Thursday, 28 July 2011

Neck extension

Neck extension is a central term in the School of Légèreté and part of the flexions. The purpose of neck extension is to have the horse lowering its neck to the point that the ears are at the same height as the wither, and the nose well out in front of the vertical.

and in doing this, stretching the topline, more precisely the ilio-spinal muscle. This muscle is stretched when the spinal processes on the withers are pulled forward by the ligaments and muscles in the neck when the neck is extended horizontally. If the horse goes behind the vertical, the ilio-spinal muscle will not be stretched.

You ask the horse for neck extension by raising the hand so that you come into a steady, even, contact with the corner of the horse's mouth. When the horse wants to lower its head, let your hand follow down and forward.

These are my note about neck extension from my last clinic with Bea Borelle:

1) When the horse's head is high, the rider's hands are high so as to act on the corner of the horse's mouth, this avoids pressure on the horse's tongue.
2) Action (the horse lifts its head and the rider raises his hand, see above) – Reaction (the horse lower its head from and the rider's hand follow softly) start with the opening of the poll.
3) Demi-arrêt (French for half halt according to de la Guérinière) to open the poll.
4) The lower the neck, the further the nose out in front of the vertical (and the rider's hand forward!).
5) Being on the vertical is the beginning of a mistake.
6) Vertical balance has priority over neck extension (the horse should not speed up or lean on the bit when extending the neck. If it does, correct it with the demi-arrêt).
7) Lateral balance has priority over neck extension (the horse should not lean on the inside shoulder when turning in neck extension).
8) The steady bend keeps a steady position.
9) Légèreté doesn’t always start with légèreté, some horses need to be schooled to seek the contact with the rider's hands.
10) Neck extension is usually a lower position of the horse's neck than you think.
11) To repeat the signal tells the horse to extend more, or (in case the horse has raised its head again) to return to neck extension.
12) The bend cultivates the way of extension. For instance when the horse learns too well and start leaning on the bit, the bend will help the horse develop a soft extension without leaning.

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Natural Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are all my own.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Different models for keeping horses

At a scientific kitchen table conference, I got the book Hidden Horses by Mark Hanson put in my hands. It is an interesting read about the shared history of horse and man, how we worked together over the years and how horses have improved our lives. In his book Mark urges us, now when the horses in our part of the world no longer is the difference between life and death, to really make an effort to give our horses a "horsey life" during the hours we do not use them.

Mark presents four models of horse keeping that defines our relationship to horses, there are no solid walls between them. We can in various degrees be influenced by them and I do think that we can recognize ourselves (and others!) in them.

The Utility model:
The model is based on tradition, history and the culture in which horses were made “useful”. They could play a part in warfare, in agriculture, in industry. In our Western culture the horse was a kept for a reason and few individuals were kept just for pleasure.

Horses played a significant role in the military and that affects the key ingredients for utility model, that is control (via the reins, bits, proper seat), dominance and discipline. Dressage competitions are traces of that era in which horse and rider's performance is assessed based on predetermined ideals of obedience and control through gaites and turnes in geometric patterns. Western riding also falls into the utility model: the horse was expected to do a job on the ranch.

Professions such as veterinarians, farriers, trainers, agronomists are often trained with the utility model as a basis for their education.

A brief summary of the utility model:
* Horse is defined by what it is to be used for, everything that falls out of this definition is irrelevant (unless it would increase the horse's performance)
* the model is simple, straightforward, practical and effective, based on "things that work" even though it may be a question of beliefs rather than knowledge in certain situations
* the model is created by men for men, it is rigid and difficult to change
* The horse has nothing to say in this model and many horses fall-out early

The Anthropomorphic model:
Anthropomorphism is a term coined during 1700 to describe how people look for human characteristics in animals, plants, and phenomena such as storms. The model is interpreting the horse's behavior in terms of human behavior.

According to Mark, this model is the most dangerous threat to horses and people in the world today, even though it is based on human qualities as benevolence and kindness.

