Thursday, 25 April 2013

The effects of bit

This is an extra blog posting is directly taken from Kerstin Kemlén. Having horses is keeping an animal in captivity. Our decisions forms the captivity, we need to constantly think about how we treat our friends mounted as well as dismounted. We need to be aware of that the horse's life is a matter of compromising with the nature of the horse and our desire to use this magnificent animal's adaptability and ability to cooperate.
This summer - at the ninth International Equitation Science Conference - a new research entitled: "A Method of diagnosing and Measuring Pain in The Ridden Horse" is presented .

The experiment shows that the aversion against bit are very common and signs of aversion to bit is much larger in number than previously thought. In other words:
Many bit-related behavior problems disappear when the bit is removed and this includes those behavior that frequently is included in accidents with horse and rider.

The research results support the fact that
the committees that control the contest rules,
need to review the rules about bit being
demanded in competition!

How did they come to this result - what the scientific method was used?

58 riders were part of a controlled experiment group where they were asked to change from a bridle with bit to the bitless "whole head hug" concept. The experiment lasted from 2002-2008.

The survey included in the experiment was designed based on three years of feedback from riders who switched to bitless and the questionnaire listed 86 behaviors related to bit.

Experiments riders were asked to answer the questionnaire which was divided into two columns - one for the horse's behavior ridden with bit during the time the rider have had the horse in his possession - and another column for the horse's behavior when carrying out similar work when the bit has been replaced with a bitless"whole head hug".

Experiments riders had owned their horses between 9 months to 21 years, median 2 years.
The horses were 3.5 years to 24 years of age, median 8.5 years.
The horses had been testing bitless 1 day to 2 years, median 3 month.
The horses belonged in the disciplines of dressage, jumping, trail, pleasure, distance, eventing

EVERY horse showed fewer signs of pain when ridden bitless.
NUMBER of signals of painful symptoms showed by every horse when being ridden with bit were between 5-55, median 24 pain signals.
NUMBER of painful symptoms showed by every horse when being ridden bitless was 0-17, median 1 painful symptom.
OUTCOME  out of these 58 horses 90% of the signs horse showed of pain vanished when the bit was removed .

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The head leads and the body follows

Within the Alexander Technique we have the expression "head leads and the body follows." The term itself was coined by researcher Rudolf Magnus (1873-1927) in his studies of posture in mammals he found that the head and neck reflexes of mammals cause the body to follow automatically when the head moves.

When we ride, or drive horses, we have control over the horse's head through the head stall. Depending on the task we want the horse to do, the head stall can be a halter or bridle with or without bit.

But the term "the head leads and the body follows" has also a psychological bearing, the brain leads and body follows. Training and education is a coin with two sides, a physiological and a psychological and to get the best effect of training and education these two needs to coincide.I found an image illustrating the two sides of the coin in Hans von Blixen Fineckes book The Art of Training. 

It is a simple image that contains a lot of information. Interesting to me as an Alexander teacher is that he's talking about the conscious brain of both horse and rider. He describes how the motoric action that constitutes our aids is recorded by the horse's sensory nervous system. The information from us to the horse goes through touch and the information from the horse is conveyed to us through feel.
Hans von Blixen-Finecke talking about riding as a language of touch and a prerequisite for this form of communication is calm, within both horse and rider. Calm and presence.

A friend who has vast experience of riding young  race horses think the most important thing in any form of training of horses is that the horse never gets frightened during the early training. It gets a positive attitude to the rider and the work it should do, it will feel safe and it makes the psychological side of the coin interact with the physiological in a beneficial manner. A calm horse can digest information from the rider, a scared and nervous horse is blocked.

 Another friend was at a jumping competition at the weekend and reported with a tired tone that few were actually riding, most engaged in trying to control flight responses with both bit, extra reins and BF&I (brute force and ignorance). The BF&I riders had certainly gained control over the horse's head mechanically but they had totally missed getting the horse mentally.
It is important for us as riders to be in a good balance within ourselves. As we sit on the horseback our own internal weight distribution (skewness) affects the horse's body. Somehow the horse must handle adding our weight to its own and distribute it over his feet. The more equilateral and straight we are aligned around our own spine, the more even our weight is distributed to the horse.

