Archive for April, 2011
This is the last posting of our trick series and the one that I have saved for last, simply because it’s my favorite! This one will give you and your horse the dramatic exit you seek. I am sure you have attended many big top events and wonder what makes those circus horses so entertaining…what keeps them going day after day, seven days a week. I am a firm believer that part of the secret is the applause they get. Just as we humans do, horses too work for the applause and adulation.
I remember being in Las Vegas watching the Lippizaner stallions perform in hand when one got away from his handler. That horse loved hamming it up for the audience. He went through each trick he knew how to perform without any of the cues from the handler, who was at the other end of the arena just watching. When this stallion was finished “his routine” he gave his audience a huge bow, who at that point everyone went wild! The horse loved it!! He couldn’t get enough of that applause. Your horse too, not only will perform like a seasoned actor, he’ll enjoy every minute of it just as that stallion did. So, have a good time, as he will, and clap and cheer when he does well!
The Final Curtsy!
Equipment needed: Bridle, long soft cotton lead rope, whip, western saddle or surcingle, saddle pad and carrots.
- Put the bridle on your horse and a western saddle or surcingle. You will need to split the reins on the bridle. Standing in the stall, please do not go outside on the grass initially as this will only distract your horse, place the soft lead rope around the horse’s left front ankle. Hold the reins of the bridle in your left hand and stand the horse next to the stall wall with you standing on his left side by his shoulder. DO NOT STAND IN FRONT OF YOUR HORSE. With your right hand, pull his left foot up with the rope and let him stand for a minute. Pet and reward him with a carrot to reassure him that what you are doing won’t harm him. Don’t hurry this step and doing it several times at spaced out intervals.
- Place the ankle rope through the stirrup, or if you are using the surcingle, through the ring. Begin a gentle pull on the left ankle with the rope through the stirrup and over the horn. Go very slowly and tell him to BOW. Use the carrot to coax his head down towards his chest as you pull on the rope. The carrot will take your horse’s attention off his body and what you are doing and he will often follow the carrot to actually bow. He may not get his left leg completely down on the ground, but that’s okay. Reward him for the attempt and any form of a bow.
- As soon as your horse bows for the first time, remove the ankle rope, pet him and let him rest a few minutes before starting the step over again. A suggestion would be to do this twice for the first day as you don’t want to strain him at all.
- The next time, review steps 2 and 3. As soon as your horse has learned to bow using the lead rope and saddle, remove the rope and tap his left knee gently with the whip and tell him to BOW. Reward him with a carrot only when his knee is on the ground.
- Repeat several times in short 15 minute sessions and remember the command BOW each time. Touch the whip on his left knee and your body position will be his cue to bow on one knee. Remember to be very careful where you do this trick and don’t over do it even though you want to as this trick can put a strain on your horse’s muscles.
- When your horse is doing this trick very well in his stall, take him outside onto a soft, sandy paddock or arena and practice bowing there. Teach your horse to stay for longer periods in the bow position by holding your whip on his knee. Your horse should be taught to get up only when you tell him to.
As a side note, your big performer will be expecting food treats each and every time he does his trick at your request. You don’t want your horse to become a “food-aholic!” Using food initially is great as it grabs their attention, but you really need to get rid of those treats as soon as you can. Your horse will work for praise, so when it is feasible to remove the treats, slowly alternate sessions with food and without.
Good luck – Larissa
As you know, over the next several weeks, we will be focusing on some easy tricks we can teach our horses. Many people have asked, why spend time teaching your horses tricks, when there hardly is the time to ride your horses. Firstly, you will see positive changes taking place in your horse when you start teaching him tricks. He will get brighter and will be more interested in you and what you are doing. Secondly, you will learn to communicate with your horse on a different level rather than doing the same mundane training exercises and riding. Your horse will learn to listen to you and to communicate with you and will really enjoy his time with you! In order to have a really good dressage horse, my horse does more than just dressage! Every day is something different and challenging. I believe it keeps him sharp and interested in his job. Yesterday, we spent a hard day in dressage training and today we will be spending a fund day learning a new trick!
This next trick is one of the easiest to teach. He will love it from the beginning because right away he’ll get his chance in “pushing you around.” And this is exactly what you want him to do! The best time to start teaching this trick is just before feeding time.
Equipment Needed: Halter, lead rope, carrots or treats
- When holding a small piece of carrot in your hand (doesn’t matter which one), tease your horse a little with it and then turn your back to him putting the hand you are holding the carrot in behind your back. Get your horse to lower his head even or lower than your shoulders by holding your carrot hand quite low. Lean against his face softly, at which time your horse will most likely nudge you a tiny bit to say “get off me”. Reward him at this very first sign of resistance.
