Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why Your Horse Won't Behave

                                    by Laura Crum

            CAUTION—this post may be quite upsetting to those of you who view horse training very differently than I do. In fact, I had almost decided not to do this series of horse training posts. I really don’t need to convince anybody of anything, and I feel nothing but admiration for those of my fellow horsemen who achieve a happy relationship with their horses. I don’t care how you get there if it works for you and your horse. So, yeah, I had almost decided not to rattle anybody’s cage (even inadvertently) with this post.
But…I got an email after I had posted my last blog post (which was about a nice trail ride that I had on my reliable horse). And this young lady very sincerely wanted to know how my horse got the way he is. She loved her horse, but she was afraid to ride him on the trails because he was so unpredictable—and on his bad days he did violent, scary things, which she quite rightly felt were putting both of them in danger. In the course of our conversation I became aware that she didn’t even know that these methods that I planned to write about existed. And, of course, the way all of my horses became reliable riding horses was through this particular breaking/training process.
  So I am putting my experiences out here in case they help someone who isn’t happy with how his/her horse is behaving and doesn’t feel that the methods he/she is using are helping the horse all that much. I was raised (in the horse world) by some pretty handy cowboys, and the horse training methods I learned are, by and large, the methods used to turn out a reliable ranch horse. Those of you who have ridden a good ranch horse will know that this is a pretty dependable sort of critter—these posts are aimed at explaining how we “made” such reliably broke horses.
 Also, the “your” in this title doesn’t mean you. It doesn’t mean anyone in particular. It is a generic “your.” I absolutely wasn’t thinking of anyone when I wrote it. And again, this post is just my opinions. No need for anyone to agree. I have no wish to convince you that my way of thinking/training is right.
If you are happy with how your horse behaves, more power to you. If what you are doing works for you, you should not care at all that I might find your horse’s behavior completely unacceptable. We all have different standards for our horses and different goals, for which we need different cues and responses. As I said, if you are happy with your horse, why should you care at all what I would do?
            That said, I see and read a lot of stuff about ill-broke horses. Horses that grabbed the bit and bolted, or spooked and spun and ran away, or balked and reared and fell over, or bogged their head and bucked their rider off. I hear about people who are hurt, or almost hurt and very scared, or too anxious about their horse’s behavior to want to ride any more, or selling their horse because they’ve become afraid of it, or spending all their precious riding time trying to convince the horse to do the most basic of things. If I know the person/horse, or I’ve been following their blog, I often know exactly what (in my opinion) happened to cause this crap, and, in fact, I’ve often been sitting here at my keyboard shaking my head and thinking “this isn’t going to end well”—months before the horse started behaving really badly.
            Do I tell the person? Short answer—no. I used to do this. It never worked. The people were insulted, and nothing changed. I don’t do it any more. So this post is what I would say if someone asked for my thoughts. If anybody benefits from it, that’s a good thing. If everybody would just like to argue with me, that’s fine, too.
            Anyway, most of these problems that I see were caused by the way the horse was trained—or not trained. The horse hasn’t got a decent foundation. He/she is not (in my vernacular) a “broke” horse. And so, when he/she doesn’t feel like obeying his/her rider/handler, he/she just jerks the reins/leadrope away, or bulls through the bridle, or pushes through the handler, and follows his/her own inclinations. And usually, someone gets hurt. In my view, this is a lousy system.
            (The other common reason for behavioral problems that I see is a basically well-trained horse that has learned he can get away with bullying his particular owner/rider. But that’s another post.)
            My way of training horses isn’t so popular these days. Some people will tell you it is cruel. And in my lifetime I definitely moved into a gentler approach than the one I learned as a young woman. But I still kept the basic principles and steps. You know why? Because they worked.
            Horses trained the way I trained horses do not, in general, come unglued and untrained and hurt their riders. There are exceptions, sure. Some horses will not become solid citizens no matter what method you use. But overall the methods that I used produced horses that stayed broke, even under pressure, even when they were feeling fresh…etc.
            I am (or was—I don’t train horses any more) a traditional western-style horse trainer. This is almost a dirty word in these days of natural horsemanship…etc. But I have not seen results from these newer methods that are anything like as effective as what we could achieve with traditional methods.
            Before I go any further, traditional methods can be abused. They can be cruel. Yes, that is true. Pretty much any method can be abused. And when a horse is trained so ineffectually that he is a constant danger to anyone who handles/rides him or is around him, and he ends up on a truck to Mexico through no fault of his own—well, that is abuse, too, in my book.
            Horses are dangerous. They can kill you. The very first goal of horse training is or should be to teach a horse to be safe for humans to deal with. Safe to handle, safe to ride. We call that a broke horse. It is a fundamental concept that people disregard at their peril. And the peril can be pretty extreme.
            So when I trained horses in a traditional way I did a lot of things that were aimed at showing a horse that it did him no good to resist the human handler/rider. These things were all set up such that the horse could not win. Yes, that is what I said. The horse could not win. Because that is the foundation of a safe horse, a broke horse. Even when the chips are down he will obey your cues—because his training has taught him that obeying is the only answer.
            Let us contrast this to the currently fashionable approach, which boils down to trying to get the horse to do things because something good will happen—like food or a positive response of some sort from his human. The horse learns that if he does what’s wanted he wins. Sounds good right? Until the day the horse doesn’t give a flying you know what about what’s wanted. He’s too excited or scared or pissed off or fresh or what have you. He doesn’t care about pleasing you and he is going to do what he feels like doing. And at that moment you are totally screwed. Your pleasant training system is going to fail you. And every single proponent of this sort of training that I know of has gotten themselves in this sort of pickle (by their own account). Excuses are made, but yeah—the horse kicked them or ran over them or dragged them or dumped them or bolted with them or stepped on them or flat refused to do what was asked…etc. And in my opinion most (not all) of these wrecks could have been prevented if the horse had been given a different sort of training foundation.
