What can a QS student expect to achieve with QS.
Subscribe to Quantum Savvy Horsemanship for a free series of training videos and Release Method Book
Subscribe to this Blog
What can a QS student expect to achieve with QS.
A great fireside chat about making change and being part of horsemanship future.
Ever noticed how horses can behave differently for different people? Or how some people always get the same problem but with a different horse.
This is a Fireside Chat podcast from our QS Horsemanship forum. Enjoy and feel free to share it.
Nothing comes close for excitement to working with an ex-racehorse out in a big Australian paddock . As a teacher of horsemanship, I travel with my wife Meredith, 3 children and 5 horses to the most amazing places and it seems, no matter where we go, from the dusty stock routes of the Kidman Way to the suburbs of the big cities, there is always an ex-racehorse or 10 in the bunch of horses to be trained. We have been on the road teaching for more than 20 years now and I think the hotblooded horses of Australia have taught me the most about teaching horses rather than just training them. I have ridden unhandled Canadian horses on the Montana boarder, unhandled horses from the the Australian outback, brumbies, whalers, stock horses and have done many first ride demonstrations throughout Europe, but nothing comes close for excitement to working with an ex-racehorse out in a big Australian paddock. The horse trainers that we teach at courses often joke that they would rather have an untouched horse to ride than one that has learnt a bad habit. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean all racehorses have bad habits. Actually, their sport is the most natural action to the horse that there is; in what other sport do you get to run flat out in a group of other prey animals just like horses do in the wild?
People see the ex-racehorse or a rescue horse at the sales and see those big brown eyes and have to help it so they come home with a horse they bought with their heart, not their head. Don’t feel bad if this is you – there should be more heart in horsemanship anyway – but the problem is most of these people who buy with their hearts aren’t all that big on confidence or skills; no offence meant – we all could do with a bit of nervousness to keep us safer and we all need our skills better anyway. But, in short, we end up with an uneducated hotblood and a nervous rider. Who wouldn’t be nervous on a horse that has had the flight from fear instinct reinforced over and over?
As my wife, Meredith, and I were faced with this scenario again and again, clinic after clinic as we traveled Australia, we evolved into the coaches and trainers we are today. We had no choice but to get good with hotblooded horses and help people overcome these situations. It wasn’t something we had set as a goal – it just unfolded that way out of necessity. It seems we have a lot of hotblooded horses in Australia and I think this is what makes Australians stand out when it comes to horsemanship because, when you go back to the good old domestic horse after working with hotbloods, it all seems very easy. You find you have developed good habits because the hotblood won’t cut you much slack! This is why, when you go overseas, there will almost always be an Australian horseman/ horsewoman who has been invited over to help.
By chance, then, as we traveled Australia, people got to know we could help them be safe and confident with their nervous or touchy horses. However, to make it work, we had to develop some methods and a training program that was repeatable when they went home, so they could stay safe and continue to build confidence.
What are some of these amazing things that help hotblooded horses? Well, actually, these few things are more concepts or principles than tasks and they work for all horses: cool, warm and hot. Let’s begin with a big, fat untruth: just run him till he slows down and eventually he will stop running off! Yeah right – they sure weren’t riding a racehorse or one of our station horses or an overfed Arab when they made this one up! Ok, so if they run off, turn in a circle, flex, slow enough and get off and lead you horse home for more preparation. The principle here is you can’t teach a right brained horse so that includes a scared, nervous, defensive or confused horse. If they run off, they are right brained and you will be able to tell because the more right brained they are, the stiffer to flex and turn to stop they will be, and not much can beat the stiffness of a right brained racehorse, so avoid this by doing lots of preparation.
What preparation is going to help? There are 2 parts to this answer and they need to go together or it won’t work all that well. First up, we are going to have to get our right brain trigger horse to face their fears a little at a time; each time they get a little scared you will need to get them calm again before you try again or finish for the day. That doesn’t mean go out and scare your horse. It means find a small, simple task that you can sort of do but causes the horse to get a bit braced and get them to where they can do it easily with no brace or fear. For example, a goody for racehorses is transitions; I don’t think many of them go to transition school and most just have 2 gears: stop and go flat out, and the only speed adjustment you get is the brakes. So, start on the ground, online, and get them doing walk/trot first up. If they run off at the trot and start to canter, then ask them to slow to trot and try again. If they are a real good right brained trigger horse, they will keep running off after a little bit of trot, so just keep slowing them until they get the hang of the transition and realise they don’t need to run off and you will have just desensitized the right brained trigger to instinct in this horse by helping them face their fear. If they just don’t get it, then they are too far right brained to recover, so you will need to find something more achievable for them. If they are just starting to go right brained and you bring them back to calmness with a transition down, they will get better very quickly.
You can apply this to any task that is triggering your horse but that is only half the soloution. After desensitizing the right brain you will need to go one step further and develop the left brain of the horse; this is the part of their brain that makes decisions. No offence but not a biggy in most racehorses – big heart and loads of try but logic is lacking a tad; good qualities for a racehorse but not a riding horse.
To develop the left brain, you will need to give your horse options, which means drop contact on the lead or reins; what we call release training in our horsemanship program. Release training will give the horse an option to continue doing what you want or go do what they want. If a racehorse does what they want, it is usually run off so here are some ideas that will help you get started and maybe see if your good ol’ riding horse can do these just to check how their brain is working. On the ground to start with and after you have mastered the transitions we spoke of before, see if you can get your horse over some barrels laying on their side. Once you can get them over, do they trigger and go for a right brained run for a bit? If they do, then do the jump with a stop on the other side for a while to desensitize the right brain a bit, then to develop the left brain logic send your horse toward the barrel and release the lead a little as they come up to the jump. This will give them the option to dodge the jump or even stop. If they do this, ask them again with no extra pressure, just the same scenario and give the lead again. Do this until they go over, then allow them to stop like you have done before and give them a rest; this will give them time to think about the outcome of their decisions. In riding, you can do a circle and let the reins go for a few strides of release and see if your horse can keep going in the same gait in the same direction. If they change, then put them back on the circle and try again. After a while, they will figure out where to be and it will have been their idea to stay there with no contact or pressure from you – well done you are on your way to developing your horse’s left brain with the release method. To help our horses, we need them to get real good at finding the release in every deal we offer them and most of all we need to get good at offering a good deal and giving the horse a chance to think.
In history, anything that has ever been tightly controlled eventually rebels, which rings very true for anyone trying to contain a right brained horse. Whether it is a farmer trying to farm against the elements by farming the wrong crop for that area or a dictator of people trying to stop them from having opinions, there will eventually be a rebellion. Horses have been forced and controlled by people for too long now and it is time to change. It is time to release them and give them back their options. Get good at giving release and enjoy the amazing results and relationship that follows. Join the release rebellion.
Have you experienced or heard of the horse that was going along just fine as it usually does and suddenly just went right brained? Want to know why?
You would think that a good habit would always be good but not when it comes to your horse it seems.
Your horse’s good habits that you have spent hours or years forming and live in the automatic part of their brain, the unconscious part. So, if they are trotting along happily on a good ol’ warm up pattern that you do often, the most active part of their brain will be the automatic side of their brain which is the right brain, which is also where their flight or fight instincts live. If the right brain is most active the horse can quickly trigger to its survival instincts. This is why you may have experienced yourself or heard of the horse that was going along just fine as it usually does and suddenly just went right brained.
