Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

By: Michael Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Since the early 1980’s, Natural Horsemanship (NH) has seen rapid growth in popularity – particularly among western riders. The techniques vary but are known for focusing on ground work, getting respect, developing a better relationship with the horse, and of course the rope halter has become famously associated with this way of working with horses.

Having apprenticed with a natural horsemanship trainer and having used many of the ideas in my training/coaching, I am very familiar and happy with what I have learned and still continue to use in many situations. For me, Natural Horsemanship methods are a good base for many riders/owners and enthusiasts.

In this blog, I share some thoughts on the good aspects of NH, some of the not so good aspects, and then I offer suggestions on areas needing more focus that currently are not always considered from the NH offerings.

What it has done – the good
1) Ground manners for horses have improved.
2) Many people spend more time working with their horses because they have acquired information that has helped boost confidence or skill of the handler/rider.
3) There has been an increase in rider ability to do homework directed by a trainer and this has opened up more competition and riding options for horse/rider.
4) In most situations, the welfare of the horse has improved … but there are a few “natural methods” that are not welfare-based.
5) There are a number of other good things including getting more people to talk about horse training and building more horse friendly communities — to name just a few.

What it has done – the not so good
1) Developed a quasi-scientific narrative of the ethology of horse behavior. We think we know what a horse behavior means because somebody said something about that behavior – but we really do not have concrete proof gathered by scientific observational methods for all the ideas we espouse.
2) Allowed some folks to think that if they have the “right” halter or pad or saddle or flag (on a stick – sometimes it has a string and not a flag) or “right” type of reins/bit/spurs – folks can branch out and train horses for friends and family or start colts.
3) Celebrated two and three day colt starting ideology. Yes – the colt can be started in this period of time but the key is that it is just a start. These events are a little too commercial and a little too unrealistic and a little too romanticized. I say this because I have met people along my journey who decided that after going to a few of these colt starting events, watching some DVD’s, watching YouTube videos, and attending a few clinics – they can train the excitable or flighty or troubled or green horse. Seeing the after effects of the rider with broken bones or broken confidence or the horse that has been injured is not a good thing.

We should (and MUST for the welfare and protection and development) of the horse (and rider) realize that Natural Horsemanship is one step on our journey to becoming horsewomen/men – we must continue to learn and improve and include other ideas and philosophies into our horsemanship toolkit.

Here are just a few areas I suggest need more attention because we do not often encounter these topics in the Natural Horsemanship circles and discussions.
1) Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness – There has been a great expansion into understanding the sidedness of a horse (left or right), where horses may have asymmetrical features, and a reminder (from classical horsemanship) that straightness is a key to longevity and proper movement. Understanding these issues can improve the performance and longevity of the horse. This is most especially important for further refining the use of the round pen that has strong ties to NH….we need to make certain that our work in the round pen (and riding) is done right for the progressive development of the horse and with a focus on improving its Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness.
2) BALANCE — Learn more about balance of the horse and balance of the rider. How the rider sits (straight or leaning) … how the rider uses her/his seat bones … all affect the balance of the horse. An imbalanced rider can put the horse out of balance and create situations that may lead to physical issues of the horse. Without balance … we have lameness, injury, and loss of longevity. There are also the ideas of mental and emotional balance that come into play especially for the rider and in some cases most certainly for the horse. We need to focus on seat and leg and understanding how the horse shifts its weight for balance and we need to discuss how the rider weight shifts can affect hose balance. We need to understand the physics of the head and neck in relation to balance of the balance parts for the horse. Additionally, the Classical Training scale speaks to relaxation as a key level of the training pyramid and most assuredly, in relaxation…the mind, body, and emotions can come into balance.
3) POSTURE — Increase our understanding and abilities to help horses (and riders) develop correct postures. First, we have to understand anatomy… bones and muscles and fascia … and then we need to understand a little more about form and function (how things look and how they work). Again back to the round pen use – we need to make sure that we are promoting good posture by the horse working in the round pen (simply running a horse continually in a counterbent form with the head up and the back hollowed out is not correct for posture). Further on about posture … we need to understand what pulling the head around by the reins while we are standing still (and then also while we are moving) may be doing to injure the neck of the horse.
4) Saddle/Tack Fit. Saddle Fit, bit shape, bit size, bit type, pad type, pad/saddle length, leg wraps … we need to stop and ask for evidenced based answers for how to select what is right for the horse. Just because a well-known NH person sells a saddle or bit or pad … does not mean it is right or the right fit for your horse. There are some really good NH people out there that do saddle fit correctly (I have seen them measure the saddle/tree to fit the horse) … and many know a great deal about bits … and in almost 95% of these situations where I have seen good happen in the area of saddle/tack fit – the horse is fitted directly for these pieces of tack (meaning that the saddle or bit is not bought at an expo or online – it is purchased with good guidance by the maker/seller).