            Let’s say you are riding through the woods on a tough trail and your horse sees something that really, really scares him. He spooks and leaps forward, and there are rocks and crap ahead. You pull on the reins to check him (no room for a one rein stop or such green horse stuff) and the horse does one of two things. He gives his head to the pull, because he has been trained in a traditional way and was checked up enough that giving to the pull is automatic and ingrained, and even though he is terrified his nose comes down in response to the pull, and you gain control of him. Or he throws his head wildly in the air in response to your pull on the reins, and keeps running, completely out of control—because he is scared and he has never been shown beyond any doubt that he MUST to give to the pull—under every possible circumstance including terror. Which response do you want? Which response might save your life?
            For those who will say that you can get the first response without checking up and other traditional methods I would say—maybe. I haven’t seen this but sure, it could be possible. But I will bet anything you want that 90% of horses that respond in the first way were trained with traditional methods, including “bitting up” or “checking up.”
            What I have seen (a lot) is that horses that were trained without traditional training will often behave just fine—until they don’t want to. And then, whether scared, mad or fresh, they simply stick their noses out, or up, or down, and jerk the reins through their rider’s hands and do what they damn well please. And you know what? You can’t stop them.
            A horse is much stronger than you. Neither a harsh bit, nor a running martingale, nor a tie down will stop a horse that wants to resist your pull on the reins from running right through the bridle. The only thing that will keep the horse responding to the aids is successful training. Training that sticks no matter how extreme the situation—and this training cannot only be “feel good” training. Because gentle, feel good training only works when everything feels good. When the pressure is on and the shit hits the fan, the horse won’t give a rat’s ass about feel good training.
            I will digress here and say that if you have spent many years developing a partnership with a horse and covered hundreds of miles and been through plenty of tight spots (even if the horse acted like a complete jackass in a lot of those spots), yeah, sure, the horse may trust your leadership—no matter what training method you use, including strictly feel good type training. But I’ll be damned if I personally want to go through all the near wrecks and the years of not knowing how the horse will react under pressure that this system involves.
            The problem with all this is the danger. You are risking your life. You are risking your horse’s life. The only way to be on the safe side when you ride/handle a horse is to be really sure that the horse knows you are in charge and his training has taught him to obey your cues. All the time. No matter what.
            And how you get there is by putting the horse in some tough situations and teaching him that that he cannot win by resisting. He can only win by obeying. I’m not going to discuss all the different methods of achieving this, because I don’t know all of them. Some versions of traditional training are very cruel—and I have seen this. But it is not the methods per se that are cruel. It is the way they are applied. You have to be able to read a horse and know when it’s time to stop and when you must push on. And you have to care about a horse’s well-being. Every single thing that I talk about can be overdone, or done too harshly, and then it becomes abusive. Horses are hurt, or emotionally shut down, or turn into rebels when these methods are poorly applied. I will tell you what I learned to do—and I CAN tell you that, properly done, the methods I used produced reliably broke horses—unless the horse is determined to be an outlaw. (And they do come that way.) 
            The other thing about the methods I use is that they are safe for the rider/handler (if you are not completely clueless). They are ways to teach a horse to give to pressure that are done on the ground. The horse is fighting himself (if he fights) and not you. And the situation is set up so that the only win lies in yielding to pressure and getting the release. This is a very effective lesson (if done properly) and will truly stick with a horse, even when he is scared or mad or what have you.
            Before I go any further I want to add that those who actually know me will say that I am, if anything, too easy on my horses and too protective of them. My horses trust me and they do what I ask willingly. Those basic tools that were instilled in them by traditional methods aren’t really needed any more. But the trust doesn’t happen overnight. There was a time, when these horses were young, that the basic training that was given to them provided the foundation for the trust. The horses obeyed because they’d learned that was the only workable answer, and thus we all stayed safe in the years where they were learning to trust in their rider.
            The other thing about this sort of training is that it’s very helpful if you want to put a different rider on your horse—especially a beginner. The horse will obey, not because he “trusts” the new rider, but because his training foundation is there. If the rider pulls on him he gives to the bit, and stops or turns, which, along with going forward when kicked, is the simple bottom line of “broke.” If a horse is broke he can be sold and passed from one rider to another and he will stay obedient for all of them. (My Henry is a very good example of this.)
            So, how did we achieve “broke” horses? First I am going to refine the definition a bit. In general, what I learned to make was a reliable all around western horse—a ranch horse. The basis of what we did was the cowhorse tradition, which comes from the Spanish/Mexican vaqueros. Such horses not only stopped and steered reliably, they “bridled up,” or collected easily. They took the walk, trot, or lope at a signal; they would stop at a light touch on the reins, even from the gallop. They would “watch” a cow (meaning turn with a cow), and you could rope a cow off of them, and open and close a gate from their backs. They were reliable in any sort of high pressure situation, from wide-open gathers on a twenty thousand acre ranch in rough country, to the intensity of parting/branding cattle in a big corral. (By the way, all my horses can/could do all these things.) These are the skills that are useful/necessary when doing ranch work.
In general, ranch horses are not handled much until they are three. At three they are given ninety days or so of training, which is the foundation for everything that comes afterward, and establishes the “broke.” They are given six more months of riding as a four year old, turned out for the winter, and brought into full use as a five year old. Some time between five and eight (depending on the individual horse and the skill of the rider), these horses are deemed broke. At this point they will obey whatever rider is on them, and can be trusted to do their job under a wide variety of circumstances.
Everybody breaks horses a little differently. But what I will give you in this short series of posts is a very brief overview of some general steps that are often/usually used to turn out the sort of broke all around ranch horses that I’m talking about here.