- Repeat above, but this time lean a little heavier against him and make him push you out of his way so he can get his reward. Tell him to “Push!”
- As soon as he has pushed you one step, make him push you two steps the next time. When he nudges you forward, back up immediately to lean on him again using the command “Push” each and every time you lean on him.
- Tip: don’t give him the carrot each time, but have the reward be a little longer each time.
Now there is a caution to this trick: Even though this trick will bring delights of laughter to you and others, please be aware that by standing directly in front of your horse with your back towards him, you are giving him the cue to “Push” you forward, so please be aware of the implication of this trick. However, you can refine your cues by saying the word “PUSH”, and immediately turn your back to him and by standing directly in front of him. Remember that your horse should continue to push you forward as long as your back is toward him and you keep staggering backwards towards him. His cue to stop pushing you around is when you turn to face him. It is at this time you tell him that playtime is over.
Now that’s using your head…have fun with this one. Larissa
In this world of political unrest, no horse tricks would be complete without the “Pickpocket.” This is such a winning combination of the horse’s natural innocence added to the trickery, deceit and sneakiness that are too often part of human nature. Have fun with this one!
This trick will involve your horse using his mouth to handle objects using his teeth. Make sure that these items are a safe size for your horse to handle! I once had a smaller hanky while teaching Bruq this trick and he almost swallowed the darn thing. Had to quickly reach down and retrieve the pink material! So, make sure that they hanky is large enough so that your horse cannot eat or swallow it. Also, use a hanky that you don’t care if it will be torn, as more than likely it will tear especially during the early learnings of this trick.
Equipment needed: halter, lead rope, hanky and lots of carrots!
This will make your life a little easier if you put your trick hanky in a container filled with carrots so that it absorbs the small of the carrot thoroughly.
- Place a piece of carrot on the hanky that you are holding while the other hand is holding the lead rope. Standing directly in front of your horse, show him the carrot and let him eat it, then allow him to eat more pieces off the hanky. Then, take a piece of carrot folded in the hanky. Once your horse takes the hanky readily, remove the carrot from inside the hanky.
- Repeat the above, saying “Take the Hanky” or “Pickpocket” or “Hanky
- When your horse takes the hanky consistently from your hand, place a small piece of carrot inside of the hanky and put it in your pants pocket with most of the hanky hanging out of your pants, turn away from your horse and tell him “Take the Hanky” or “Pickpocket” or “Hanky”. When he does reward him with generous praise and another piece of carrot.
- Repeat until your horse consistently takes the hanky from your pocket.
- Repeat the above steps, except change pockets. Perhaps a front pocket, side pocket, shirt pock, coat pocket. He should be consistent in removing the hanky from whatever pocket you place the hanky and when you say your command. Remember to stress the word “HANKY”.
Most horses get a thrill out of grabbing the hanky out of your pocket and may get quite excited, so watch their teeth. I have suffered several rear end nips from my horse some of which left bruises!! Remember that whenever you ask your horse to use his teeth to get something, you need to use caution as your horse may get excited. He doesn’t mean to hurt you, he’s just very eager. You can use this trick to have your horse take anything out of your pockets, but make sure that he only does it on cue otherwise this will become nuisance behaviour.
By teaching your horse this simple trick, you can now teach your horse to pick up a variety of objects with his mouth.
April 22 is Earth Day, one of the most important hallmarks in the world of conservation and recycling. It unites us in ecological responsibility and taking ownership of our planet; after all, it is the only Earth that we have, and taking steps to lessen our impact is a great way to celebrate the 41st anniversary of this event.
So celebrate this Earth Day by making a few easy changes at your barn that can dramatically reduce your use of water:
Fix anything (faucets, toilets, hoses) that drips. A faucet that drips one drop per second will waste a staggering 2,700 gallons a year.
Make sure all hoses have nozzles that let you adjust the spray and a “trigger” that shuts off the flow of water while you’re conditioning tails or soaping up dirty legs.
Before you turn on that hose, ask yourself, “Does my horse really need a bath or will a good grooming be fine?
Find a second use for leftover water in buckets – water plants around the barn, soak hay or control dust in the round pen.
Rain barrels - By saving rainwater, you’ll have plenty to use without taxing your well or municipal supply during the summer. One half-inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof yields approximately 300 gallons of water!