Yikes, what a surprise and what a scary thought! We can be going along all happy and relaxed and not see the trouble that is coming, or can we? Yes,we can, but first we have to understand a few things about how our horse is thinking and how habits form in the first place. Seeing as this isn’t a science article, we will just be looking at what to do so you don’t get that scary surprise.
In the teaching of a task that is to become a habit, it will first be in the conscious mind/left brain of the horse and if you give release and options to your horse in training it will stimulate the left brain and logic in your horse. After a while, the repetition of that task will start to become automatic and the horse will need to use less brain power to do it as it is now becoming a habit but, as a result, the task is now stimulating the right brain, which you don’t want as the most active part of your horse’s head when you are sitting on them or anywhere near them for that matter. To keep yourself safe and to keep your horse’s left brain active oh and to keep improving the task try to add some variation in that will cause your horse to think, maybe a transition a turn a lateral move anything rather than just running along on automatic. This will not only help you stay safer and improve your task but make things more interesting for the both of you.
So if you are out on that lovely trail ride and you are daydreaming away, don’t blame the horse if it triggers to its right brain instincts because it is your job to pay attention also not just theirs, fair deal? Stay awake, stay safe,and have fun!
I know, what a surprise! The arrival of the car brought the downfall of horses for transport? Well, for most people. But that was just the beginning. With the advent of machines like cars and motorbikes for transport, tractors for farming and machinery for war rather than horses, we needed fewer horses and fewer horsemen. Yes, yes we know this but, like I said, this was just the beginning.
In this article, I will be talking about horsemen but, by horsemen, I don’t just mean men – I also mean horsewomen so, for the sake of fewer words, horsemen is not gender specific, ok? After the machines took over, there were a lot of horsemen still out there and they wanted to keep the art of good horsemanship alive. Some focused on making sure we didn’t run out of horsemen or horses in case there was a war and we needed our horses again, so they developed sports rewarding the movements that a war horse would need; some wanted to keep the good horsemanship that was used on farms alive so they focused on developing sports that rewarded good farm skills like working cattle, plowing and even just showing the great movement of a well-bred work horse.
These horsemen were caring people who came from a time when working with a horse was a must. The less effort you had to put in to work your horse and still get the best result was a part of life as no one wanted to be fighting with their farm horse every day or trying to get their war horse to stop and go in the right direction. When these horsemen and horsewomen had trouble with a task or they saw somebody who needed help or a tip, they would share their knowledge and I am sure this was the whole purpose of the sports we have today. What they didn’t foresee, or even imagine, is how scarce horsemanship skills would become and how tightly competitors would hold onto their knowledge or how focused on winning people would become. They didn’t even think that way because a horseman always puts the horse before the goal and a horseman will always help a fellow horseman in trouble. By that I do not mean force their opinion onto someone but simply offer it. So, what happened?
We are human and we have been doing what humans do. We saw our new goal and went for it; we went for the ribbon, we went for the trophy and, over time, the old horsemen passed away. Some carried on the skills but horsemen were becoming an endangered breed as it was getting harder for the horse trainer to find work and fewer people want to learn the art of horsemanship. However, the demand for trainers of a sport and sport experts grew until they far outnumbered the horsemen who taught people and trained horses using skill not force, principles not rules.
But here we are today, in a so-called self-aware stage of our human evolution. We no longer have to get our horse to plant the crop, we no longer have to go to war on our horse, we don’t even have to win that ribbon. We have options. We have options thanks to the people who have gone before us. Now we have new options in front of us, we have the option to do the morally right thing by the horse. We have the option to give back to the horse and don’t you think the horse has earnt the right for us to turn the tables and give back after they have given so much to help our evolution?
How can we give back? How about we start with the way we train our horse? What about if we avoid pressure and focus on the good deal for the horse? How about we give them options in training and give those reins more often and, most of all, remember it is supposed to be enjoyable for both of us. Being a horseman is a 2-way trail so, how about we give more than we take. In short, focus on your horsemanship and make being a horseman your goal and, who knows, that ribbon might just be the bonus you get for keeping horsemanship alive.
This article presents my views on how the lack of horsemanship came about but how we got to this problem really isn’t so important. What is important is how we can improve from here and I feel sharing good horsemanship and sticking to principles that put the horse before the goal and before our own agenda is the answer. If you would like to be part of the regrowth of our horsemen/horsewomen, then keep your focus on developing your skills, avoid force and mechanical means to train your horse, and share with friends as often as you can and then, maybe, we can turn this horse world of ours the right way up.
Have you ever seen the person that just has a natural talent around horses? Have you ever seen the person with no natural talent? Are you this person? Don’t despair – there is hope! Moreover, the person that is going to have the most trouble improving isn’t the one you would think! Yep, you got it – natural talent isn’t all it is cracked up to be and can even be a pitfall. Actually, the person with 2 left feet and no skills is usually the one who wins out in the end. After watching people work on being better horsemen for over 20 years, I have noticed there are a few common qualities to people achieving their goal. It doesn’t matter what your goal is but what does matter is that you are successful in achieving that goal and the most successful people I have seen, most times, had very limited natural skills to start with. I have also seen lots of naturally talented people but, on the whole, they struggle with leaving their comfort zone so they halt their own progress sooner or later.
This article is to give you a heads up of what you might come up against in your journey to achieving your goal and how to avoid stalling your progress as a horseman. Actually, you could change a few words around and use these methods to help with other goals in your life as well.
Ok, first of all, get it out of your head that you need skills to start; that might be a bonus later but first things first. What you will need first up is a goal and along with this goal you are going to need a reason for this goal. So, you want to ride along the beach with no saddle and no reins and no care in the world like the boy in “The Black Stallion”? Sounds great! Now, what most people do is they focus on the task as the goal but that isn’t enough for those times when it gets hard. You need a better goal than a task otherwise you will end up saying, ” Oh it doesn’t matter – I can live with it just being a dream.” But wait! What about the feeling that you will get from being able to live that dream (safely of course)? How amazing would that feel? Surely, that is something to get out of bed for on a rainy day and go practise! No matter what your goal is, find the feeling behind that task and make that your real goal. Sometimes, when people look for the feeling behind a task they can’t find a very compelling feeling that they will get once they have achieved their task, and guess what that means? Yep, they won’t feel satisfied when they get to their goal. How disappointing would that be? This is more common than you would think, so make sure you pick a worthy goal to spend your time on.
Right, we have a goal and motivation – now let’s make a plan by setting out some smaller steps to lead you to your goal and, if you have a horsemanship coach, use their experience and get them to help you set these goals so you don’t overface you or your horse.
Now we have 3 things settled: the goal, the motivation and the steps but none of these are worth much without the main ingredient and we are going to need a lot of the next bit. It is probably going to be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life till now and, if you have chosen a worthy goal, it should be hard and even frustrating for you sometimes but, on the other side of all this discomfort, awkwardness and frustration is the greatest feeling you could ever imagine – the feeling of self-achievement, self-worth and confidence in knowing that you can do what was before, for you, undoable! Well done! But WAIT! What was that main ingredient we were going to need a lot of? TRY. You are going to need to try and keep trying even if you make a mistake and if you are really stretching yourself, you will makes mistakes often. Now, don’t get me wrong – this isn’t the same mistake over and over. No, you get to make lots of different mistakes and they never get you down because you know that each mistake takes you closer to your goal and develops your skills even more along the way.
