or three days that I'll have available to work with them. I can either try to primarily work on the rider's brain, to wake it up, to encourage her to read, to reinforce her belief in herself so that she starts making independent and accurate observations, and, above all, so that she starts to be able to FEEL her horse underneath her. If this is the tack I take, I will pretty much leave the horse alone -- one thing at a time is plenty.

My other choice is to go full out to re-train the horse. Sometimes, if the rider is intelligent and -- here's the important part -- sufficiently dissatisfied with how things have been going with her riding -- then I can risk this. But approaching the situation with the thought of re-training the horse will mean entirely starting the horse over from the very beginning, and this can turn into such a big can of worms that nobody could bring it off in three days.

Your schoolies are likely to be no different. It is certainly not that they cannot be re-trained -- any horse can learn anything at any time in its life, given a sufficiently skillful and sympathetic teacher. But you, Helen, are not taking lessons there to learn how to train horses -- you are merely being taught how to PILOT them. There is a huge difference. There is nothing wrong with "piloting" -- but you must not get that mixed up with knowing how to take a horse and teach it something.

Starting a new, fresh, green four year old is a particular pleasure for those with the circumstances and the means to own their own horse. But if you get your own horse, Helen, please take my advice and don't try to do this right off the bat. Get, instead, a 15 year old gelding, select a simple objective such as teaching the animal to step up on the circus drum, and let that be your opportunity to allow the greatest teacher there is -- that horse -- to show you all the things that you (or anyone) needs to know about HERSELF before "herself" can begin to presume to teach the horse anything at all.

When this lesson has been driven home to you by your own horse, then, and only then, will it be time to think about branching out to, on the one hand, the young unstarted animal that you then mold to your own expertise, and, on the other hand, the most challenging and interesting experience, which is re-making that older "can of worms".

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 12:08 pm
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Yes, Dr Deb, a lot of that strikes home. I am fairly familiar with WP style riding and it thoroughly confuses me.

You are completely correct in saying that I get little opportunity to 'train' these horses as such, however there are some exceptions - particularly a green 6yo mare (I love that they waited until she was 5 to break her) who I ride on a regular basis. I do not have enough impact to be able to completely retrain her, but I can easily feel an improvement each time I ride her as there are only a very few riders who ride her.

One of my long term goals is to buy a young horse (ideally a yearling) and train it completely from scratch; however I have already planned to buy a more experienced gelding such as you have described and see what I can do with it, then work up from there. I see far too many poorly trained horses around to have any wish to bite off more than I can chew, as the saying goes. Thankfully my years of learning to 'pilot' the many different horses at my riding school means that I have a fair amount of experience of some of the common problems horses can get over the years.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 06:57 pm
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Helen, that's all good. Also think about this: what impact do you think that the fact that all the horses you've ridden are also ridden by many other people -- in other words that they are the SORT of horses that can BE "schoolies" -- what impact do you think that riding this sort of horse might have had on YOU?

Even a horse that is ridden by "only a few other people" is not the same as one that is ridden exclusively by its owner. Usually, sharing a horse creates a situation where it is one step forward, two steps back. If your instructor is good, a pro, then her horses will all reflect her style, her priorities, her aiding system; and then, overlying that, there will be the dullness or "nonspecificity" that all horses armor themselves with when they are ridden by multiple riders.

You will not know the difference, or really be able to realize what I am saying, I think, until you do get your own horse. And yes, please do continue to have the humility to realize that you will not be able to help a young horse for quite some time -- seven or eight years. Your older gelding will have much to teach you, and it will take that long for you, as it does for everyone else.

One thing I was trying to say in my previous message was that, presumably, you would be buying an older gelding that HAS BEEN a "schoolie". That's where the story about the WP horse comes in. You will have to break through the armor/dullness -- that will be your first job, to get him to realize that you're his "one and only", and that he need not ever again have to armor himself against the unexpected. When the armor starts to come down, then his eyes will liven up and that's your first window of opportunity to teach him something new. The circus drum is an ideal situation because it brings so many things into sharp focus, as many of our old readers here can tell you.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 11:19 pm
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Interesting. I had never really thought of buying an old school horse as my first - yet now you say it, it does make sense. I will definitely keep that in mind, as I can easily see how that would help both me and the horse.