Another way to protect our water resources? Proper manure management. A proper manure management system reduces the run off that pollutes our ground and well water PLUS composting manure can produce an excellent fertilizer to promote healthy grazing lands or even to use in your own garden.
HorseJobs.ca member Christine J says: “We sell bags of manure at the roadside for a $1 a bag – it’s a great way to recycle our poly feed bags PLUS the local “green thumbs” love it for their rose and veggie gardens. We have regular customers including a local greenhouse who come by to take it away by the truck load….It’s a win-win!”
Those of you who live in Ontario already know of the new rules about the storage and handling of livestock manure in the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA), and Ontario Regulation 267/03. For more information regarding these new rules or to learn how YOU can build a better manure management system for YOUR barn click on this link: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/07-045.htm#4
Whatever you decide to do for Earth Day…please decide to do something. – Larissa.
I am sure you have met a few horses who you thought were absolute geniuses, having amazed you by performing a trick, maybe even two, and their owners loved owning the smartest horse in the barn. People want to believe they’ve met a wonder horse, not just a horse that has been cleverly trained.
Horses have long been used for entertaining people. Recently, I have been watching old TV shows, Roy Rogers, My Friend Flika and the Lone Ranger. Yes, my mother would be proud as these were her favorite shows when she was younger. I was so entertained by these horses and I must say that Trigger was simply amazing, which made me think that this would be great blog posts on how horses learn to do such wonderful tricks. Trigger was really good at pulling a hanky from a pocket and taking a hat off a head!
Believe it or not, many of the movements or tricks we want to ask of our horses, they already know how to do without commands. Your horse already knows how to shake his head, curl his lip, sit up, kneel and lie down. He’s done all of these “tricks” every day on his own without any encouragement from you. But now, we are going to ask him to do them on cue…should be fun. However, before you start teaching your horse anything, you must have his attention. This means your horse must listen to you and watch you with both his eyes and ears. Your horse should be solid in basic groundwork and handling, respectful and obedient.
The first trick – Smile for the Camera!
This trick has always brought out roars of laughter when Bruq performed it for people. People would pose next to Bruq to have their picture taken when he curled up his upper lip. I have to say that this trick always brings a smile to my face.
Equipment needed: Halter, lead rope, ammonia, feather and carrots.
Put on the halter onto your horse and stand him in his stall, aisle or outside next to a fence and stand directly in front of him. Bring out the ammonia (or other strange smelling odor. I thought I would be smart and use a cut onion, as that I thought was foul smelling, it didn’t work because Bruq ate it!) and hold it under his nostrils and tell him to “Smile”. Generally, most horses will react to a strong smelling odor and if they don’t that’s where the feather come in! Tickle your horse on the upper lip with the feather to get the curl and say “SMILE.”
Reward your horse with a piece of carrot when he rolls back his upper lip, even if does so ever so slightly in the beginning and heap on the praise.
Repeat the steps over and over again for as many brief sessions as it takes until your horse is conditioned to roll back his lip whenever your finger approaches his muzzle and you say the word “Smile!”
You and your horse will enjoy this trick and now you can show off his Pepsodent Smile! Your horse has learned the body cue of you standing in front of him and the hand cue in front of his face together with the command “Smile.” You can practice this trick often and everywhere…in the field, in the stall, amongst other horses and people. This trick is very easy because you don’t need any tools except your hand and a carrot or a treat.
Have fun, Larissa!
Straightness through the circle.
The definition of a circle is “a plane curve everywhere equidistant from a given fixed point, the center.” In other words, a circle is round, starting and finishing at the same place. The circle is not shaped life an oval, an egg, a teardrop, or a loop. The 20 meter circle, the full width of a standard dressage area, is the first gymnastic figure you ride at Training Level Dressage. As you and your horse become stronger, and your horse suppler, more responsive to your aids, the circles you are asked to ride with be reduced to 15 meters all the way down to 6 meter voltes! So, why does the circle figure so prominently in training our horses?
The circle is just so exciting and variable…you can create all sorts of figures and movements with the circle. You can attach it to another to make a figure eight. You can use circles to change directions. Within a circle you can ride two small half circles for a change of rein. Add in frequent changes of rein and tempo while you are schooling your horse and you can keep your horse from getting bored or restless. Circles develop balance, suppleness and obedience of your horse.
In order to accomplish balance, suppleness and obedience and also get good scores on your dressage test, you need to ride your circle accurately. Sorry, no ovals, eggs or riding an 18 meter circle when the tests says a 15 meter circle. Your horse needs to be straight, his body evenly bent from poll to tail on the particular curve of the circle you are riding. His hind feel must follow exactly in the tracts of his front feet with a little more balance on his outside shoulder.