            The very first thing we did with any green horse was tie him up. This is the basis of everything. If you cannot tie a horse hard and fast and have him stand there as long as needed, your horse is not broke. It is a fundamental part of training that underlies everything else. Some horses have a lot more trouble with this than others. But they all need to learn it.
            It isn’t pretty to begin with. It isn’t fun for the horse. But it is the single best way to get a horse started on the path to being broke. Yes, they can get hurt. But they can get hurt no matter what method you use to train them. If you tie with some thought and care, they are unlikely to get hurt. To be effective, a horse needs to be tied for a good long time. Young ranch horses were fed in the morning, caught and tied after that, taken to water at lunch, and tied for the rest of the day until dinner. Not in the blazing sun, no. But yes, all day. For those of you who think this is cruel, all I can say is that after a week to a month of this (depending on the individual horse—some only needed a couple of days), those horses were much better able to handle the breaking process. They had learned the main thing that they needed to know just from the tying. Fighting doesn’t get you anywhere. And they had learned patience. Two absolutely essential qualities in a broke horse.
            We always tied a colt until being tied was no big deal. We did nothing but tie him until he could be counted on to stand quietly as long as he was tied, in a relaxed pose that indicated he understood that there was no point in doing anything else but wait patiently. At that point he was ready to move on with the breaking process. And it took some horses a good long time to get to this stage. But this is by FAR the best and easiest way to get a young horse into the frame of mind that enables him to accept training to be a reliable saddle horse.
            Tying does some other things that aren’t immediately obvious. It gets the horse used to giving to pressure on his head, rather than fighting it, which helps him with giving to the pressure exerted by the bridle. And it makes him far safer to lead and handle from the ground. A horse that has been taught by tying can almost always be counted on to yield to a well-timed tug on the leadrope, rather than bulling through it. So much better for leading and also for ponying from another horse.
            Tying is useful throughout a horse’s life. Whenever I’ve had a problem with a horse, I’ve always gone back to the tying. Leaving a horse saddled and tied for a few hours will go a long way toward resolving many things. When the horse stands relaxed, with one hind leg cocked, you can often go back to work with him and find that his attitude is significantly more cooperative—and thus a fight is averted.
            I will write about the methods we used to check a horse up in the next post. I’m sure I’ve managed to alienate a bunch of people just from what I’ve already said. The last time I talked about tying on this blog a few people called me “cruel.” But bear in mind—I love my horses and take good care of them and none of the horses I own (including the two of them that I broke as three year olds and rode for their entire working lives—one is 25 and one is 34)—EVER hurt me. They didn’t once dump me, or bolt with me, or step on me, or drag me, or run over me, or kick me. I rode them all on many, many trail rides and gathers and had no wrecks. And they are all living a happy life with me today. So these methods do have a good side.