Here is a little recipe for you to move forward through your mistakes and lead you to success:
For those of you who have mastered the system of scholastic skills, which means you enjoy getting the correct tick on a test, you may have trouble getting out of your comfort zone and making a mistake to learn from but, in the world of horses, this is the best way to learn memorable lessons. However, make sure these lessons aren’t the sort that are going to cause you an injury; just maybe a bit of feeling awkward. Also ensure the steps to the goal that you or your coach have laid out are achievable and follow them. It only seems to get physically risky when we attempt something our horse has no preparation for, so get those steps taken, make some little mistakes, keep moving forward and put your fear of failing aside or you will fail to get off of the starting block. Now, if you have some natural talent already, this first step of getting out of your comfort zone is going to be the hardest part but not so for the no skills person because they are used to feeling awkward so they put themselves in awkward positions more readily. To keep progressing after you achieve your goal, you will need to be willing to put yourself back in that awkward state out of your comfort zone. Don’t worry – it gets easier to do as you learn that if you just do it, there is success on the other side.
Remember this: just “doing” isn’t trying; just “doing” over and over and repeating the same mistake will not lead you to your goal; most times you will need to change things you were never even aware of before. If you have a coach, they will be able to help save you some frustration and lead you to what needs changing, but if you haven’t, you may have to experience some frustration. Try not to feel bad about frustration – it just means your goal is important to you; use it to fire you up for that bit of extra effort you might be needing to make the change and lead you to your goal.
Good luck with your horsemanship and remember to enjoy the journey. It may not always seem fun or easy but it will be enjoyable when you reach your goal. Enjoy your goal and enjoy your horse.
When you think of how to do a task with your horse, do you think, “How shall I apply pressure and where?” to get the job done? If you are like most humans, you probably do; it seems to be our default setting. Horse people, especially, seem to be doers; we always think what we can do to the horse to get them to do what we want. All you need to do is have a look at all the to do articles in horsey magazines telling you what to do to your horse if you are having trouble with them. Most of what we really have to do is not much to do with the horse at all; it is to do with the way we structure our questions and thoughts when working with the horse and this will lead us to better questions and better results. This is quite simple when you just know how and when you are aware of it, so let’s look at how.
Did you know that our natural way of thinking is the opposite to what horses need? People need to experience a paradigm shift from their natural way of thinking to become good with horses so they can not only get horses to work without force, but also build a connection that goes beyond just doing tasks; you know all that fluffy stuff we love about horses. If you want results while having a rewarding connection with your horse and you are willing to do what it takes, read on.
Ok, so we do need to do something to change, but it isn’t to do to the horse – it is to do to us. Those of you who know me, Shane Ransley, will know I use the Release Method when working with horses. This article is to help you apply the method; if this is the first time you have read one of my articles then this is a good place to start understanding the Release Method.
There are 3 parts to communicating with your horse: comfort, offer, and, often overused, pressure. Comfort and offer are on the release side of things and pressure, well that explains itself. Pressure, in the release method, however, starts light and increases but doesn’t just keep getting stronger. I will explain more as we go BUT before we “do” all these things to our horse how about we think about asking a different question?
Let’s look at a common problem like impulsion: the horse won’t go without pressure or horse won’t stop without pressure. If you have something different you would like to work on, just see if you can apply the same principles in the task you want better. So, the problem is the horse won’t go and the human thinks, “How can I apply pressure to get them to go?” The horseman thinks, “How can I get my horse to want to go?” The first question will lead you to a pressure answer and the second question will lead you to a comfort answer. This doesn’t mean that pressure is wrong – it just means we need to avoid using it as the answer to everything and our first option. So, how can we get our horse to want to go? Well, it sounds like they enjoy stopping so we will do lots of stops and call them comfort spots. Lay out a southern cross pattern: 5 markers one in each corner and one in the middle. Ride from one corner to the next going past the middle marker and stop and rest, creating a comfort spot at the corner marker. Get to where you increase in speed a little without breaking gait just before you stop and this will reward the horse for putting effort in. Make sure they get to relax mentally at each comfort spot but not so long that they go to sleep. This is a basic explanation but I hope you get the idea: use comfort not pressure. You can use the same method to speed up your turns by increasing to a trot or canter out of the turn. See how creative you can get! For the horse who runs off, then do the same task but slow them a little before stopping – then the comfort spot will reward the slowness.
I hope this helps you with your paradigm shift to thinking of comfort first. Stay tuned for more tips.
Horses triggering to their instincts, is the main problem people have with not only safety but also getting their horses to perform to their physical best.
During the training of horses, we need to teach them how to handle their emotions, just as we do with our children when they are discovering their emotions; what people jokingly call the terrible two’s. We teach them how to think and use their words instead of getting emotional.
We also need to teach our horses how to work through their emotions. Instead of just saying horses are dangerous when they get emotional, we should be trying to help them (and us) to think rather than react. So the question should be, ‘how do we teach our horses not to react negatively when surprised or scared but to think their way through it’.
Some horse people just think that it is unrealistic to believe you can teach a horse to become emotionally fitter and that horses are always going to be unsafe and unpredictable. But I am here to tell you, there is a way to do just this and I think working with an emotionally under-developed horse is unsafe and unacceptable. I do agree there will always be an element of unknown, but we could be doing so much better if people could just spend as much time on teaching horses emotionally as they do on physically training horses.
Mental and emotional development of horses needs to become the norm and maybe then we can save some lives and have more fun in sports.
So how do we do this? I am glad you asked and that you have read this far. As with people, the lesson we learn for ourselves is the one we remember best. When teaching your horse, instead of using constant pressure (albeit light if you are doing well), we need to give our horses options and opportunities to make decisions. This is where the learning happens for the horse, not in contact, but when there is an opportunity for a decision from the horse.
There is a much longer answer to this, but in short we need to release and correct more often. Not be afraid of the horse getting emotional, but if it does start to get emotional, help it find release and the right place to be, without using pressure. Give direction the same as we would expect from another human if we were having trouble understanding something.
Here are a few little tasks to help you get started and to test if your horse is thinking or just “doing” when you ride them. If you are on the circle and you think your horse is doing a nice job, give them a loose rein and see if they hold the circle and the gait you are in. That means using just your seat and no cheating with pressure from your legs. If you can do a few strides you are doing okay. If you can do lots of circles your horse probably has been brainwashed or is asleep but that is another article. If your horse twangs off into the sunset, then try to bring them back before they go too far. Keep giving and taking the reins until you get a little try and you will have started teaching your horse to think, so well done.
Another favorite for me at clinics, is to see students that are in contact with vertical flex let the reins go while they are riding, and pick them up again to what we call soft feel – which is vertical flex with collection and softness. If it takes pressure to get the soft feel back then you never really had it, or, you have been holding it for too long and the horse has got to not thinking and instead just leans on your hands. Get them thinking again by picking up soft feel and letting go, until you can get soft feel while holding the reins with just your finger and thumb in the middle of the reins, which is what we call a pinch test. See what other ways you can come up with to give your horse a chance to think in your training sessions. The more you do this the better your horse will get at it, which means you are developing their left brain. This comes in very handy when you need extra effort for a task, or for them not to follow those instincts.
Another way to look at this is: Humans have a strong left-brain logic and a small right-brain instinct, and we have learned to overcome our instincts, (well most of us). Horses are the opposite, they have a small logic brain and a large and very strong instinctive side to their brain. What we need to do is even up the imbalance by developing their emotional fitness allowing them to think more, which is basically making them more of a left-brain thinker rather than just reacting to their environment.