I am not suggesting to anyone that we throw Natural Horsemanship methods away or that they are wrong….I AM suggesting that we need to take the next steps and focus on how we can further the conversation and do more (do better) for the horse.

There are a number of individuals and organizations that can help horse and rider gain more knowledge for the betterment of the horse. I know that my list here will not be complete … but I offer a number of people and organizations that I go to for further information to continue to advance my learning. Organizations – International Society for Equitation Science, riderfitness.com, Equinology, 4DimensionDressage International – to name just a few. People – Manolo Mendez, Thomas Ritter, Deb Bennett, Marijke de Jong, teachings of Sally Swift and Mark Russell — again this is a short list and there are so many more who are willing to educate for the benefit of the horse.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.
—————–
Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California. Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse. Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T. You can learn more about Dr. Mike at http://www.dunmovinranch.com.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

by Dr. Mike Guerini

Say the words “lunge a horse” to a group of horse people and then ask what that means to each person and you will likely receive a wide variety of responses. Cherry Hill Horsemanship books define lunge work as “generally thought of as a means to either train a young horse or warm up an experienced horse before a ride, the benefits of and uses for longeing (lungeing) are so varied that it should be a part of the training and exercise program of all horses.” (LINK HERE). The responses vary based on the experience of the horseman/woman and his/her goals.

 

For example, an acquaintance of mine who shows AQHA halter horses sees lunge work as exercise for muscle building and developing tone and to keep her horse in condition. She practices her lunge work with a timer and works eight minutes each direction. This is what she knows and she bases the success of her lunge work on her ability to achieve her goals in halter competition.

 

Another friend of mine sees lunge work as a way to gain respect and submission of the horse. This person continues to develop more finesse with his body position and subtle aids while doing the round pen version of the lunge work. This friend is very interested in liberty training and sees the round pen as a tool to help develop the necessary connection for liberty work.

 

Another person I know shares the idea that lunge work is to get the horse to settle down and pay attention to the handler/rider. The lunge work can be used to take off some excess energy.

 

By these three examples – you can see each person has a different purpose in mind for lunge work. For the 10 or so years I have known each of these folks … there have been no significant changes in the way they lunge.

 

Over the course of the last 5 years, my understanding AND use of lunge work has evolved. This review will briefly explore three types of lunge work. There is the round pen lunge work favored by many of the Natural Horsemanship (NH) practitioners, lunge line work on a halter, and in-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson.

 

Round Pen Lunge work:

This is often used in early colt starting or working with a problem horse that is unable to be caught (they can be moved into a round pen) or a horse that is unsafe. There are many goals with this type of lunge work and I list some of them here:

  • “turn and face” or yield the hindquarters and teach respect
  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope)
  • Teaching horse to pay attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Stamina development, exercise, take off excess energy

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work at times when needed. When using this method, we look for body language or signs from the horse that help us know he/she is paying attention and ready to accept our leadership. There is a benefit for this work so long as the handler understands the purpose, has a goal, and does not use this as a form of punishment.

 

Scientific investigations of Round Pen work:

For a more detailed analysis of this work, I recommend you read work by Henshall and McGreevy (Click HERE) to begin your studies and if you are interested, contact me and I shall direct you to other resources.

