The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 12:22 pm 

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marleen wrote:
But if the reins are only there to follow the horses head and keep 'contact' with the head for info, then what is the plus of using them? You could then also place your hands on both sides of the horse's neck (or on the cordeo) and get your info from there?


This is what the late, great Moira Williams explored.........see "Adventures Unbridled" from the 1950's - I think that book has been mentioned elsewhere on the forum.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 1:21 pm 

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I got the book of Moira after your suggestion, Rita, I've been deeply moved by it; and then, after reading it, I sent it as a gift to Gabriella Incisa... so much many people - her customers at her Mahdia riding center - could take a good look to it.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 10:59 am 
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Not been back here for a bit, but here is another classic of working a horse with minimum input.
"Half a dozen laden waggons" says Sir George Head "are dragged along the railroad to the particular drop then at work, by a stout cob, which is then ridden carelessly back again, barebacked by a small boy, at a shambling trot; notwithstanding that the interstices between the planks below admit, here and there, full two inches of daylight. However the pony proceeeds, clattering on unconcernedly, otherwise than by holding his snout close to the floor, the better and more cautiously to observe where to place his feet at every step.
.............The beast when I witnessed his performance, had only a halter on his head, without winkers, or any harness except collar and light rope traces. As soon as the boy had fastened the lock of the trace to the foremost waggon, the pony invariably turned round his head, as if to enquire whether all was ready,and then, exactly at the proper moment, commenced his march, the load, meanwhile, rumbling after him: arrived at the drop, the carriages being detached, he here stood jammed close to the wall; shewing perfect cognizance as the carriages passed him, of the degree of attention due to the various noises and manoevres going forward, and not only being aware when it was proper to step out of the way, but how long precisely it was safe to stand still."


To give this context, the cob is working in a wooden building high above the tidal mud of the River Tees at Middlesborough. The Waggons each contain two and half tons of coal. A total load of around 17 tons.
A child is in charge, working full time, just using kindness.

Why isn't this sort of horsemanship remembered and honoured?
Simon
and if anyone has any further examples, please contact me on simon@naturaldriving.co.uk

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 5:39 pm 
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First, Simon....

HELLO!!!!! Missed you! How is Henry???

In the excerpt you posted, indeed, the kind of horsemanship shown by the child should be honored (allowing the pony to do what it needs to do to stay safe), but the actions of the pony...the fact that he works without treats or reward, robotically performing the same task over and over, does not mean he was trained kindly. Any of us could be capable of training a horse to do a specific simple task without reward. Most horses are very easy to train with pressure. Tell them they must do something, and they will do it. They do not buck and kick and complain. They just do it. The golden point is that somebody was smart enough to tell his little rider not to interfere with his footfalls and to let the pony pick his way safely across. I would doubt too, that the rider had little choice in his job, just as the pony had no choice...so together perhaps the child felt a bond of shared misery with the pony...and the pony would feel this little bit of affection from the child and trust his mount.

The mere fact that the pony only had a halter, doesn't really speak to any kindness by his trainers. It merely speaks to the fact that the pony was amenable and understood what was expected of him. Still a grim picture, even without a bit in his mouth.

Now I'm a victim of old movies such as "Oliver Twist"...and could picture, right or wrong, that both pony or rider could be subject to a sound beating if either failed to do their job properly. Sadly, both humans and equines can learn to work to avoid abuse

So was the pony trained to do his work with kindess? The least amount of pressure? Was the child?

I think I could remember and honor such a pony and such a child, but only as victims.

Or am I missing your point entirely???

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:38 pm 
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Karen, in extensive searching I can only find a very few descriptions of working horsemanship as performed on the job. However I think you are making some unsupported assumptions. "without treats and rewards". Nowhere is this said or implied. Almost every photo of a pit pony with handler shows the massive pride of the handler in his pony.

"Now I'm a victim of old movies such as "Oliver Twist"...and could picture, right or wrong, that both pony or rider could be subject to a sound beating if either failed to do their job properly. Sadly, both humans and equines can learn to work to avoid abuse."

While such punishments might work on a child, I doubt that a flogging at some later stage will teach the horse much.
You describe this as a "specific simple task." Getting 17 tons rolling in a wooden structure with minimal lighting and then getting the horse off the track and unhitched as the 17 rolling tons continue past, jammed into a tiny space with any mistake leading to missing limbs and probable death, isn't my idea of a simple specific task.