I hope this short answer to an important subject helps peak some interest in you to start teaching your horse, so you can enjoy the results and connection that a thinking horse gives.
If you have been a rider for quite a while, you get to the stage where you can ride pretty well and stick on quite good when most people would be ejected out of the saddle. Now, this isn’t always a good thing as the stats show it is the experienced rider that is most likely to have an accident. Why? Because they can ride an unprepared horse and they often do and think they will fix it once on board. Now none of us would do that, would we?
I had a situation just like this recently at a 5 day horse training camp. We were studying impulsion which is all about getting your horse traveling well and calm. There was a rider (let’s call her Jill) who couldn’t bring her horse due to it being unwell, which was very disappointing for her, so her friend offered her a horse so she could do the camp. Well, the problem was the horse had been given to her friend as it was a rescue horse, an ex racehorse that hadn’t been ridden in a year and had bucked the last rider off! Err things weren’t looking good to say the least. Jill was still keen to do the clinic but we were both a bit skeptical about riding this horse especially when we were going to be riding in a large open area of about 5 acres with another 9 horses all running around doing the same thing.
On the first morning, when the students came out with their horses, we were on the ground first up and standing in a circle chatting about how to prepare our horses and balance them up before we get on. While we were trying to have a chat, our ex racehorse was missing its friend (another rescue racehorse) and running around screaming out very loudly. We persevered and chatted in between screams but after about 10 minutes this got a bit too nerve-racking for Jill who said she didn’t think she wanted to ride this horse. Good choice, I said, but how about we see if we can learn something about horsemanship from this horse. Could I borrow your horse please?
I asked everyone and we all agreed not to hop on a horse that was like this; a pretty easy decision you would think but people still do for some reason. Anyway, instead of telling the horse off for running around and screaming, I gave it a few constructive things to do with all its nervous energy, giving myself a chance to get it balanced up for possibly riding so long as we could just get it calm. After a few minutes, (well the rumor goes I just held the rope, but I think it was after a few minutes) I asked the horse to stand in the circle so we could continue our chat. The horse stood relaxed with a low head alongside me as I got my first chance to give it a rub on the head and connect. After a few minutes of hanging out, I gave the horse back to Jill and asked everyone again, would you ride that horse? They all had to agree that the horse now looked a lot smaller than it had done just a few minutes before – now he actually looked like a nice, calm horse that you would ride.
Well, the camp was only just beginning and Jill couldn’t get the image of that screaming horse out of her head. Now the screaming horse didn’t reappear during the camp but the scared, insecure horse did and, every time it did, we gave it constructive things to do with its nervous energy until we got back to the calm horse. Jill saddled a calm horse; then it became nervous with the saddle on so we worked with it until it was relaxed again with the saddle on. Jill got on the calm horse, but it got nervous when it started to move so we didn’t move too much until we had our calm horse back. Jill trotted the calm horse but yes it got scared so we only trotted little bits till it became the calm horse. And yes, Jill cantered the calm horse and now knew how to help it be calm again. We all agreed we would only ever ride that calm horse even if we could ride the nervous one. Why would you when you can ride the calm one?
In case you are still wondering how we helped the horse calm down so quickly, we used the Release Method which you can find out more about in my other articles and my blog.
This ex racehorse gave us an amazing demonstration of how a horse can overcome its fear in a very short time, but an even better example of being able to move ahead very quickly and safely if we make sure our foundations are good before we move forward.
The Release training method focuses on horse trainers giving to the horse rather than the age old apply pressure methods. We are all horse trainers whether we are conscious of it or not. If we are within influence distance of a horse (and that includes in the back yard having a meat BBQ or yelling at the dog!), we are teaching the horse something; the horse sees all.
Release training is actually more aptly called teaching as it taps into the logical side of the horse’s brain, while training is more about the physical aspect of the horse. Training gets them strong and increases their range of movement but this is all worthless if the horse isn’t using this new, strong range of movement willingly. We need both and, to get the best value out of the hours of physical training a good riding horse needs, you will need to get them willing first and then build the range of movement; not the other way around or you will find yourself coming up against a resistant horse with no mental or physical try.
Now, some of you might be thinking you don’t need much strength in your horse as they are already strong, but you may be assuming that horses are quite able to carry extra weight on their backs. However, they are not designed for this. A horse’s back is strong enough to carry its own big, fat, heavy belly while it’s running; not yours as well! He he! If you have ever had a go at planking and got to where you can hold yourself up for a few minutes, you should feel proud and get some idea of how a horse feels holding its back up but how about you get one of the kids to sit on your back while you plank or how about they bounce up and down – how long could you plank then?
So, my point is all riding horses, at some time in their lives, are going to need those back muscles developed in a positive way and the sooner the better. If you don’t take this on board as your responsibility, the horse will eventually break down somewhere due to lack of strength or lack of proper posture. It may take 5 years, it may take 15, but it will happen, so avoid it and get your horse willingly using their full range of movement and get them strong, especially in the back.
Ok, we have a reason to train and teach a horse so how do we go about it? There are many ways and methods of training out there with some great patterns, so I will leave it to you to choose but my main focus for this article concerns how you go about your training tasks and how you give to your horse during training, causing them to think their way through tasks rather than just do as they are told. We want to teach our horses and develop their try, willingness and the connection that comes with that, which is actually my favorite part.
Release doesn’t mean there has to be pressure first. It’s the second dictionary definition – “allow to move or flow freely” which best matches our use of the word. It is just us humans who think there has to be pressure for release and it is time to change that thought. Ok, so now we understand release but we are also going to need some direction otherwise the horse will just have to rely on telepathy and I am not so sure we are all ready for that! So, how to give direction in the task? Well, most would use pressure or brainwash a cue. But the pressure will always create an equal amount of pressure back at you, which in turn builds resistance, so that isn’t an option and a cue is not adjustable enough in the moment as it is just a right brain reaction, so that isn’t an option either. How about we use good feel – just light enough that they can feel direction but not so heavy that it creates discomfort; sounds perfect.
Does pressure ever get used? Well, sometimes it does – like if the horse doesn’t respect your body language. However, every time you have to use pressure that task doesn’t count as a positive learning experience and you will need to go through the task again and give the horse another chance to respect your space and body language, just as they do with each other. Let’s look at a task to help you picture this. You are on the ground and you ask your horse to go out of your personal space and around you at a trot. You give clear direction with your lead rope (this doesn’t mean go yet), you lift up your body language and put some energy toward their front to get them to go in the direction you want (now they should go). But, say they don’t go – before you move your feet (the one who moves their feet least is the leader) – you increase your body language with the swing of a rope or stick toward the same spot as your body language is pointing. If they still don’t go, drat you are going to have to move your feet while swinging your rope and if they haven’t gone by the time you get there, the rope or stick will be causing discomfort, they’ll finally move and you’ll give the lead rope to them offering comfort as they move around you. This will be the important part that you want them to remember – the release part not all the pressure. Now, they did move but that was from pressure, so it doesn’t count and you will need to do the whole process again. But this time the horse knows there is release on the other end of the clear direction you are giving and it is their choice to stay or not and, because they understand the task, you can go a little quicker through the process (not too quick though until they get good at following direction).