It can be difficult to ride the perfect 20 meter circle in that one big curved line. A tip in riding a perfect circle is by first riding the circle as a diamond. A square with four straight sides and four 90degree corners. Ride the diamond point to point using cones to act as visual aids to mark the corners. You will also apply all the skills explained in previous lessons: seat, legs and balance, flexion and bending and half-halts. When you have mastered the diamond and you feel comfortable with it, turn the figure into an octagon with eight straight sides and eight corners. Again mark all corners with cones. When the octagon feels good to ride and you ride that correctly you’ll blow out the octagon’s sides to form that perfect circle!
A dressage horse is not supposed to think for himself or decide what to do. He is supposed to volunteer his intelligence to you, his partner and he should enjoy what both of you are doing. He is not supposed to tell you how to be creative about riding that circle. He should also not use crookedness, resistance, or a lazy response to avoid the difficulty of a movement that is developed to build straightness, suppleness and strength. Pay particular attention to your horse’s shoulders. Does he bulge one shoulder out on turns? Does he throw one shoulder toward the middle of the circle? Always ask these questions as you do your training and you will be on your way to develope symmetry in your horse.
Well ridden circles and transitions are the cornerstones of classical riding. The transition to a square halt in the middle of the circle is a test of straightness and balance.
Developing straightness means asking your horse to travel differently than he normally does. We already know that every horse prefers to travel with his weight distributed unevenly throughout his body. To make your horse straight means to make him symmetrical by balancing his one-sidedness which requires you to fine tune your sense of feel to recognize the way your horse is traveling. The exercise below is designed to create a circumstance that will highlight your horse’s attempt to lean in one direction so you can begin to notice that crookedness and start to address it more regularly.
Being in a sitting trot on a 20 meter circle. On the circle, transition up to a working canter. Halfway around the circle at the canter, turn down the middle of the circle coming to a halt at the center of that line, the very center of the circle. Proceed in trot, changing directions and beginning a new circle. The difference of this exercise, you will halt in the center of the circle before you change rein. Remember the halt in the middle of the circle is a test to see if your horse is straight and balanced.
This exercise, even though seemingly simple, requires a great deal of concentration and quick aids. In the halts, do not let your horse dump his weight on the forehand or leak through your halt aids. He must stop promptly and squarely. Maintain a working pace in both trot and canter, without letting him rush or be sluggish.
Good luck Larissa.
Walking the Square
One of my favorite exercises is “walking the square”. In this exercise, you will start putting everything together from the previous exercises. You have already started on your dressage journey. You have learned not to interfere, but to follow your horse’s movement with your seat and hand. You’ve taught your horse to stop and go and to answer your aids. You have already started increasing his responsiveness with the half-halts. So now, we are going to put everything, aids and responses, together creating the basics of flexion and roundness.
Walking the square will help by connecting your horse’s front end to his hind end. It will place him between your inside leg and outside rein. You will be using the outside rein to gain control over his shoulder and control over his bending body rather than just bending his neck. Riding the square will equalize your leg and hand aids for a more correct riding style.
Sit evenly on your seat bones staying relaxed. Track left on a 20-meter square at the walk with your inside leg at the girth and your outside leg a little bit behind the girth. Pulse your inside (left) leg in time with your horse’s walk stride as needed to keep him moving forward and bending. Keep your right leg (outside) behind the girth ready to hold his haunches if they start to swing out. Now slightly open your inside rein, do not pull your horse’s horse’s nose around, you want only to show him the direction his nose should take. Slowly bring your outside hand toward your inside hip (do not cross his wither) as you press your outside leg against him to ask for his shoulder, barrel and hindquarters to follow his nose. Continue the square, bending your horse before the corners, turning him with your outside leg.
When you have the basics of this exercise, let go of your inside rein to the point of where your horse’s shoulders turn and see if you can bring his shoulder, barrel and hindquarters around the corner only using your outside aids.
Remember, the straighter the rider sits, the more evenly the aids will be applied, the straighter your horse will go. It is always beneficial to always look at your riding position frequently. I have found it helpful, if you don’t have a mirror, to video tape yourself riding towards the video camera and then away from the camera so that you can review your position at the front and back. Realize that the majority of horses move crooked because it requires less effort than moving straight. Only through straightening can a horse be taught to be ridden in balance, which is so necessary for all dressage performance. Riding the square, you will reach the goal of developing a balanced and supple horse much quicker. Be sure the maintain rhythm through each corner.
Good luck, Larissa