I accept totally that neither the boy nor the horse had any choice. I don't remember hearing about many great dressage animals or racehorses that chose to give up and retire either. Go back to the earlier post about teaching a horse to wait for the train to go past and leap onto the last carriage. Another specific simple task?

Dressage is about making horsemanship look impressive. Working horsemanship is about getting the job done. Have a look at this video of Henry being attached to a petrol driven mower for the first time.http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/saddlechariots/Mower#5167639037086828818
Simple, no fuss, no violence, show the animal what you want, and let them do it.

The obscene cruelty of traditional dressage instructors like Grisone, "Let a footman stand behind you with a shrewd cat, tied to the end of a long pole, with her belly upwards, so as she may have her mouth and claws at liberty; and when your horse does stay or go backward, let him thrust the cat betwixt his thighs so as she may scratch and bite him."
would never be used if you actually wanted a practical job done. Riding a scared horse looks impressive, working one just slows down the job. I am not for a minute suggesting that working horses were treated kindly out of love or affection, though the description of the boy and the cob, certainly suggests a bond was there, but the over riding desire was efficiency and the system described was clearly efficient, and therefore seems simple.
Look at the classic in England, the milkman's horse who knew the round and worked his way from house to house while his master delivered the bottles. No reins or voice commands were used. No whips, bits or spurs, this was two individuals working together. We have forgotten those skills. I want to bring them back.
Simon

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:41 pm 
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saddlechariot wrote:
Look at the classic in England, the milkman's horse who knew the round and worked his way from house to house while his master delivered the bottles. No reins or voice commands were used. No whips, bits or spurs, this was two individuals working together.


I agree that Karens picture does look a bit gloomy, 8) but on the other hand yours does sound somewhat rosy as well. ;)

Horses are domesticated animals, which means that over the centuries they have been bred to accept the whips and lack of educational knowledge in humans. The fact that a horse does something complicated without obvious use of force by humans, doesn't mean that the horse is doing it because he likes it or because he does it out of love for his human only. Most horses who do such things have simply learned not to struggle against humans in their first training years and then decided to go along the best they can. If you're using pressure increase-release the right way (you don't even have to be perfect about it!), you will end up with a horse who does what you say and doesn't go against you - without necessarily being terrified about it.

I'm not sure why the use of a halter means that it's all harmonious either? In my knowledge you can haul a horse around with a halter just as well as with a bit. And the rough, handcrafted ropehalters I know from old photo's or workhorses and mining ponies will actually be quite sharp as well if you pull at them. How does the boy use the halter in the example? It doesn't say, but it's probably the same clear, somewhat rough steering I've seen with old farmers here as well. They don't mean to hurt or torture horses, but they've just learned that you pull the reins to stop the horse, so they do and the horse stops. If it works and they don't have to pull too hard and tire themselves, they don't see why they should refine that signal more or squeeze just with a finger. They don't complain, the horse doesn't complain as far as they know, so why fix something that ain't broken?

My guess (but it's as good as that of you or Karen) is that the horse is trained by simple pressure release, no-is-not-an-option training, and then he's put to work with a boy who is in essentially the same situation, both trying to make the best out of it - probably both trying to make the best out of it (even taking some pride out of that?) in order not to end up with too much fuss.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:15 pm 
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Hey Simon:

Different book, oxen rather than horses, and not a terribly old image in terms of authorship...

...but an image that came to mind as you were asking about descriptions of people working with animals together with grace...

Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones, originally published in 1977
(for those of you who aren't fans, she wrote a whole series of murder mysteries set in medieval England with Brother Cadfael the Benedictine monk as the hero...I really love them.)

In my edition, paperback, 1994, Mysterious Press on page 24:

They're traveled into Wales in search of saint's bones for their abbey, and they pass a young man tilling the soil with a team of oxen:

"Before the leading pair a man walked backwards, arms gently waving and beckoning, his goad only a wand, flourished for magic, not for its sting, his high, pure calls carried aloft on the air, cajoling and praising. Towards him, the beasts leaned willingly, following his cries with all their might..."


and a couple of paragraphs later:

"Did you see?" said Brother John in Cadfael's ear, pacing beside the sumpter mule, "Did you see how the beasts labored towards that fellow not to escape the goad, only to go where he willed, only to please him? And such labour! That I should like to learn!"

etc...