This is a pretty short explanation but I hope you get the idea. The same steps apply in riding as well; try not to use pressure first and try not to scare your horse with pressure by not being clear with your direction. If you can get to where your horse understands that no mater where you direct them they will find release, they will start to put extra effort into finding that release and your transitions will become willing, your horse will use positive muscles rather than resistance, and a connection of trust will build between you making both of you feel confident no mater what situation or task arises. Welcome to the world of a release focused horseman!
Are you unconsciously shrinking your horse’s brain capacity? And how can you tell? How can you get them to actually think with their logical brain rather than just react to their environment or to cues?
First up, to really understand horses and how to get them to think, you may need a bit (or a lot!) of a paradigm shift, from thinking that horses are only dumb animals with no logic or conscious thought, that respond by instinct to their environment. So, to begin your paradigm shift you will need to believe that horses can actually think! And if you have ever watched a horse undo a gate latch or a knot in a rope, this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Horses can think their way through very complicated tasks, if we can just learn how to help them develop the logical side of their brain. Rather this, than shrinking it with our training methods and ignoring their options and intelligence, or categorizing them and pre-supposing their behavior by putting labels on them.
If you think that horses’ personalities just fit into categories like, “All red mares are grumpy”, or “Oh, he is just like that”, then this paradigm shift we are about to discuss may be a bit too hard for you to make at this time. But have a read on anyway and maybe one day you will be ready to change.
Our horse’s character and performance are a reflection of what we encourage or unconsciously allow. If your horse gets emotional, bites, kicks, bucks, is heavy on your reins and legs, is unpredictable or just downright grumpy and hard to connect with, then you need to change something about yourself, if you want things to be different. Or before it is too late for one of you!
If you own or ride a horse, you are a horse trainer. Every interaction you have with a horse, trains or teaches them. Even the surroundings you keep them in, can mentally and emotionally develop them….or not. In my job of teaching people how to train/teach horses, I have noticed that most people, even the big name professionals, aren’t aware of how their method of training is working or not working when it comes to how the horse thinks or feels. So, I have written this article to help the horse trainers that come to my courses to understand, and I hope it helps you to because you are a horse trainer as well.
Please excuse my generalizations that follow, as they are just for explanation purposes and I do not mean that all people (or sport people) must fall into any one category.
The 5 horse training methods that people use:
As horse trainers, we should understand all these methods. How they work and how to do the best job possible, with not only training our horses, but also building relationships with them. Let’s talk about these 5 methods of horse training and how they work, so you can choose when to use a particular method and when not to. Because, if you are using the wrong method for your horse, then you may as well be changing the tyre on your car when the problem is a flat battery.
Right brain and left brain
One more thing before we discuss these 5 training methods. I will be talking about the right and left sides of the horse’s brain for teaching purposes. They aren’t that straightforward if you do a brain scan. But overall, this left and right explanation helps us to understand the different parts of the horse’s brain. Then we can help them to develop the parts of the brain necessary for mutual understanding, or something even better if you are a true horse lover, like most of my students.
I will be calling the right side of the brain the instinctive side – the place where subconscious thoughts are, and the left side the logical side – the place where conscious thought happens.
The right brain is where all the automatic actions. They can be negative ones for riders or positive ones. Negative ones (for us anyway) would be any of the horse’s flight or fight instincts like bite, kick, buck, run off, not go forward and pull back. This also includes any brace by the way, and we need to make sure we aren’t encouraging brace with our lack of understanding or timing. Positive right brain moves will depend on the level of education your horse has. When you first do a move (if done right), it will be a left brain action but, as you do it more and more, it becomes a positive right brain movement, freeing up the horse’s brain power to learn more complex tasks. Basic moves will need to become automatic as you advance to more complex moves; this is why there is no short cut to the proper education / teaching of a horse, because it takes practice for moves to become positive right brain.
We will talk more about this and the over-repetition of right brain moves later but, in short, if we over-repeat a task with no variation, yes – it will go to the right brain, but it will become dulling to the horse’s movement and even shrink the left (logical) side of the horse’s brain and dull your horse.
This, for some people is light contact, and for others it can get so heavy that they turn to using leverage bits to create the illusion of lightness. I believe if you can’t do it with a plain bit or even better a rope halter then you shouldn’t be doing it. If you can’t do it without leverage or lightness, you have missed something in your preparation of your horse. And the argument that this is the way it has always been done and has been for years does not make using force on a horse acceptable. Just because it works does not make it right!
But not everyone uses force and force is not even the main problem. The problem is the confusion between the ‘training’ of a horse and the ‘teaching’ of a horse. Training is physical exercise and does not develop the thought process of the horse; it is just to build muscles. I know, it is a surprise, hey? Going to the gym will not make you smarter!
In the method of constant contact with reins or legs, the horse is constantly told what to do and not given any options to make an error or make a decision. The effect is much like when you are a passenger in a car and someone else drives you to a new place. Then, the next time you go there it’s your turn to drive, but you have to ask the way because you weren’t paying attention the first time. Or, have you ever seen those riding instructors who are constantly telling the rider what to do the whole time and not allowing any room for logical thought or decisions from the rider? All seems great during the lesson, but when the client goes home they have trouble duplicating the results or the feeling they had during the lesson, because they never really did it for themselves – they just did what they were told to do. This may be a good, constant source of income for the instructor, as the rider has to keep coming back to be told what to do. But it’s not much good for the rider who actually wants to become a good horseman, who can figure out what to do and when to do it.
If the horse is going along in constant contact and not thinking, just doing as it is told, then it will be using the right (instinctive) side of its brain and just using minimal brain power; not a good way to develop a willing horse with a positive range of movement. Does this mean contact is wrong? Actually, it doesn’t, but we do have to be aware of how much we rely on being in control, because overuse of contact will shrink the left (logical) side of the horse’s brain and dull your horse.
Contact is good for developing the horse’s body, but not good for its mental and emotional development. There is a way you can do the contact method developing the horse’s body and still develop their left brain. I will share this when we get to the release method later on.
Well this one is pretty straightforward and is often overused, giving the illusion of an educated horse. That is, until you look into the horse’s face and see the boredom and their glazed eyes; some horses even just shut down emotionally and lose all that connection that happy horses have. So be careful with this one.
If this method is used sparingly, it is very handy for getting basic to moderately challenging tasks to become automatic and positive right brain. I would not use this one for complex tasks, as I would rather my horse use its left brain in this case. That way, I can slightly adjust him and communicate with him as he is thinking with his logical brain, giving me better movement and control. But, repetition is also handy for helping horses if they are having trouble seeing the positive side of your offer, which we will talk about more in the release method section.
One problem with the repetition method, is that it actually seems to work for someone that is watching from the outside. So when it is used for demonstrations of great horsemanship, it can be misleadingly impressive while actually being, what I feel, is very morally wrong. To brainwash a horse and block all of their thoughts and options with any method is just wrong on so many levels. No matter how bad your timing and feel for a horse is, you can use repetition training and fool yourself and the public, into thinking you have skills. The best way to spot if someone has overused this method is the glazed look of the horse, the out-of-sync timing of the person and their lack of feel for the horse. Another very clear indication is when the horse makes a little mistake and gets off the repetition trained pattern. The so-called horseman will have a lot of trouble recovering and getting the horse back to their pattern, due to the lack of true communication and just put it down to a bad day. A good horseman is able to turn any situation into something good, but not the repetition trainer.