PS—Please do not take an older horse that has never been tied and tie him solid to fix his problems. Older horses who have set patterns do not always or even usually benefit from such attempts at retraining. When I buy an older horse (older than eight) I make sure that I am OK with him the way he is. Older horses who have a ranch background and have been tied as part of the breaking process will often benefit from some hours of tying—especially if they are showing behavior issues.

PPS—Tying is a very effective training method with a young/green horse, but if you have not done it before PLEASE be sure to get some help from someone who has. It can go very badly wrong. Never tie to something a horse can break. I am not going to try to describe what is and isn’t a safe tying situation—because I am afraid that someone will get hurt trying to follow my ideas without really understanding the potential problems. I learned to break young horses with the help of people who had done it many times, and this is the approach I would recommend to others.


Exploring Dressage Biomechanics said...

Absolutely agree with what constitutes a broke horse, even though we come from totally different equestrian backgrounds. Really fascinated by your training perspective and looking forward to the continuation of the series. Thank you for putting yourself out there a bit!

Val said...

This is going to be an interesting series. I understand why you might anticipate some backlash.

I came from riding venues where horses were basically never tied. I didn't learn to tie a horse to a trailer while hanging out at a show until I bought Harley. I was delighted to find that my horse would stand at the trailer while I groomed him or got myself ready for a class. It was a very pleasant surprise. He is also a champ in the cross-ties (I have known some horses who learned to break them and could never be trusted to stand in them again). Someone taught him that lesson well.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Exploring. It is really interesting to me that you see many things the way I do, even though our backgrounds are so different.

Val--Yes, I have learned from past posts that in some equestrian disciplines horses are not taught to tie. From my (very slight) interactions with these folks/horses, I have also formed the opinion that very few of these horses qualify as "broke," reliable horses in my book, though they may be winners in the show ring. To each his own.

e.speth said...