May or may not be helpful, but it was the piece of writing that immediately leapt to my mind when I read your requests for other sources...

Best,
Leigh
:smile:

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:34 pm 
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Leigh, thanks, I will try and dig out a really magic photo of a man walking along sowing seed, followed by a pair of horses harrowing with a man driving an old fashioned tractor with roller in the background. What is so beautiful is that the pair of horses with the chain harrow are working totally loose. That isn't achievable by any form of brutality I have ever heard of.
I don't believe everything was rosy. At a guess the boy mentioned died before he reached twenty, and the cob's last years, unless lucky enough to have a fatal accident would have been miserable in the extreme.
Why assume that working men are rough, and gentlemen and ladies are gentle. You only have to read Black Beauty to see that most of the brutality was ORDERED by the upper classes. And much as I admire the great and the good for their love of horses, would anyone like to explain this
Even famous horses may end up in the slaughterhouse; the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year winner, Ferdinand, is believed to have been slaughtered in Japan, probably for pet food


from Wikipedia.

Some, and in my opinion most, working class horsemen were kind by choice, in a cruel and brutal world, at least in part because it was more effective. There were bad eggs, and from necessity, some horrible things are done. So what cruel necessity sent Ferdinand to the knackers? And what would his groom have said?
Simon

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:57 pm 

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I don't know if this is completely OT, but I like to share with you a little bit of a talk about an interesting and common case of strong R- learning: we can call it "the paradox of electric fence". Electric shock is one of the most alarming and paintful "signals" you can imagine, nevertheless such a strong message lets "an open door": the horse can immediately stop it going back. So it has a full control of the situation. The paradox is: any horse learns immediately, and soon learns too that electric fence will not hurt it at all if it doesn't touch it. The result is what you can see commonly: the horses are perfectly confident, they don't show any alarm or fear, and they quietly browse their pasture just near the fence.

Joking, in that talk we said that a R- P+ horse trainer has to study and to try for years, just to learn the training intelligence of an electric fence. ;)

Obviusly I'm not suggesting to use pain to train horses... :ieks: ... I only like to let you think about this paradox: a painful signal coupled with a high level of confidence by the horse; I presume, that "the open door effect" and the coherence of the signal is the key to understand it. You can remember too that free roaming horses probably learn with strong R-... nature is really cruel. Here in Italy there are free roaming horse living in the wild, together with wolves... you can only imagine how much frightful and painful experiences they have to cope just to survive.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:02 pm 
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Alex wrote:
Joking, in that talk we said that a R- P+ horse trainer has to study and to try for years, just to learn the training intelligence of an electric fence. ;)


Yes, but they do avoid the fence and only are happy and confident because they perfectly know how to avoid it (here the ever so important clarity in pressure-based training kicks in again)... I wish that my horses are not saying the same thing about me. But well, I am not an R- P+ trainer. ;)


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:15 pm 
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Quote:
isn't my idea of a simple specific task.


Sorry Simon, it would have been better to say a repetitive task. I certainly do not mean to belittle the intelligence of the cob, or any horse for that matter...or to imply that they would have to be beaten to be able to learn to do this. They are brilliant animals...and in this light, a "horseman" who can understand this and leave the horse alone to do it's job, is indeed giving a lot of trust to that horse. I know first hand, how much a horse can appreciate that mere fact. It is like letting go of the reins. Stop interfering and allow the horse to find his own balance. And history does indeed show us that it had its kind and enlightened people as well as it's cruel and debasing people throughout all eras.

And I have most certainly seen Henry pull the mower! I adore Henry.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:17 pm 
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Hey Simon:
Quote:
Some, and in my opinion most, working class horsemen were kind by choice, in a cruel and brutal world, at least in part because it was more effective. There were bad eggs, and from necessity, some horrible things are done. So what cruel necessity sent Ferdinand to the knackers? And what would his groom have said?


This is making me think of Herriott's books and the range of care the animals he saw in the Dales in the 30's experienced -- in his sharing of his world, good stockmen took good care of the animals in their care, often with a great deal of compassion (and even if using traditional bits, etc. in the case of horses).