Another downside to the overuse of this method, comes with horses that have ideas of their own and would rather be the leader. Or feel that they need a good leader. Once these horses begin to see the pattern in practice, they will start to anticipate it and take over. And not long after that, they lose respect for your leadership, as they think they are calling the shots even though you started the pattern. The pattern will start to get more difficult for you around this time.
Repetition is good if used wisely, but don’t make it your main method if you want a connection and a relationship with your horse.
This looks nice from the outside and is popular with people who are looking to be nice to their horse, which shouldn’t be too bad you would think. However, as we look at it more closely, it becomes clear that this method has quite a few limitations and a few downsides. The definition of positive reinforcement is to give something to the horse, and negative reinforcement is to take something away. Positive and negative should not be confused with good and bad or right and wrong; it is just whether to give or to take away. Negative could be to take away comfort by applying pressure, and positive could be to give comfort. But how you go about it makes a lot of difference and we will talk about this more in the comfort / discomfort chapter. Moreover, offering comfort first would be positive reinforcement and will develop the left brain of your horse but we will talk about this more in the release method section.
In most cases, positive reinforcement starts in the form of a food reward after a task and is often gradually replaced with a cue of some kind, as gradually less food reward is given. There are times when this method can help; like with catching some skeptical horses, or after a hard work session. For example, a food reward when the horse allows you to catch them, is a nice thing to do for the horse. As long as they don’t invade your space when you offer it. Giving your horse a feed and hanging out with them after a training session is a favorite of mine. I have also seen positive reinforcement work with a horse who just didn’t like their rug. The horse was first desensitized to the rug to make sure it was not scared of it. Then a food reward was given after the rug was put on, to help the horse make a positive association with the rug, rather than the negative one it had before.
There are many interesting ways that you will see positive reinforcement used and for many different reasons. But they are all missing the point. The point being, that this method used just by itself, doesn’t actually teach the horse anything, although it looks like it does from the outside. The horse is just following their instincts and these tricks are just a right brain response. Sometimes a series of tricks are done in a row and it can seem like communication, but it is just a cue response from the right side of the horse’s brain, with no logical thought involved.
So what is wrong with that, if it gets the job done? Well, the answer is that if you neglect to develop the logical and conscious thought part of the horse’s brain, you will always be at the mercy of their instinctive behavior; they haven’t been taught how to think their way through emotional pressure, which could lead to their flight or fight instincts being triggered. Right brain strong horses are unsafe and unreliable under pressure…..some don’t even need emotional pressure to make them unsafe. Trainers who get away with just doing right brain training on horses, rely a lot on the DNA and natural calmness of the horse; but that doesn’t mean they are safe just because they are quiet.
It also doesn’t mean they are educated if they just do tricks. A key way to spot a trick, is to see if a slight variation can be done during a task. For example, can you mix up your transitions and keep the horse thinking to itself, ” Is it going to be a canter? A trot? A slow trot? A walk? A canter to piaffe? I’d better pay attention.”
Positive reinforcement has its limits, as it doesn’t work so well on every type of horse. For some horses it just seems to make them worse, as they disrespect the person who is giving them food and then they start to focus just on the food, rather than on the task or the person.
Can positive reinforcement be used at all? Yes, and I do use it as I mentioned before. But it needs to be used in combination with a left brain training method, otherwise you will get a right brain strong horse, which is not a safe option. People do seem to get safer results when using this method on dogs though. But watch out for the overuse of this method with your horse!
Comfort and discomfort.
This method gets variable results depending on the balance of comfort vs discomfort. If the person’s focus is more on the comfort than the discomfort, it can be a left brain training method and get nice results. But if the person is focused on the task they want done, more than the good deal for the horse, they will overuse the discomfort side of this method. And as we are all human, this over-focusing on the task tends to happen quite often! We will talk more about how to overcome this in the release method chapter.
The comfort / discomfort method often becomes the coercion method, where the horse does as it is told because it is afraid of getting into trouble and therefore getting the discomfort.
The clearest place to see this in action is when people load their horse onto a trailer – the horse will go up to the trailer and walk on by itself and it all looks great, so you may think. But could it be that the horse goes on the trailer to get away from the discomfort on the outside, that they know will come if they don’t go on? How can you tell if they have been coerced? There are a few key things you can look for to spot this one. Is the horse happy with it’s ears moving? Can they mix up the load a bit, like going half way on and then off again, or on slow, or on fast? Does the horse come out easy and unafraid? Is there a slight bit of direction on the rope or from the position of the person that is asking the horse on, or is it just going on by itself?
This is just in the example of loading a horse, but coercion gets used in all sorts of tasks in riding also. Like in the collected fly change where the horse is afraid of not doing the fly, and gets braced and jumps or swishes its tail as it goes through the change. Furthermore, if the trainer has been overusing a pattern and coercion, the horse will only do the fly in one part of the pattern, even if you don’t ask them to do a change, because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. You get the idea!
This method tends to be a right brain training method, due to the overuse of discomfort in training. What eventually happens is that the moves taught with this method become right brain tricks that can look quite okay from the outside. Again, the only way to check if it is a trick or if you have mistakenly right brain trained your horse is to put it to the test. Can you mix it up and add in variation? Is the horse supple with no brace? Are they happy and connecting with you?
The release method is a left brain development method. Now, release in this case doesn’t mean there has to be pressure first. What it does mean, is that we need to give first, to be given to by the horse. Sounds easy enough you would think, but humans seem to have trouble with this ‘giving’ and ‘releasing’ when we are training and riding horses. It seems to be against our natural instincts to give if we haven’t got what we want yet, or it isn’t as good as we want it and even harder for us if we are in an emotional state. This method is more about re-training our instincts to give release and once we can release when the horse needs us to, we will be able to teach the horse rather than just train the horse to make it do what we want.
The release method is about giving the horse an option to choose and an option to give you some feedback. To give an option you can’t have any pressure or coercion involved, otherwise you will be influencing the result in your favor and not respecting the horse’s option to choose; which is the whole point of this method.
So, how do you do this? Okay…first we need to redefine some words that apply in the release method; we call these the R.O.P.E principles.
Release means to give and there doesn’t need to be pressure first for you to give.
Options means you need to give the horse a chance to think with its left brain, giving it a chance to make a decision.
Pattern means you need to be clear and consistent in your release offer.
Enjoy means lighten up! It is supposed to be enjoyable and even fun!
Another couple of word definitions are as follows:
Direction means feel not pressure and it can be either feel on the lead, feel on the reins or, if you are on the ground, it can be how you are positioned in relation to the horse, giving them direction with your body position.
Rhythm means release. If you are in rhythm with the horse, you are offering release and comfort to the horse; if either you or they come out of rhythm, there will be discomfort or pressure. Staying in rhythm is the main focus in high-level use of this method. If you use the constant contact method, you will need to have very good rhythm so that while the horse is in contact it finds no pressure. The more release and options you give to the horse, the faster their left brain will develop.
Patterns are for consistency only, so when doing an actual pattern in the release method, we only do a pattern until the horse can figure out where the release and good deal is. After that, you will need to vary it a little by changing gait or direction so it doesn’t end up being the repetition method and dulling the horse.
Do you ever use pressure? Yes, but only after clear direction is given to the horse and only if the horse understands why the pressure is being applied, and then making sure you finish the task with lightness and even better, release. Pressure will not work on confused or scared horses. Even though they may do the task, it will not teach them anything in their left brain and it will possibly become a right brain reaction which is not what we want in the release method.