Sam
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 Posted: Thu Aug 9th, 2007 09:01 am
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Hi Helen,

You will love an older school horse, he will so appreciate being your one and only, these horses have so much to give, what a lucky chap your future horse will be!!

The drum work is fantastic, it is a chance to see the 'real' horse.  My sensitive horse loves his drum and I thought it was because his head became lower than his wither, which is not at all usual for him, when he was mounted on the drum, but after mucking about one day he is just as pleased to stand on his drum with his hind legs on it, bum in the air and weight on his forehand...I spose again his head is still lower than his wither!!  There is a lot going on when the horse is mounted on the drum and its all good.

I have been trying to understand this comment from Dr Deb, particularly the last half, as Dr Deb, you said something similar to me after my first post on the forum...Dr Deb said " Get, instead, a 15 year old gelding, select a simple objective such as teaching the animal to step up on the circus drum, and let that be your opportunity to allow the greatest teacher there is -- that horse -- to show you all the things that you (or anyone) needs to know about HERSELF before "herself" can begin to presume to teach the horse anything at all. "

A little nudge in the right direction would be so much appreciated.

Best Wishes

Sam I am

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Aug 10th, 2007 07:03 am
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Sam, I am going to suggest here that you will be the best one to be nudging yourself. But I'll nudge your nudge:

(1) When you were first attempting to show the pony how to get up on the drum, I mean at the point when neither of you had done it before, while you were standing there with him on one side of the drum and you on the opposite side, what, exactly, was going through your mind?

(2) When it had become clear that the pony knew what you wanted, and had perhaps placed one foot on the drum -- or allowed you to place it there -- so that just the front rim of the hoof was touching the drum surface but not the sole of his foot -- then it very likely took some time, quite a few tries, before he got to where he would set the sole of his foot down on the drum. During these multiple tries, or these multiple times of trying it again and again or showing him again and again, do you recall having any feelings of impatience, frustration, or anger?

(3) How many 'steps' are there, i.e. how many separate actions are required of the horse, when it goes from standing in front of the drum to actually standing on the drum? Is getting on the drum just "one action"? Or a whole string of smaller actions?

(4) From whom did you learn that it is a whole string of smaller actions?

(5) If you were to teach another horse that knows nothing about getting on the drum, how to get on the drum, would you do it exactly the same way you did it with the first horse you tried it with?

(6) If you go to teaching a second horse, do you think you'll be any better at it than you were the first time? If so, in what specific ways?

 

 

Sam
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 Posted: Fri Aug 10th, 2007 07:26 am
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Thank you,  Dr Deb, I am off to print out your reply as I feel it needs a bit of scribbling in the margins!! 

Regards Sam

Humph!  I printed it out and stared at it for a day or so...ended up looking across my drum at a darling Shetland who I have never taught to use the drum-- what was going through my mind at that exact moment--Fear!!!  (I could be about to enter the nutter department!)  Oh, so much fear, in that small moment, fear of upsetting the pony, fear of not being good enough to achieve this, fear of mistakes and (now this is bizarre) fear of 'loosing' this pony!! 

Sat on the drum having a visit with my small friend and decided there is no proof this is going to kill either of us....it then took no more than 30 seconds for the pony to approach the drum, touch it with her nose and prick her ears at me, allow me to place the toe of her hoof on the drum, she looked at her hoof, looked at me, rocked her weight back a bit, weighted the hoof on the drum and brought up her other hoof, and presto pony on the drum as happy as can be.  Me beside the drum happy as can be!

My lesson from my pony was, first the ponies teacher must have calm,  the mounting on the drum like all 'pony lessons' is chocka full of very small actions to be rewarded at the slightest attempt.  If I think back in time to the very first horse I taught to get on the drum, at that time I saw only two or three 'actions' put horses hoof on drum and hold it there...ask from halter for horse to bring up other leg, took much longer than latest pony and while I seldom feel impatience, anger around my horses there would have been a bit of frustration and a lot of beating myself up if unable to do this.  

So for future ponies I think I will be better at teaching them to mount the drum or any other thing I choose to teach them.  Firstly I must let go of that fear it lives in the past, not the now, I will send a clear picture to my little friend about what I am asking and reward the slightest-teeny tiny attempt offered to me and I will do all this with my mind present , my mouth shut  and teeny-tiny smile on my face.

Thanks for nudging my nudge, Dr Deb.

Best Wishes

Sam I am

Last edited on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 09:17 am by Sam


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