One of the things that struck me when I first read these books a million years ago was how attached the horse grooms were to the horses in their care -- often spending their lives sleeping in a loft in the stables. (Gee, I wonder what my husband would think about that???....) 8) ;)

There's a scene in one of the books (I think it may be the first one, All Creatures Great and Small) where Herriott comes to stitch up a young, large (maybe draft?) horse who's injured himself. He tries to inject a painkiller into the horse so he can get started and the horse explodes, and he almost gets severely kicked. The younger groom who is holding the horse is pushed aside by a tiny little wizened guy who's been a groom forever and he stands nose to nose with the horse talking to him throughout the surgery and the horse never moves a muscle, absolutely transfixed by the attention/monologue from the older groom.

I was so entranced by this scene! In Herriott's description, this horse and old groom are truly sympatico, and he pretty much reduces the horse to happy jelly with his attention, without a finger lifted to frighten or contain him.

So I'm guessing that you're right, and while there has been brutality/ignorance in the history of people/horse relationships, there also have been people throughout that history who have treated horses with a sense of deep partnership/friendship -- and I would guess that often those have been the people who have spent their lives closest to them.

I know that the shift of horses from working animals to pleasure/sport animals has brought great gifts to horses in terms of education and awareness. But I'm guessing that there has been a cost associated with it as well, as horses turned from a companion/partner in work into a status symbol, a sporting tool, and something that others take care of daily.

Just in my little world at the boarding ranch where my horses are it is very clear who is likely to listen to their horses -- those people who come every day to tend them, work with them, turn them out, etc. There's a wide range of knowledge and experience in this group, but the things that link them are a commitment to their horses' welfare, an emotional connection that comes from spending time together, and even, simply, an awareness of their rhythms that comes from seeing them regularly. The people who come in once every couple of weeks tend to come, throw a saddle on, ride, and put the horse away -- for most of them, very little interest or understanding in the horse as a being. They essentially get the motorcycle out of the garage...

And I think trainers are a mixed gift as well -- in some ways, I see AND as a movement in the Reformation (tee hee!) -- refusing to believe that there is a trainer/priest/holder of secrets who can speak to the divine nature of the horse on our behalf -- again, I have seen wonderful trainers who are really invested in the good of the horse, but I have seen many of them who get caught by ego or by pocket books or needing to feed the ego's of their clients. The whole process can very quickly become human centric, and the focus is getting the horse ready for human-defined needs as quickly as possible. (Even highly respected trainers -- including one who has gotten interest about his writings here, who I hear through a trainer friend who knows him and does clinics with him, has his sales horses trained to 2nd/3rd level dressage from the saddle by the age of four. My friend was most impressed with this.)

I maunder on...

Would love to see your picture!

Best,
Leigh

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:45 pm 
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Karen, sorry my reply was rather stroppier than I meant, and you are so right, it is learning to leave them alone, indeed as Alex points out learning to let them learn. Alex makes a further very valid point, that natural lessons are not kind. Watching Mummy being eaten by wolves is certainly memorable.
Leigh your point is valid, there are horse people who are keen to learn and those who aren't. Their status in society is not relevant to the level of horsemanship. (Out of interest is it you or your husband you visualise sleeping in the stable).
You are right that the shift from working to sport has brought changes, but then it hasn't changed the nature of horsemanship, the preparedness to get close and let the teaching and learning be a two way process. What I found fascinatiing about that mower demo, was that this was the first time I had ever attached any petrol driven kit to an animal, and I was fascinated how easy it was. But henry and I have done so many things together, that we pretty much trust each other. To me the sproting world sometimes forgets this is a team, at least in part becuase dressage, and showjumping are so prescriptive, everything must be done to the millimetre and people end up forced to micromanage. Now cutting competitions and logging are the4 exact oposite. If you can't trust your horse to work on his own, you are nowhere.
Simon

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 9:23 pm 
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It caught my eye that the discussion ranged over a broad list of circumstances, horses, people, activities; from riders coming to the livery every two weeks or so to ride their horses, to Leigh sleeping in the loft (I don't think she meant her husband would have to sleep there, Simon) ;)

What I find I ask more from my family and friends, and of humankind in general, is more clarity of intent.

One can live with their horse to grow more bonded and aware in the relationship (that's why I'm building this monster of a barn in my back yard, just 50 ft from my bedroom) or one can visit every two weeks.