One of the clearest places to see if you can achieve the release method in action is in what we call a direct rein, which is asking the inside front leg to step out in the direction of the ask. (Oh, and ask means feel with no pressure.) You can do these simple little tasks from the ground and ridden. From the ground, ask your horse to face you on the end of the lead as if you are about to ask them to go around you in a circle. Then, just from light feel on your lead and lifting your body language up, ask them to step their leg out in the direction of the circle and see which leg goes first. Do they reach with the leg that is going to be on the outside of the circle – this would be the one you want – or do they step over that one and lead with the other? This slight body language difference shows how the horse feels about your ask. If they are willing to go in the direction you ask, they will get their weight back on their hindquarter and put some effort into the first step out. If they feel that you either use too much pressure or they lack respect for your personal space, they will step with the opposite leg, putting them just a little out of balance and on their front end, due to lack of hindquarter use and a little bit of brace. Worst of all, is that you have a negative thought on their first step out, which is not a good way to start a task.
To do the release method well, you will need to get your horse looking toward the positive so it uses its body in a positive fashion. If they are thinking or feeling negative, this will be reflected somewhere in their movement. Doing a direct rein when riding is pretty much the same; sit up and open a little in the direction you want the horse to step its front leg, without any pressure from the outside leg. Does your horse reach with no pressure and offer you a direct rein? If so, well done – you have been using release in your horse training! If they don’t reach, then ask them to get their weight back a little and ask again; make sure this works on the ground first.
These are just a few tasks to try, but see what other tasks you can use release in when training your horse, so you can turn your training into teaching and watch your relationship and tasks improve.
As you work on more and more tasks, finding more ways to give your horse the option to think and develop their left brain, you will see them start to give back to you with more and with more try and effort, more positive movement and, most of all, with better rapport between you. I hope you enjoy using the release method and find more and more ways to use it, so maybe, if we meet up some day, you can share some of your great ideas with me.
The horse that has been trained with too much focus on right brain training methods, will lack the ability to think with logic. This will bring the flight and fight instincts to the surface, making the horse unsafe and unreliable, so please be aware of what method you are using and what side of the horse’s brain you are developing. Your training methods need to encourage the development of the logical side of the horse’s brain, so they can have strong conscious thoughts that help them to think their way through complex moves. And even think their way through their natural survival instincts, rather than letting their instincts control them. Educate your horse so they can think their way through any situation and have fun.
Your principles drive you but you are governed by your instincts; however, we are human and we have the ability to change our instincts to be compatible with horses!
Yes, we can do this but it will take some conscious effort and a strong focus on some principles.
To become good at the Ransley Release Method you will need to stick to some principles and reprogram your instincts.
This is only a paradigm shift for some but it can be done if you are willing to stay focused on your goal and read on
OK, so lets start changing your instincts today, here, now.Yes, online while reading. The horseman/horsewoman that lives inside you, underneath your human instincts, is only a paradigm shift away.
You would think that with it being common knowledge that we are predators and horses are prey animals that it would stand to reason that our instincts are opposite! This means if we follow our instincts of pressure to hold on to our horse in riding and ground work, they will be offended and quite likely begin a chain reaction of them following their instincts of flight or fight.
But even when people hear this, they go “yeah yeah I know that, of course” and continue on with their human instincts still in charge of their actions as they train their horse with brain washing repetition. Just stop it! Or we will waste a few more years; it is time to change.
We need to reprogram ourselves, change our non- horseman like instincts. We can do this! We are the only species that can do this! We need to give when the horse needs us to give. We need to not apply pressure first; we need to offer first. We need to be thinking: how can I get my horse to want to do this? And that is to name just a few but let’s get started.
You may have some inner conflict as you change your beliefs but this is normal so try and keep your focus on the goal. Which is to be a horseman and yes, horsewoman, I will just type horseman now but I mean both, ok?
What is a horseman? I would say a horseman is someone who understands horses and can work/play with them in such a way that they need no force, no intimidation, no gadgets. They can get horses to do things in such a way that the horse wants to do it for them, wants to be with them. You get the idea? The less tools the better the horseman you will have to be.
Us humans have a tendency to make things complex and quite often we lose track of the goal so, to help you stay on target, I have some principles for you to follow. If you have trouble with believing these principles can become your instincts, then you are not ready and this article isn’t for you yet, so we may see you later on and you can go ride your horse now!
For those of you who are interested in reprogramming yourself to be a better horseman, we will be looking at these principles:
R for release O for options P for program E for enjoy
Yes, ROPE will help you know what to do and what not to do when it comes to working with your horse. If something you are doing doesn’t have all of these principles in it, you may be wasting your time or worse.
Now these words need to mean something but they may mean something different to you than me or to your horse, so let’s look at it from a horseman’s point of view.
Release The human instinct is to tighten and hold more if the horse isn’t doing what we want and we need to change this to be able to release and release at the right time.
The key part of this principle is to offer the release first! Not pressure then release as, yes that will work and a lot of people use this, but give the horse half a chance and they will leave if they can. Applying pressure first will affect your horse’s attitude and your end result. When you ask them to try harder and put in more effort, they will either start to shut down or brace their body not reaching their full physical capabilities. They will lose their try in time, they will lose the sparkle in their eyes when they see you coming or maybe even lose it forever. So, offer release first; it is against your instincts so keep an eye on it.
Examples of offering release on the ground is light direction – what we call feel on the rope; not pressure but feel and, yes, you can and may need to apply some pressure if they don’t follow your suggestion, just as horses do with each other if one doesn’t get out of the way of another. Be careful that you do not use pressure so much that they begin to follow your feel in fear of the pressure that may come, as this will get a whole different attitude and muscle use from your horse and become a conditioned response, which is a right brain reaction not a thought process.
In riding, release can come in the form of an open leg or rein before applying pressure from the other side and, if you do have to apply pressure, make sure to go back to release after the horse has moved off of your leg otherwise you are taking away their reason to think and their reason to be more willing next time.
Let’s talk about this while it is here. We need to be teaching horses not training them; we need to encourage left brain (logic) thought not right brain (instinct). Offering release will encourage left brain development and lesson the chance of horses following their flight fight instincts as they learn to think their way through their instincts and emotional responses. Yes, it is true they can do this if we help them but we need to do it for ourselves first. I have another article that will cover this interesting subject further. But you should get the idea for now.
It is like if you tell someone what to do all the time, eventually they stop thinking and can’t do anything without you telling them. This is what using pressure all the time will do and you will lose the try in your horse, not to mention the connection, and lesson the amount of physical effort they put in for you. Slave or partner? Oh and just a thought: anything that is dominated and controlled with force, history tells us, will eventually resist and I think we have seen enough of that in horse training, thanks; it’s time to teach them.
So, use release and offer with a positive attitude that you are offering a good deal. As you would offer a friend a chair if they needed to sit because it is the right thing to do not because you are afraid of injury from them. You offer because it is polite; this is what we need to do with our horse. This is using release in our offer – it is a suggestion, so get good at suggesting good ideas to your horse and they will follow willingly.
Options The human instinct here is to give them the option to do it right and only that option! That is not options, ok?
