A new rainsheet? The latest saddle pad? Those sound like things that might be on your personal gift wish wist. Full-time Friends, Forage and Freedom? Now we’re getting warmer! But while every horse deserves those 3 F’s, that’s not what I was thinking this frosty morning.
One of the most important gifts you can give any horse is the gift of good training.
Despite the best intentions of owners, many horses don’t have the security of one home for life. Horses live longer than our cat and dog companions. The cost of owning a horse is high. Children – and adults – lose interest. People fall ill. Financial situations change. Riders choose a horse unsuited for their current skill level and experience. Or they take on a project horse when they lack the ability or knowledge to train. In such circumstances the horse may be given away or sold, dropped off at a rescue, or taken to auction. Sometimes the outcome is best for the horse, and sometimes it isn’t.
While a good base of training offers no guarantee that a horse won’t end up being sold for slaughter, or left to starve in a back pasture, being trained helps. In the current horse market anything that helps a horse stay cared for is a good thing.
All horses can benefit from training. While great emphasis is placed on the skills and abilities a horse has under saddle, even horses not suitable for riding can benefit. A horse unsound for riding who has been taught how to be safely handled in-hand may find a home where he or she can be doted on and enjoyed by a person who does not ride; the horse who has not been taught may not end up in such a home.
If your horse is unsound for riding, and you must rehome them, please teach them basic skills before you part ways: Leading skills. Tying. Hoof handling. Standing for grooming. Trailer loading. Those are great basic skills for all horses to have – sound or otherwise. If your horse has a behavior issue, such as a serious fear (needles, clippers) or aggression, hire a qualified horse behavior consultant to help you resolve the issue before you rehome your horse. Having a behavior issue will dramatically decrease the chances your horse ends up being cared for, and will increase the likelihood they pass from one unsuitable home to the next.
Give your horse another gift, and learn updated information about horse behavior and training methods. Popular training methods often use punishment and ‘dominance theory’ to achieve results, and are usually marketed as ‘natural’ or kind; unfortunately these methods are not recommended by animal behavior professionals, and can result in serious side effects for horses. Sadly such fallout from training can’t always be resolved.
That gift of good training isn’t just for the horse, it’s also for you. Even the most experienced equine professional has much more to learn. Step out of your comfort zone as a professional, and commit to being a lifelong student.
It’s what we think we know that keeps us from learning. ~Claude Bernard
We live in a world where information is readily available, and not all of it is good; learn how to critically analyze new information, which will help you not be swayed by emotional marketing meant to manipulate you. Sometimes this stretch may be a little uncomfortable, as new information challenges old beliefs. But staying open and receptive will improve your horsemanship and horse training skills in ways you never imagined.
In summary, I’m going to be frank with you, but I’m really doing it for the sake of the horses. If I offend a few people with my next few sentences, but help one horse I’m alright with that. Learning to correctly read horse body language and train horses without using pain or causing stress takes knowledge, time, and skill. The learning curve is steep. Really steep. But I don’t say this to deter you; I want you to be informed and prepared. If you have the will to do it then pull your socks up, put your ego aside, and learn. If you have the integrity to admit the task is too daunting – at any point in the process – I applaud you. If that is the case, interview and hire a good trainer, and be involved in your horse’s training. You have the ability to be your horse’s champion, and if you want to do right by a horse there really is no greater gift you can give them.
Happy holidays to you and your horses.
Lauren Fraser, CHBC offers relationship-based horse training that blends the art of horsemanship with behavioral science and the practical application of learning theory. She provides horsemanship coaching, behavioral consultations, solutions to problem behaviors, foundation training, clinics, and educational presentations.
Fear-based behaviors are common in horses, and if left...
Many horse training methods claim to be kind, and in...
Fear-based behaviors are common in horses, and if left...
True narcolepsy is rare in horses, but sleep deprivation is not.
This video shows an older mare who is sleep deprived, falling into REM sleep while standing. Horses must lay down to achieve REM sleep, and when deprived from doing so it may manifest as the behaviors you see here. Sleep deprivation is harmful to the health of all animals, so it is very important that your horse has the ability to lay down each day, and feels safe to do so.
Horses won't lay down to sleep for a number of reasons such as pain, lack of suitable resting sites, or when they don't feel safe to lay down. It's reported that two factors resulted in this mare not laying down to sleep - the arrival of a new horse, and undiagnosed arthritis pain ... See MoreSee Less
Sleep Disorder Case : Horses require 30mins/day REM sleep. Siri is a 22 year old Arab X mare. Last summer after a new, dominant horse was introduced to the herd, she lost weight and was seen to have frequent episodes of partial collapse, once falling onto her side. The episodes resolved, but a couple of weeks ago the same behaviour was observed again and New Forest Equine Vets were called in to investigate. Collapse in horses is fortunately uncommon, but when it does occur can obviously be hazardous to both horse and handlers. Three types of 'collapsing' are seen in horses; seizures, syncope (fainting) and sleep disorders. Siri underwent a very thorough clinical examination including neurological and musculoskeletal assessments, and had a range of blood tests performed. The most significant findings were; The original association of the behaviour with the arrival of a new field-mate. A low grade right hind lameness, with severe persistent right hind pain with flexion tests. The gradual lowering of the head, before the front legs buckle. We also found a cardiac arrhythmia; Siri has a second degree AV block, but this is a normal finding in horses and would not cause fainting. Siri's condition is a Sleep Disorder. True narcolepsy can occur in horses, and is usually associated with events like grooming or saddling. Siri is most likely suffering from sleep deprivation. Horses require 30 minutes of REM sleep per day and although they can doze standing up, they need to lie down for REM sleep. We expect that when the new dominant herd-mate arrived, Siri was not comfortable to lie down in the field with him. Now she has lameness and finds it painful to flex her right hindlimb, which is likely to be preventing her from wanting to lie down to sleep. She is currently on a bute (pain relief) trial, and her owner has made her a lovely deep stable bed that she is coming into daily to encourage her to lie down – so far, no further collapsing episodes have been seen. A very interesting case and a good reminder of how important it is for horses to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically in their herd/environment, so that they don't miss out on their REM sleep.
3 days ago ·