We both, the casual horseman, and the dedicated horse companion, can and should be clear in our intent. I am clear that I wish to give intensive care for the many rewards it can bring, and for certainly ethical concerns related to my past use of horses.

I expect of the fortnight equestrian that he or she see to it the horse has safe handlers in his or her absence. That it's feed properly, groomed each day. Preferably that one or two people are it's most constant handlers. And that turn out with other horses is the preferred choice, each day, and 24/7 in most weather but the most bitter.

In other words, I expect the fortnight equestrian to be ethical in what they do, even if it is very different from what I chose to do.

Being intentional means being aware of the outcomes of one's decisions and actions. A lonely horse to me is one of the saddest of creatures. Untouched, not spoken to, nights by itself away from the comfort of it's companions.

Those are samples of consequences one should consider carefully before owning a horse.

A theme in AND that I most treasure is the intentional nature of the members with their horses.

How's the back doing, by the way, Leigh? :pet:

Donald

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:35 pm 
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Oh, yes, lovely Donald -- intent -- I was just rabbiting on about intent in another thread a few days ago!

You're so right.

I love the term "fortnight equestrian" -- much better than weekend warrior! ;)

And I think it's possible to be a caring steward for your horse even if you're not spending time with him/her every day -- I didn't mean to suggest that only those who went every day to see their horses cared about them. :blush: Sorry if it came off that way!

But I have seen that there tends to be a different level of commitment and, indeed, relationship that comes from regular time investment. Many of the fortnight equestrian horses stand daily in stalls or paddocks -- a few in larger pastures, but most not -- and that's all they do. A handful of people have set up regular turnout by ranch staff for their horses, but not many. There is a lot of neglect by owners -- the horses are certainly getting watched and fed and watered by staff, and owners get called when there are medical emergencies, but far too many horses spend the vast majority of their lives with no attention, nothing to do, and not enough space to move out. They're sad and lonely, and some quite bonkers from the boredom.

And there are several owners who just have lost interest -- there are at least half a dozen horses at my ranch right now that haven't been out of their paddocks in months. And one poor old guy who had a horrible case of Cushings (basically unmanaged, except for another boarder who couldn't stand his pain and gave him bute regularly) who went down and couldn't get back up. The ranch owner had to plead with his owner to sell him to her for a dollar so she could call the vet and release him from his misery -- his owner (who also has two other neglected horses there and hasn't been there in months) refused to pay for the vet's fees and was willing to let this horse die slowly.

I know this will surprise all of you, but I'm seen as something of a nut at my ranch :ieks: :yes: 8) -- for a number of reasons, but not the least being that if it's pouring down rain or thundering at two in the morning, I'm over there making sure the creek isn't going to flood and/or my guys aren't losing their marbles. I don't feel any sense of superiority about this -- I just can't stand to think of them being frightened or hurt without my paying attention, so it's really a compulsion to be over there if something is going on.

Part of that is that I am, perhaps, overly protective ;) but part of it is that I know my horses well enough to have a sense of what is likely to upset them, and know that if I show up that will help. They are my friends, my family, and I couldn't leave them to fend for themselves even if it's not convenient.

A few years ago at this ranch (before I'd moved there) they had a horrendous 100 year flood that came up very fast and they were trying to get horses out of paddocks that were flooded in a couple of feet of fast-moving, debris-laden water. Really scary. Folks who were there regularly were there that day, having paid close attention to the weather and the creek level, helping to get everyone moved. Those folks who came every couple of weeks or once a month in general weren't there -- not because they're horrible people, but, I think, because of an "out of sight out of mind" kind of energy.

So I don't know that their intent, even if it was basically good, was conscious or clear? I see a lot of people who like the idea of having a horse more than the actuality. And I think there is a problem with how their initial intent and their ongoing intent don't mesh.

And Donald, thank you -- the back does seem to still function, albeit a bit creakily today! :smile:

Oh, and yes, that would be me sleeping in the loft...anyone else from my house invited, of course...I spend most nights in a lovely pretzel shape because Mark has his side of the bed, and two cats, a dog, and Leigh have our side of the bed...but when I first got Stardust, Mark's comment was, "oh, great, are we going to have the horse in bed, now, too?"

(Errr...is that a problem???)

:)
Leigh

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