We need to change this instinct to give them as many options as possible so we can develop our horsemanship skills and the horse’s left brain thinking. “What? Give a right brain dominant animal options? He won’t do as he is told!” Well, guess what? If you don’t give them some options, you will always have to tell them what to do and you will only ever train their right brain and leave the left brain a shrunken little grey lump in their head which, in turn, will leave you at the mercy of their right brain and whether their instincts will trigger today or not. Leading to unsafe, insecure, lack of engagement with the body etc.
Giving no options to your horse will lead you down the track of having to do more and more training hours as your horses brain shuts down to just instinct and the body loses all that energy that can only come from willing movement.
While we are talking about that willingness, we are so good at breeding that special horse that puts in full effort. How about we use training/teaching methods that will encourage and develop willingness even more? These special horses don’t need to be so rare if we could teach them better, anyhow just a thought.
Giving options to your horse not only gives them a chance to think and develop their left brain but it gives them a chance to give you some feedback and guess what? Sometimes that feedback isn’t what you want! So we need to be horseman enough not to get emotional and just re present what you want in a different way. This can be hard for some people’s ego but that is something for them to work on not the horse.
As we are teaching our horses we need to present our offer using release first and if we get a negative attitude or not the physical effort that we desire, we need to listen to the feedback and again give the horse the “Option” to give us feedback then adjust and try again if we need to. Avoid doing the same thing over and over not listening to the feedback. This becomes repetition training the right brain and the only place for repetition training is in physical training and even then you have to be careful not to do so much that their brain just shuts off and runs on instinct.
Examples of options: To ensure your horse is still thinking, give them some responsibility as often as you can in the form of options. For example, you are working on your circles and self carriage getting those muscles nice and tuned, give the reins and see if they stay on the circle or even better keep their self carriage without you holding them up. After all, that is their job and their responsibility so give it to them. If they need correction, then correct and release again. Get to where they can go further and further without correction and you are now building their left brain and they will enjoy the release. They will get so good at this that they will try to find the softness more and more and help you more and put in more effort. Yes, that is what we want: less
effort from us, better results from them. There are many more ways to give options and release and I will share more of these along with videos on my blog.
In ground work, give direction toward a jump and as the horse approaches the jump drop the direction (feel not pressure) on the lead rope. See how far away you can be and the horse still keeps going to the jump. You could do this riding, also. In clinics I get people to even face away from the jump so they don’t eyeball at the horse so it feels it has to jump. Now, as the horse gets better and better and giving you the feedback you want from your options, it can be difficult to tell whether the horse is thinking or just doing a trained right brain response as not all right brain responses are negative. I call these tricks and I am not a fan of tricks in horsemanship, maybe in entertainment but that is another article. So to check this and avoid mistakenly teaching your horse right brain tricks you need to be able to vary what you are asking at any time so, if they are doing well at a trot, can they change gait to walk just before or even stop at the jump with very little direction? If they can, this indicates that they are paying attention with their left brain and thinking “ok, what is next?” Not just drifting off into automatic. Ok, that gives you some ideas on options and more ideas are on my blog.
Program The human instinct here is to do it over and over until it is perfect then, when it is perfect, keep doing it to make it a habit, but we need to change this instinct as it shuts down the emotional growth and left brain thought of horses making them unsafe, unpredictable and detached. We need to give them achievable steps so they can grow emotionally and mentally and keep them confident.
When I say a program it means a horse training/teaching program, a progressive program with steps forward and steps back, so you need to find a foundation point to a task so you can get it better. If you do not have steps to lead you up to your goal and you just work on a task over and over with repetition training until the horse figures it, then it is just a right brain trick and, if you need to get it better, you can only keep doing repetition and eventually lose that willingness that is so important in a horse.
Piaffe is a great example, to me it should be a demonstration of the strength, suppleness and confidence in collection for a horse that has been developed with lateral moves to encourage softness and good impulsion to encourage confidence in collection, but it is often taught as a trick with the horse’s forward being shut down and force coming from behind until they trot then reward. Over and over this is done to create a right brain conditioned response. This might seem ok to some but most of these types of horses can never leave the confines of a fence as their emotional development (left brain education) was never developed.
People do the same in fly changes until people get so used to seeing jump up and swish the tail in a fly change that that is the only way they can see the fly change and know when to clap for the competitor; a good fly change you may have to look twice as it is so smooth.
Anyway, you can feel my passion on this subject. I just feel it is disrespectful to the horse to treat it like an animal/robot with tricks in place of good horsemanship. If you are at a show and it is a trick for entertainment, then that is fine as they are not there to demonstrate how good they are at teaching horses but, if you are at a competition and they use what you can clearly see as tricks in place of a program, then don’t clap!
You may have heard the saying “Never let them win and if you get bucked off, then get straight back on!” Now there is an interesting concept! How about we reword that and live a happy life? Always try to finish on a win for both of you; use a program! Start with small, easy tasks and build, then when you get up to a high level and you have a bad day, take a few steps back to one of the foundation points to the same task and you still finish on a win as you got the foundation to that task better.
For example, your horse isn’t using it’s hind in pirouettes, you go back to a walk and try again; you go back and do it at a stand still and walk out; you can even go back to ground work and yield the front around from the ground. The more steps you have to reward at, the more chance of finishing where both of you are happy. You will find if you have this plan and this mindset, you will only have to go back for a few moments and can progress back up again quicker with a willing horse.
Enjoy The human instinct here is when we focus hard on something, we lose track of the good things that are going on around us and if we are with a horse, we forget to reward.
We need to change this and look up, smile at every opportunity and think about how lucky we are to be with a horse and remember the dream that got you into horses in the first place.
Well this shouldn’t be too hard, hey? But fear, frustration, confusion, and physical effort all cause us to get focused on us. Me, me, me is what is going on in humans’ heads when they have trouble or are busy and they forget why they are there. Keep reminding yourself and reprogram yourself for your horse’s sake and your sake; you will get a lot better results if you enjoy yourself at every chance.
So, that is a mental reason, but what about physically and emotionally. Did you know that when we are a tad over focused on riding and tapped into the feel part of our brain, our body loses rhythm and we start to look down and even lean forward and down? We lose our ability to reward and release at the right time, we lose our rhythm as muscles tighten. Sort of like public speaking for most people, they lose focus, forget what they want to say and, for blokes, they can’t dance any more if people are staring at them. You get the idea. Being over focused or unhappy will lead to all bad things for rider position and staying in time with your horse.
So our body, our instincts are working against us! But hey we can change this! Focus up, smile and enjoy yourself!
Remember your ROPE next time you go out to your horse and if you enjoy my Release Method and think more people should do it for their horse, then please share this article with your horsey friends.
Here you will get to know me and learn about my Release Method of teaching horses.
In this blog I will show you how to get better results, be safe have fun and overall do the right thing morally when working with horses.
As you learn about the Release Method you will see and understand that this method is for sport, leisure, work, all horse training and you need to be applying Release if you want more willing try from your horses and yes this means connection. You can not get your horse’s body without its heart and desire first. I know a bit fluffy but true, you will see.
It is crazy to think that physical training and repetition training is going to get consistently good results. We need to be first teaching our horses. We can not go on just training horses, they are flight animals for goodness sake, they are right brain reaction animals, they go fast and they are very strong.
No containment method or brain numbing training is going to work long term. We need to be helping them to be able to think through their right brain reactions so they are not just going through life at the mercy of their instincts. Imagine if our parents did that? Where would humans be? So how about we do the same for our horses? I will discuss how , why and the philosophy behind all this and more in this blog.