I don't have a problem with anything you've written here. It's good, common sense, and kind. And teaches the horse that the only enemy is his own impatience. A horse is a big, scary thing that moves with frightening speed. It is essential to get those variables under control first, before anything else can be done. I can't wait to read the rest in this series. Well done!

Dom said...

YES. On every level. I never want a horse to know he's bigger than me or stronger than me. I want to train kindly and fairly, but in a way that means the horse will LISTEN when I need him to most. And I can't stand the shortcuts I see people taking. A truly broke horse and a 'broke' horse are two very different things.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you Elizabeth and Dom. You are both horsewomen that I very much admire, so praise from you is high praise for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post.

CG said...

Yes! I came from a h/j background and we pretty much only crosstied our horses. As an adult I raised several TB babies and thank heavens found a great "cowboy" to start them. I admit to not really liking the tieing thing much, UNTIL I saw the results. My horses came back with patience and the ability to stand tied for hours.
This training might have actually saved my Cartman from a horrible accident when his halter caught on a gate latch and basically snubbed him down to the post as he pulled back and the door swung shut.
Luckily I was right there and after a brief moment of flailing he stood completely still while I ran over and grabbed a knife and cut the halter free.
Can't wait to read more of your training methods!

Laura Crum said...

CG--Thank you so much for this comment. Very insightful. Because yes, it is hard to like the tying until you understand the result. It isn't pretty, as I say in the post. But it's very important when it comes to making reliably broke horses. So glad it helped Cartman survive what sounds like a very scary moment..

Jan said...

This is going to be a great series! I really hope everyone reading it will be open-minded enough to carefully consider the points you are making.

I plan to "share" your blog and hope some of your other readers do too. I know that runs the risk of letting the crazies in, but yours is a message that needs to be read, and worth the risk in my opinion.

Great start! Can't wait to learn some new techniques and be reminded of things I have forgotten.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Jan. I always appreciate your insights.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. Invoking the conditioned automatic response can save your behind so many times it isn't even funny.

Laura Crum said...

Joyce--That's what it's all about, isn't it? Riding horses is an inherently dangerous thing to do, and it is so important to do what we can to save our behinds...and our heads. A helmet is not nearly as effective as not being dumped--not that there is anything wrong with a helmet. But a well-trained horse is the most effective way to stay safe.

lytha said...

When you mentioned the potential start for this series, a quote from an illustrous modern horseman came to mind, who I thought you'd like to sit down with over coffee and discuss how his philosophy could work for horses in the real world. He says:

"What people do not appreciate is that every time a horse submits to pressure, whether subtle or overt, he is diminished. Probably the great majority of people who achieve their own ends by making their horse submit are not even aware of what they have done. It is a sad fact that a horse can be made to do many things by breaking his will. If he can be persuaded to give his assent freely and pleasurably rather than give into man's pressure or clever techniques, he is not diminished."

Any ideas about the source? : )

Laura Crum said...

Lytha--I pretty much expected someone would bring up something like this. All the "horse gurus" are forever saying such things, but if you carefully look into what they actually do/have done, you will see that they do many of the same things that I do and other traditional horseman do. In short, they are often somewhat hypocrites, in my book.

That said I do not believe the things I am talking about break a horse's will. My horses all have plenty of will--they express themselves and they try hard for me. They were all trained in the way I'm writing about. I do not mean to belittle your opinion in any way, but you wouldn't you prefer it if Mara was reliably obedient? Wouldn't you feel safer? Do you really think this would diminish who Mara "is"? I do not feel that Gunner, Plumber, Sunny or Henry is the least bit diminished or less of a full, happy equine personality because they were taught to be reliably obedient with these methods. I actually think they are more confident in themselves because they have been forced (yes, I said forced) to confront their own fears and overcome them. And it is truly of the utmost importance to have a horse that is obedient and thus safe to ride. I think this is a good point to consider when we talk about this subject.

Perhaps this is what you meant when you talk about a philosophy that "works in the real world?"