In this model there are four rules.
1, Anthropomorphism is alway rewardig for the human
2, the more like the human environment we can make the horse's environment, the more we feel like we take care of it
3, because it is rewarding to the human in itself the feedback for humans is strong in the model
4, despite the best intentions the model may often have the opposite effect on the horse.

Significant features of this model are shopping (treats, compound feed, blankets and other equipment), an overly protective attitude that prevents the horse from being in the paddock with other horses, being out in rough weather, and forces it to be covered for long periods of the year. The horse is completely dependent on the owner's personal beliefs about what is best for the horse, often based more on others' perceptions and sometimes pure misunderstandings than facts.

For the horse does this model include increased risk of obesity, laminitis, stress and various behavioral disorders.

The Horsemanship model:
This model Mark sees as a step forward in keeping and training horses. The model focuses on communication rather than control of the horse, something the previous models are based on.

The disadvantage of this model is that it is a system which, like other systems (utilitylmodel), do not adapt to the individual. The downside is that the horse learns “compliance" instead of wanting to be a active part of the training. Mark points out that horses are trained by this method easily learns to look for "the easy way out/the minimum effort" to get the release from the pressure that the trainer uses.

The origin of this model comes from how horses behave towards each other, where the threat and submissiveness is an important part in the daily life of the heard. What distinguishes the horses' use of these method is that when the high ranked horse has presented her threat and the low ranked horse has yielded there is all there is to it.

When we are training the horse by this method we will continue our threat during the time we train and we do not stop when the horse "yields" the first time but instead progress to the next exercise. One obvious danger with this model is that the trainer can easily create a horse that turns off.

The Natural Horse Keeping model:
The last model is the one that Mark advocates. In that model, he wants the horse to be in paddocks that stimulates the horse to walk and eat and to be part of a heard. The feeding is based on the fact that the horse digest food through microbiotic fermentation. It should be covered as late as possible and the blanked should be removed as soon as possible. The equipment must be suited for the job the horse will do and with no auxilliary reins.

The training of the horse is done through 'positive reinforcement, clicker training, where the horse learns to actively seek to do what leads to the reward (Mark stresses that the goal is that the horse will learn to work for the click and the sweet becomes secondary).

I have taken myself to the horsemanshipmodellen and I find it interesting to read about what Mark describes as the next level in the relationship horse-human. I can agree with what he writes about how we can improve the horse's environment.There is plenty of room for improvement for many horses in Sweden today.

Clicker training as opposed to horsemanship then? My own experience comes from horsemanship, I have not myself tried clicker training. However, I have seen good and bad effects of both kinds. When it comes to training models, I believe in what he says about system in general - namely, that they can leave the individual behind and that goes for both man and horse.

I personally believe that we could become more "means where by" focused in our training of the horse (and ourselves), be aware of our desired goals and humbled by the journey. If we manage that I think we can work together as two happy individuals.

In response to post about BT-circumference, here is a link to a page that gives more information.

"There really is a hidden horse in our horses, it is sometimes a little strange anf always rather wonderful and it is waiting for you to discover it."
Mark Hanson

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Philippe Karl's training chart

I'm getting ready for the “School of Légèreté” clinic with Bea Borelle next week. Part of my preparation is to go over my notes from the previous clinic. I wanted to share with you Philippe Karl's circular chart to horse-training. The chart focuses on what to train rather than the result of the training (rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection). The start, and end, of all training is the horse's lightness to the rider's hand. But before I go into the sequence of what to train, let's look at what is in the centre of the circle.

Respect to the horse
Respect to the horse means knowing about the nature of the horse's psyche in order to be able to present the request you have so the horse can understand you. Horses don't speak English, Swedish or any other spoken or written language. They speak horse. To respect the horse also means to know about the biomechanics of the horse, how the horse balances himself and how he carries his weight distributed over his four legs. It also includes respecting and seeing the individual horse and recognising both similarities with and differences from other horses.

Lightness to the hand, balance and impulsion
Lightness to the hand is the starting point in Philippe Karl's training chart. Without lightness to the hand the horse is not in a proper balance. Impulsion (lightness to the legs) is only of use if the horse is in balance and light in hand. These three concepts cannot be separated, therefore there are arrows connecting all three of them.

