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No pressure?

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No pressure?

The latest British Dressage magazine carries a three page article about bridle fitting with the rather misleading title of ‘No pressure’.

Their trials revealed that a flash is the worst choice of noseband and creates extreme pressure on the nasal bone and jawbones. So hopefully this most popular choice will now go out of fashion.

The rather obvious news is that when a cavesson is fastened AT THE SAME TIGHTNESS as a crank, it is the highly padded crank, designed so that it can be tightened without the buckle sticking into the jaw bone, that exerts less pressure. This is apparently an unexpected and controversial finding. But the argument against the crank has always been that it’s been designed to be cranked tight around the nose of the horse, although its supporters like to call it ‘snugly’.

The article failed to mention that horses are anisognathic, that means that the upper and lower jaws are different widths. So no amount of padding will lessen the pressure or pain of the upper molars sticking into the cheeks. This area was not even highlighted as a pressure zone. Of course a drop noseband doesn’t have this problem, however it can restrict the movement of the jaw and breathing, but that wasn’t mentioned either.

To get the scientific findings the author used pressure mats to take readings… pressure mats. This research wasn’t about eliminating pressure, because obviously the best way to eliminate pressure would be to remove the noseband altogether or have a loose noseband. No, it was looking at the best way to apply pressure. But surely it is obvious that any pressure around the face is going to be painful.

However researchers also found that a noseband is essential as with gait analysis horses without nosebands demonstrate a loss and stride control and the rider’s ability to control the horse in turns is reduced. They don’t say how much pressure is exerted on the horse’s face in this study.

Let’s turn their research on its head.

Why do we put nosebands on horses? To stop them from opening their mouths.

Why do they open their mouths? Because they are trying to avoid the bit.

Why are they trying to avoid the bit? Because it’s uncomfortable or it actually hurts.

Why is it uncomfortable? Because the rider has too strong a contact. Because the rider has non-empathetic, insensitive hands. Because the bit doesn’t fit the conformation of the mouth. (actually no bit is going to fit the conformation of a horse’s mouth, horses, just like every other creature on earth weren’t designed to have a piece of metal in their mouth, but some fit better than others).

Therefore if the horse has free rein to open his mouth when the rider pulls on the reins or sits on the back of the saddle it will affect his stride, and the rider’s control.

So what’s the answer? To learn to ride empathetically? Or to stop the horse from opening its mouth?

The FEI code of conduct in the BD handbook states that ‘Tack must be designed and fitted to avoid the risk of pain or injury.’ However BD does not have a rule on how much pressure should be exerted on the face of a horse in order to avoid pain. But then they don’t have a definitive measurement of what correct pressure is.  So what happened to the two fingers rule?  What happened to the rule that the noseband should never be used to keep a horse’s mouth shut?  But most importantly, I ask you, how can the constant pressure of a noseband on the delicate bones, nerves and blood vessels of any creatures face be correct at all? Surely the only way to avoid pain is to enforce a rule of no noseband or a loose noseband but then that would show quite clearly who the really talented riders are.

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50 Shades of Horse Training

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50 Shades of Horse Training

Proving our great leadership by controlling every step with micro managed total domination, and demanding complete subservience.

A blog is doing the FaceBook rounds that explains about pressure and release training in a sensible way, but then goes on:

Every time my horse wants to do something that is his idea…then immediately make him do the opposite…. if he walks off 4 steps after you stopped him then immediately back him up 4 steps…

and

Now if you are trying to back him up and he is braced against you, head in the air, fighting it and you at that moment release the pressure then you just taught him “OH if I put my nose in the air and fight it then I get relief from pressure.

and

Remember WHOA MEANS WHOA not “ok sweetie we are gonna whoa now but if you want to take a couple extra steps after I say whoa then thats ok with me cuz your my baby smooch smooch”

No questions asked, you are the boss, that horsey is a sneaky little critter, one step on his own and he will be the leader!

Really?  Surely leadership isn’t about power and domination, leadership is about listening, it’s fluid, and thoughtful and complex. Any idiot can dominate a horse!

What our blogger doesn’t do is question why the horse is resisting a rein back, or failing to stop on the w of whoa.

Horses are generous by nature. .. if they don’t do something it is generally because they have no clue what you are on about or they physically can’t do it, or it hurts.

To me this dominatrix attitude is where the rot sets in… horsey won’t rein back, he puts his head in the air, he opens his mouth, so the great leader of horses keeps the pressure on until the horse gives in, or rears up and fights more violently, so then what, the great leader of horses mustn’t be beaten at any cost… so they put horsey in draw reins and tighten his noseband and force him to do it.

But what if the horse didn’t do it because he didn’t understand… wouldn’t it have been better to go back to teaching it on the ground, just one baby step at a time, maybe with a little pressure and release, but definitely with a positive reward, a kind word a scratch on the neck… he’s generous, he wants to please, that was a good experience, he wants to do it again.

NO!!! You cannot LOVE them into behaving. You have to be a strong and confident herd leader and you will have an obedient and secure horse!

But just supposing he didn’t do it because he’s in pain, now he’s in even more pain, he can’t tell you about his pain because you have now bound and gagged him, he has two choices fight or give in. So he shuts down, he gives up. He puts up with the pain, because your great leadership has overpowered him, you won’t know about it again until his body starts breaking down… but then you can claim on the insurance to get him mended, or sell him on or put him down… and then you can get a newer model.

The saddest thing of all is all the likes and endorsements of this blog, nice people who love their horses have now realised it’s okay to get some spurs and to make their horses obey them. It’s so much easier to blame the horse for being naughty than to question why the horse isn’t doing as it’s told, and if he isn’t lame, well heck, he can’t be in pain, and heaven forbid that we should question our own riding ability.

Interestingly this blog is on a horse sales site, it bemoans well dominated horses being sold to weak people, you know, the ones who won’t use force, and sure, the horse needs to know his boundaries, you can’t be having a horse kicking and biting you and napping and bolting. But surely the answer is to go back to basics to establish a respectful relationship, and to explore the possibility of misunderstandings and pain related behavior, to listen to what the horse is trying to tell you, to hear the whispers way before he is screaming… surely that’s leadership.

and to those who accuse me of being on my high horse and preaching… this is just my opinion, just like you are entitled to your opinion.  I am not saying I am a great leader, or that I know all the answers. I am learning, and you know what… the more I have learned, the more I realise how little I know.  But I sure as heck know that relationship and leadership isn’t about absolute control. One of the prerequisites of dressage is submission, it’s dictionary definition is ‘the action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or the will of authority of (another) person’. I am so grateful that I have found so many fabulous horse people from around the world who are ditching what in my opinion are these outdated and dictatorial ideas, and if the sentiments expressed in this blog resonate with you, then join me and other like minded horse lovers at www.concordiaequestrians.com.   Together we can change perceptions.

“It is through cooperation, rather than conflict that your greatest successes will be derived” Ralph Charell

 

Photo with free to use licence – full details at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gag_bit.JPG