 

Cautions for Round Pen work:

If our body language is not correct, we can confuse the horse. We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. Pressure and Release works — pressure motivates and the release is what trains the horse. We must be cautious when using flags and other such devices that we do not overdo the pressure or push to far that the release does not allow “training” to occur. There is a great deal of science on this topic of pressure and release/fear based training – and this will be discussed on another day.

 

Benefits for Round Pen work:

  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope) and aids
  • Teaching horse to give attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Establishing leadership by the human and the requisite obedience by the horse
  • Development of stamina (if done with interval training and not overwork of one side of the horse)

 

Lunge line work on a halter:

This is often used for a sending exercise and go forward work (possibly over/through a trail obstacle or near a “scary” object). This can also be used to “burn off excess energy,” and it is necessary for lunge line classes. Lunge work on a halter can also be used with an unruly horse to establish human leadership or to keep a horse moving its feet when you do not have a round pen in the local vicinity.

 

Much of what we do and think about lunge work on a halter is very similar to our lunge work in a round pen.

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work for teaching horses to go through/over a trail obstacle, load in a trailer, learn to lead…and many other applications. When using this method, we must be certain to keep our horse and ourselves safe.

 

Scientific investigations of Lunge line work on a halter:

From my review, it does not appear that a detailed scientific analysis has been conducted for this type of work on a lunge line.

 

Cautions for Lunge line work on a halter:

We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. We can also pull from the underside of the horse’s head and cause incorrect rotation of the cervical vertebrae if we pull to hard, to often, or with constant pressure. We can have a snap on the halter that some use to get the attention of the horse and that can be out of alignment with equine welfare standards if the snap hits the horse.

 

Benefits for Lunge line work on a halter:

  • Go forward over/through trail work
  • Proper training for lunge line classes
  • Trailer loading
  • Stamina development
  • Gain attention

 

In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

As a relative newcomer to the use of a cavesson or serrata…only discovering it in the past 2 years as I have learned from the works of Manolo Mendez, Jillian Kreinbring, Gerd Heuschmann, DVM, Klaus Schoneich … to name but a few….and I promise my journey of learning shall continue along this path.

 

This is a must read article (HERE) and this DVD (HERE) is a must for all who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of biomechanics of the horse.

 

Here are some online resources to read with respect to the lunge cavesson/serrata use and biomechanics (HERE) (HERE) (HERE) — these are but a few resources.

 

Personally, for me, the cavesson or serrata are tools to be used when the handler wants to focus on developing proper biomechanics. We can and should use the cavesson or serrata when we are interested in helping repair, rehabilitate, or develop the posture and shape of the horse so that we promote proper biomechanics for the health and welfare of the horse. The cavesson or serrata can enable the handler to give more focused guidance to the horse. This is also an excellent tool to use with long line work.

 

Scientific investigations of In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Peer reviewed articles were not found for this area of work although I can say that experts such as Dr. Kerry Ridgeway supported the use of the cavesson/serrata…but there needs to be scientific study of this in the future.

 

Cautions for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Not all cavesson/serrata are created equal. Some are clunky and heavy and some are ill fitting. In truth, work of this type must include scholarship/study of learned professionals. Manolo Mendez is one such professional that I urge everyone to listen to with respect to the cavesson/serrata. Personally, the Micklem Multibridle with a single center ring is my favored cavesson at this time for lunge work and one I travel with to every clinic and lesson. I also encourage all folks who use a cavesson to connect it to the lunge line through the use of a leather tie/buckle or cowboy snap….a metal clip can be

 

Benefits for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

  • Develop engagement
  • Work with horse to develop proper bend (through shoulder-in)
  • Work to develop proper tracking up and straightness/carriage
  • Work to develop forward/down/open stretch of the horse across its topline
  • Shoulder-In on the ground
  • Everything you can do with a normal halter/lunge line as well

 

Summary of best application for each when used properly:

Round Pen –  developing leadership and obedience early on in training, some use for stamina

Lunge line – go forward, work through obstacles or help with habituation, stamina

In-hand cavesson – biomechanics and refinement of posture development and rehabilitation of the horse and all other activities assigned to lunge on the halter.

