Natural Horsemanship

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We’ve all had a horse that was hesitant to go forward with ease and willingness. I want to share the story of one such colt I started recently, and some of the strategies I employed to help him “free up.” These techniques work well for horses of all ages. This article is ultimately about rider self-awareness, timing, and avoiding the overuse of pressure, which unintentionally dulls the horse. Take special note of the tips for success, and the pitfalls many riders face when their horse is dull to their aids.

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My horse is great in the arena, but easily distracted as soon as we go out of the ring. He’s good when he’s by himself, but when there are other horses around, my horse’s mind is not with me. My horse is fine when his herd-mate is nearby, but as soon as we try to separate he loses his mind! Sometimes he’s with me… and other times it’s like I’m not even there. If you can relate to any of these statements, the tips in this article will help you understand your horse – the ultimate tourist – and how to get his attention.

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Is it effective or abusive? I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I’m about 15 years old, and I’m riding a lesson horse in a ring. We’re jumping, or we’re trying to. It’s not going well. My instructor is screaming at me. Screaming. In hindsight, my horse is terrified. He has refused a jump, more than likely because he’s scared of it. My instructor is screaming at me over and over: “Get it done!” and “Don’t let him get away with it.” Eventually, with much kicking and whipping, my horse carries his terrified self and me over the jump. Our hearts are racing. We are both scared, bordering on traumatized, in a place where we are unable to think or be effective in any way.

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Tension in horses can lead to all kinds of problems and hinder their ability to learn. Some horses are so tense and stiff that they are incapable of certain maneuvers. This can lead to frustration and anxiety, which in turn leads to increased tension.

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The horse world has changed a lot over the last several years. I am not sure that it is for the better. The introduction of “natural horsemanship” has changed the way people interact with their horses. It has changed the philosophical approach of many people to account for seemingly natural horse behaviour. It has encouraged a relationship based on leadership where we are to be the dominant horse. It has changed how we physically correct our horses with methods that are gentler than those of the past. All of these are good things, right, so where is the problem?

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When you have finally found the perfect horse to take you to the winner’s circle, it’s tough to realize that he or she might be getting old. Many horses are now competing well into their late teens and early twenties, especially in certain disciplines such as dressage or show jumping where it takes many years of training to reach an elite level of competition. However, from a veterinary perspective, horses are considered geriatric as they reach the age of 15 to 20 years, which is when their physiological functions start to decline. The management of these horses becomes crucial to keep them competing at their best.

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When I was younger and hardier I was happy enough to ride in all kinds of weather. If truth be told, I have made my living riding and maybe I felt more obligated to ride rather than being happy to ride. Now that I am a bit older I’ve become a fair weather rider - or at least I’m not an extreme weather rider.

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