The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 8:00 am 

Joined: Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:25 am
Posts: 54
How do you keep your horses in shape, that they are fit and build muscles?
I'm not a fan of lunging or something like this, because I want Karim to choose free if he wants to do something or if he wants to run and so on. That's pretty difficult, because the last week(s) Karim didn't want to run at all. He likes to do his excersis in walk or stand-still excersises, but he didn't run at all - not even trot.
And I don't know if he is as motivated as he was, he doesn't whinny when I'm coming anymore and if his eating his hay he doesn't come to me at all :o He did this everytime, even if he was eating. I don't really know what has changed and why he doesn't want to do as much things as before. I tried to do different things that he doesn't get bored, but that's not so easy with him.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 8:31 am 

Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2008 9:58 pm
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Location: Western Cape, South Africa
I am not sure what your set up is where your horses stays but horses generally won't move much without motivation as they conserve their energy for flight should the need arise. With that said there are a few ways you can elicit more movement. Herd mates (especially young ones) will get more play from the other horses. Resources like hay spread out in many small piles will have the horse going from pile to pile and pushing the other horses to move from pile to pile. Equally placing the hay at the top of any hill areas will make them have to walk up and back between the hay and water/herd mates. You may have split pastures and moving them from pasture to pasture (morning/night/various times of the day) will elicit a run or two if the herd is all moving together. So letting them out into new pasture normally has a mad 10 min run around until they settle to eat again.
I don't think you are alone in wanting more movement. In the wild the horse would be forced to move to find food, our domestic horses have all they need and so tend to get fat and snooze knowing the next meal is around the corner!!! You could try taking long walks with your horse (I sometimes take my horse far away from the herd and let him run back just so he gets a good lung blow on the way back!). Other have managed cycling with their horses. You may also find the time of day makes a difference to his energy levels (ie if the rest of the herd is snoozing under a tree he will want to be too).
In some ways your horses reaction tells me that he is relaxed (doesn't fear any predator attack), has enough to eat and doesn't feel the need to grab your attention as he is not needing anything from you for wellbeing. Not great for your relationship BUT he is a happy horse with his needs met :D

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 2:11 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:25 am
Posts: 54
Thanks Morgan for your reply.
And thanks for your thoughts and tips. Well, i can't decide where to put the hay and so on. Karim has to move very less to get hay and water. So i nearly never see them running around together (the horses).
And since two weeks or something like this, Karim doesn't run around with me too. I guess he's getting a little bit lazy :roll: . So I'm not sure if I should start to lunge him and things like this (even if I have to "force" him to run) or what else can I do? I don't really want to force him. But I also don't want that he gets fat :roll:
I don't really know what would be best.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 3:11 pm 
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Location: Vienna, Austria
Well, I think you've hit a sensitive topic here. At least among the people I regularly talk to, this is one of the unsolved challenges every one is facing if their horses have 24 hours access to food.
Basically it should be a matter of providing 24 hours turnout on diverse terrain, big enough and meagre enough to encourage lots of movement during grazing. Since such conditions are almost impossible to come by in my part of the world, try to make up for it with long walks in hilly terrain, riding, lungeing, gymnastic groundwork and stationary strengthening exercises like school halt, rearing, or working on the see-saw.
The point for me is to keep the training as diverse as possible (and fun of course), so that even lungeing is not perceived as a tedious chore, but just another type of exercise. And I actually found with our horses that if it is done in a positive way, even lungeing can be appreciated, as I have the feeling that horses like to improve their physical abilities. It is after all something that determines rank and chance of survival in the herd.

Still, I think that lungeing is not so easy to establish positively, but it certainly can be done. You can either use a combination of positive and negative reinforcement, or even better, rebuild lungeing with free shaping or targeting, like starting with something like the Chase the Tiger exercise.
If walking with you on the circle has become a highly reinforced exercise, even with a slight flexion or in shoulder-in, then it's basically just a matter of increasing distance between you and the horse and you have got lungeing.

I believe that horses generally like to move, given that it is not in a stressful situation and they are bodily capable of doing it in a healthy way. So moving on a circle has to be taught and practised first I think, before it can be used as a positive experience for the horse.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 3:26 pm 
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Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 8:20 am
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Location: Dresden, Germany
Marlene wrote:
So I'm not sure if I should start to lunge him and things like this (even if I have to "force" him to run) or what else can I do? I don't really want to force him. But I also don't want that he gets fat :roll:
I don't really know what would be best.


We had a very similar discussion in Anat's diary a few days ago, so if you want to read my take on this, it's here. In short, I am aware that physical training can have huge benefits, but for my own interaction with my horses I have decided not to compromise the free choice part for the sake of these physical benefits.

That said, I think that going for walks or trailrides and cycling are great ways of keeping your horse both fit and motivated. With my horses, especially with Titum, I also have that situation sometimes that he does not want to trot or canter (or only does so very sluggishly) while we are interacting in the pasture. However, I do not interpret this as a sign of laziness, because at the same times he can be highly motivated in a more stimulating environment, for example during a walk in the forest. In the past I have wrecked my brains about that lack of motivation (if you want to read it, it's here in Titum's diary). But then I found that with Titum it is directly related to having a purposeful activity, and in our case that's just not running circles around me or doing exercises just for their own sake in the pasture. Perhaps there are horses who are (and remain) content with just training groundwork exercises, but with mine it feels more like it decreases their motivation in the long run, whereas each walk repairs them (so that afterwards I can do boring pasture work again for a few days or weeks :twisted:).

By the way, we have another thread about Conditioning a Horse (including a link to yet another one ;)). :f:


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