 

This small write up here is meant to give you more “food for thought” so that you can choose the most appropriate tool(s) for working with your horse(s) that promote welfare and proper development. I have included multiple links for you to watch/read and encourage you to open dialogues with other equestrians as to the benefits of the lunge work you are using. If you cannot answer how the lunge work you are using benefits the welfare, safety, and learning of the horse — it may be time to rethink and refine your practices.

 

——————–

Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, equestrian, and coach from California. Dr. Mike teaches in the Gilroy/San Jose California area, Stockton California area, and teaches private clinics in a few locations across the United States. www.dunmovinranch.com is the home website for Dr. Mike.

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – some suggestions and thoughts

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – it is a journey

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com

When I show up to give a lesson or teach a clinic, riders often ask me what my secret is too getting collection. Many times people call me and ask if I can come and help them get their horse collected better. After about 2 minutes on the phone – much of the time the person tells me they just want better collection and do not think they need to work on balance and self-carriage. There are times when I hear – well what bit do you use to get collection?

I know that I often frustrate folks when I tell them that to achieve collection…it is long hours of proper development of horse and rider … in terms of muscle and timing (and a great many other things) … to develop collection. I go on to tell them that collection comes after we learn and achieve balance and progress into self-carriage.  I also tell folks that no bit and no amount of pull by the riders hands is ever the answer to collection.

Balance is the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling and it is a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

Self-Carriage is defined as a time when the horse is balanced (has independent balance as stated by Manolo Mendez) and self-maintains his own rhythm, tempo, stride length, straightness, outline and rein and leg contact and engagement.  The horse still needs guidance from hands and legs and core and seat of the rider — but the horse is taking care of balance to them be able to work in a dynamic way.

Just a quick side note — see how self-carriage relies on balance?

Collection Collection occurs when a horse carries more weight on the hind legs than the front legs. The horse draws its body together so that it becomes like a giant spring whose stored energy can be reclaimed for fighting or running from a predator. The largest organic spring in the horse’s body, and therefore the easiest one to observe in action, is the back, including the spine and the associated musculature that draws it together in much the same way that a bow is drawn by an archer. (Collection can only come from a horse allowed and able to move freely – having learned to carry himself through training which lets him develop his own balance and rhythm. – March 24, 2014 by Caroline Larrouilh in an article written and published on the Manolo Mendez website).

So let us get to the point.  I have stated that no amount of pull of the hands, size or type of bit, or even one or two lessons will ever get you perfect collection.  It takes development of balance, which in turn leads to self-carriage that finally allows you to work on the finesse of aids and timing that will help you and your horse achieve collection.

Here are five exercises that I highly recommend you master on your journey to collection. There will be days in which you are excellent in your mastery of these activities…and other days will not be as great…but it is the dedication to the work and development of the horse that will ultimately lead you to success.

Exercise #1:  Learn the footfalls of your horse.  Quite simply, from the ground or when you are in the saddle.  Be able to call out what each foot is doing at any time in the rhythm of the movement of the horse.

Exercise #2:  Learn to direct the footfalls of the horse. Once you know where the footfall is, then you can begin to direct it to change time in flight and landing placement. This ability will help you with developing the rear engagement of your horse that you will need to achieve before we get to collection.

As you do these two above exercises, in the first you are developing yourself as a rider. In the second, you are developing yourself and your horse to work in harmony and partnership.

Exercise #3:  Learn to do the first two exercises without the use of stirrups. You need to make certain that as a rider you can feel the horse and work with the horse and not have your balance compromised by using your stirrups as a crutch.  You need to be able to  balance with your whole body on the back of the horse. You also need to be able to post without your stirrups and achieve the goals of exercise 1 and 2 above (and yes for all the western riders – posting is encouraged at times). You cannot be heavy on your seat bones…you cannot be heavy on your legs…you cannot be heavy with your thighs.  You must be balanced.  (Just the other day Mark Russell said the rider needed to be like a champagne bubble riding on the back of the horse – yes that would be a nice picture of a balanced champagne bubble that did not have the rider leaning on seat or legs or feet or thighs…but rather, the rider would be in a perfect state of harmony and balance on the back of the horse).