1) Lightness to the hand
Lightness to the hand means that the horse neither leans on the bit (again balance as mentioned above. This can also be phrased as resistance of weight) nor contracts the jaw (resistance of force). Lightness to the hand means that the horse is gently playing with the bit, lifting it with its tongue and that the horse can easily swallow. This is something the horse can and should be trained to do. For the horse to be able to express lightness to the hand, the nose band (if used at all) should be loosely fitted, and the rider cannot act backwards with her hands.

2) Flexibility
The part of the horse's spine that is the most flexible is the horse's neck. Contrary to popular belief, the horse's anatomy does not allow the horse to bend laterally in its spine throughout its whole longitudinal axis. The only part of the horse's body the rider really can influence with stretching exercise is the horse's neck. Exercises to improve flexibility are the flexion of the horse's neck up and down, to the right and to the left in halt, walk, trot and canter. These exercises will lead to suppleness and, together with “3) Mobility”, also to straightness and rhythm in all gaits. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes more flexible, he will also get lighter in hand.

3) Mobility
To train mobility in the horse includes bending the horse in both directions, turning in both directions and also practicing sideways movements like shoulder in, travers, renvers and half pass. A horse is said to be straight when it can just as easily be turned to the right as to the left, perform right shoulder in as well as left etc. When the horse is light in hand, flexible and mobile, he will also move with rhythm. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes more mobile, he will also get more flexible.

4) Collection
Collection means the horse is carrying more of its weight on its hind legs by flexing the joints in the hind legs and in doing so engage the hind legs under the body. Transitions and rein-back where the horse lightens the forehand (raises the neck) and remains light in hand, together with lightness to the rider's legs (impulsion) are used to achieve collection. The circle is complete since as the horse develops the ability to collect, he will also become lighter in hand. The double headed arrow indicates that when a horse becomes lighter in hand, he will also develop a more brilliant collection.

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Natural Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are all my own.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Bone-tendon circumference indicates the horses' weight bearing capacity

A while ago I was looking at horses with two friends. One of them bent down and looked at one of the horses' legs and said: - and I always have a measure tape with me and now I do not, with some irritation in the voice. - What did you want to measure, I asked. The bone-tendon circumference was the response.

On the way home I asked what the measurement was of importance. In all my years as a horse owner, I have read bone-tendon measurement in descriptions of stallions but never thought about what it means. Embarrassing, but true! What I've known is that a horse that is narrow under carpus should be avoided and now I know why.

I have learned that a horse can carry about 20% of its own weight but it is a fairly rough measure that in itself does not take in consideration to the horse's conformation.

The bone-tendon measure gives, along with other exterior qualities at the loin, the angles of the legs, the horse's own weight and height at the withers (!), The sum of all these objects gives an indication of how much weight the horse's skeleton can carry without the risk of health problems.

A circumference of 20 cm means that the horse is able to support a body weight of 454 kg.

A horse that weighs more than 660 kg is not designed to carry any weight beyond its own without the risk of sustainability problems. Horses over 162 cm may also have problems to have strong enough bones to withstand the extra weight of the rider and equipment brings on the horses’ skelton.

The lower the horse's own center of gravity, the more weight it can carry. A horse that is 142 cm, weighs 454 kg, has a bone-tendon measure of 20 cm, has a short, strong loin and good angles in the legs can carry up to 30-35% of its weight (136-158kg), without durability problems. This explains why the Icelandic horse is capable of carrying full-grown men that is likely to weigh closer to 80 than 60 kg.

If I look at Amaretto, my new horse, who is 153 cm, weighs 490 kg (weight tape measure) and he is overweight (crested neck, fat over the ribs), with a slightly long back, wide croupe and pretty good angles in the legs and a bone-tendon measurement of 21 cm, indicates that his skeleton is optimized to support about 474 kg.

You see what that means? I'll have to wait to ride him until he has lost at least 20 kg. How is the situation for your horse?

"Admire the big horses, ride a small."
Words of wisdom presented by Ed Dabney