When we ride, and I assume that we are aware of our own bodies, it is the shift in the horse's balance we feel through both seat and hands. The shift signals to us if the horse is in a good self carriage in the current movement.. An untrained, uneducated or a horse that is under rehabilitation have more obvious shifts in the balance than a healthy and more educated horse. By being present in each step, we as riders are able to feel how the horse move and we can with our signals, our touch, give aids that help the horse to place the weight and regain balance.

A good education ultimately leads to an equipage that makes everything look easy, it's two brains joined in movement and although it is the rider who leads it is the sence of trust developed in the relationship that makes the horse participate without fearAt this point the rider can be said to ride the horse's conscious brain and in that context, the rider, if the he/she would like, can remove all the equipment from the horse and ride on.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Perception - to hear the unspoken

Easter holiday and wonderful northern spring means that the blog has had to wait until sunset. The challenge is to capture the good days as a buffer for days of another kind.
In August 2010, I was out riding my anglo-arabian mare. We were out in the woods and rode on nice, gallop friendly sandy pine moore paths and I was so happy. She was alert, responsive and felt wonderful. One day I climbed her up a slight slope, four steps, we took the little slope twice - eight steps all in all.
We walked home and she went from calm and at ease to toss her head and stepping, she became generally annoying. I halted and thought that she would come to her senses, but she began to back up, and in the middle of a forced step back I felt how she lost her left hind leg. I got off her back and started walking home. Confused.
A few years later an acquaintance told me that she, after having taken a course on horses and bits, realized that the bit she liked to use when riding caused the most pain in the horse's mouth. It was incomprehensible to her, she felt that the horse was so soft and smooth in riding.
Another told me that they had discovered that the horse had lesions in the mouth but in riding the horse had felt soft and flexible. Another told me that the horse worked like a dream just to show lameness the day after.
Once is once but twice, three times, four times ... I know that this is not a statistically significant number, but never the less it raises a question in me. How well can we read horse?
Horses have utilized silence as their survival strategy, they are experts at hiding pain and the effects pain have on their bodies. Could it be that all the horses in these examples had showed small signals that something was wrong and since we as riders did not notice them, they moved within their frame of pain, and we considered them pliable and soft?
In my own case, I had taken her outside her framework under and she became very vocal in her behavior.
Had it been possible to discover pain reactions of the horses in the examples above by using a heart rate monitor? Were there some small indications from the horses' side that we missed, were there some big?
It is said that before you judge a horse to be disobediet, you should ask yourself if it understands what you ask for, if it has been trained to do what you ask for, or if it is physically fit to do what you ask for. You can tell by my wording that the way I reasoned in 2010 was disobedience - she was annoying and needed to come to her senses. The fact that it was the pain became apparent to me later, but at the moment disobedience was a closer option.
I have learned a lesson from the incident with my mare. Now I strive to ask me if it can be any of the other reasons that prevent the horse to do what I want instead of disobedience. I'm trying to train my perception, my ability to read horses better.
My new mare, whose feet carried me to AEP, enjoys the benefit of my homework and is also a good teacher. She signals in an ascending scale if I get too close to the edge of her frame of pain. In our training I don't not ask for any gait other than those she chooses to take in the pasture (the scare canter is not included). She has just recently begun to take a trot based on self carriage rather than a trot she jumped into. So we have now added short trot repetitons in our walks. We can take walks up to 1.5 hours, when we started she wanted to turn around after 10 minutes which added up to 20 minutes walk.
When we worked from the ground in a shoulder-in like move one step with left hind was enough in the beginning, one more and she gently nibbled my hand. Now we can take a series of steps in the corners. I propose a move and she adopts or rejects. It is not a question of obedience or disobedience to me, I trust that she knows what she is capable of doing and if I ask for more than she can manage so she shows me.
I see that she trained when she moves in the pasture. She's doing nice rollbacks on the narrow path where the gelding, who can not, must detour into the deep snow. The trot she offers now I long to ride. I really long to ride her, but I'm willing to give her the time she needs to heal. We do this together, she and I, we are a team.