Exercise #4: Do the above three exercises with the lightest amount of contact…and occasionally, release any of your contact and determine if your horse maintains the rhythm and tempo.  This exercise begins to tie in a measure of how much self-carriage you are achieving…and remember that self-carriage comes when you have balance.

Exercise #5:  Learn to do the first four exercises while working over ground poles and cavaletti’s. This simply adds a degree of difficulty that requires the rider to focus on balance, movement of the horse and changes in terrain (poles or cavaletti’s) that put the horse and rider into thinking mode.

Most importantly in all of the above – you must remember to breathe through all that work.

Once you have mastered those five activities … then you and your horse are ready to begin work on the exercises that will ultimately lead to collection.

Please feel free to share this blog.

—————————-

Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in DR 4 Balance – to help horse and rider acheive goals.  Dr. Mike works with riders to enhance their performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding and welfare and rehabilitation of the horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program for competitors.

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We take great liberties with the English language these days when we speak, text and, write. Two, Too, and To are often texted as “2” and this is just one example of us interchanging words and letters and numbers so that we do not always have to think about the exact spelling, meaning, or detail of a simple word.

As equestrians, we find ourselves in training or instructing or learning and we get challenged to describe what we are feeling.  We often use words that we think we understand their meaning…but in truth … we heard someone else say the word and we think it sounds correct or powerful or authoritative.

Four words in particular — Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — are often used interchangeably and by that—they are used incorrectly. These words are not interchangeable. The four terms are distinct in meaning, appearance, and feel when riding. Let us begin with defining these words normally, without the equestrian perspective….and then defining with the equestrian perspective.

General Population Definitions of these words:

Frame — to construct by fitting and uniting the parts of the skeleton of (a structure)

Self-Carriage — manner of bearing the body, deportment

Roundness — having curves rather than angles

Collection — the act or process of getting things from different places and bringing them together

Even in everyday use, these words have distinct meanings. Now let us look at them through the eyes of an equestrian.

Equestrian Definitions of these words:

Frame — Horse traveling in a predetermined outline.  Frame has a particular look.  We can influence the frame with natural and artificial aids.

Self-Carriage — the horse carries himself in the best and most appropriate manner for the movement he has to execute. Self-carriage is the result of balance.  This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to be in balance and self-carriage.

Roundness — horse lifts his back so that the hind end can reach under further and the topline can become rounder. Again — This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to achieve correct roundness.

Collection — to shift his center of gravity more over his hind feet by increasing the bend in his hocks and stifles. That lowers his hindquarters, shortens his strides, and means that when he thrusts off the ground, his impulsion now becomes more “up” than “forward.”  The holy grail and top of the training scale.  An often sought after, moderately achieved activity that the horse can sustain for short periods of time (note….it is not good to announce proudly that you rode your horse in collection for over an hour….just not a good plan and likely it did not happen, nor would a good equestrian want it to happen)

Simply by reading these definitions, you can begin developing a mental picture of how they are different and of course how these concepts work together. A multitude of people have discussed these concepts in excellent detail and below I share with you some of the references I use as I continue to advance my learning (See links below).

My challenge to you as fellow equestrians is to become more exacting in the words you use to describe what your horse and you are achieving.  By being more exacting – you will improve your training, develop reasonable and progressive goals, and have more fun and success.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this blog to encourage other equestrians to learn more and to develop more exacting standards of language as horsemen and horsewomen.

From Manolo Mendez website — Balance & Rhythm in the Young Horse: Essential to Forward and Self Carriage (first independent balance)

From Karen Rolf – Dressage Naturally — Self Carriage from a Dressage, Naturally Perspective

Meredith Manor – Training Mythunderstandings: The Training Tree: Collection

———————–

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).