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

What I wonder is, how does our horses trying to communicate pain or discomfort fit into this training ideology. Also - where does response to rider error fit in?

My horse was calm and thoughtful, beginner safe, when I purchased him. On my first test ride, a vulture flew out right beside us on the trail. He did a minimal spook in place and looked. No big deal.

Fast forward a few months - a rookie feeding mistake + train wreck on the trail (bad choice of trail partner) rattled my confidence so thoroughly that I'm still repairing the damage.

I guess my point is that the training of the horse is never the only factor in play. In no way would I call myself a horse trainer, but in the sense that every interaction trains or un-trains my horse, I'm willing to accept responsibility for how I influence his behavior.

I choose to see the situation as a challenge, (stubborn that way) and ultimately I am becoming a better horsewoman.

Laura Crum said...

CFS--That is a really good point--"rider error," indeed, is one of the most important factors. If you read my introductory post, you'll know that I said that the big problem is that I can't teach anyone to "read" a horse. Neither can your clinician of choice. It takes years of interacting with lots of horses. And none of these "methods," or anybody else's methods, will be of much use unless you can read a horse pretty accurately.

It sounds like you are doing the best you can with the hand you've been dealt. If your horse was calm, thoughtful and beginner-safe when you bought him, it also sounds like he has a good training foundation. Everybody makes mistakes in their interactions with horses--especially during their earlier years in the game. Recognizing that a horse behaved poorly because of a mistake that you made (rider error) is a huge step towards becoming a good horseman. I think all good horseman know how to acknowledge their own mistakes and not blame the horse.

I said in the post that I learned to train horses under the supervision of folks who had done it for many years, and that I don't recommend trying these methods if you are a "green" rider. And this is what I truly think. Believe me, an experienced horseman (of the sort I dealt with) is quite willing to show you where you are missing the point with the horse. And this helps a lot with the rider error factor.

I guess I already said it in the post, but these methods we used to break horses can be abused. And some people who don't care about what is good for a horse do abuse them. But correctly applied (and this means being able to read a horse and caring about a horse's well-being) they can/do create reliably obedient horses--which is in the horse's best interest as well as the rider's.

Cindy D. said...

Some days I wish I had a broke horse instead of horses who sometimes act like they are broke! LOL.

Good post

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Yes Laura - lacking a (riding) trainer is problematical for me at the moment as far as in the saddle goes.

I greatly respected my former trainer's philosophy, and miss having access to her. She taught me always to see things from the horse's point of view first, and to look to myself, health issues and tack fit before ever blaming or punishing my horse for his behavior... that miscommunication (on my part) is nearly always the source of the problem.

I hope to find someone like her again.

Laura Crum said...

Cindy D--You know, that is actually the whole thing in a nutshell. Lots of horses sometimes act like they are broke, but come unbroke whenever the adrenaline comes up (for whatever reason). And that's the whole goal of the training I'm talking about. To train a horse such that he stays broke even under pressure. Thanks for the comment.

Laura Crum said...

CFS--You know, blaming or punishing aren't concepts that ever come up for me. I reprimand if I see the horse needs it, but the kind of training that my horses have as a foundation has created a situation such that I merely have to remind them of what they already know--and that only rarely. It comes automatically to me to sense if something isn't right--if the horse is off in some way--whether lame or tack fit or what have you, and to immediately address that. I'm also aware of when the horse didn't understand my cue--just as I'm aware of when he's ignoring my cue. I don't say this to brag--just to clarify that I, too, pay attention to these things, as I think every competent horseman does. I do still think that the kind of training that made my horses "broke" is very valuable, and is in both their and my best interests. I wish you good fortune in finding a teacher/mentor who works for you.

lytha said...

The trainer I quoted is Frederic Pignon of Cavalia. I was reading the amazon reviews for one of his books and found that quote, and thought of you and this series of posts you're writing, as an example of someone who either does things differently, or, as you said, says he does but really doesn't: )

I won't be buying his book, because it's more of a discussion about the psychological needs of horses, and I'm clear on that.

Perhaps not teaching the most basic concept of pressure/release works for him, because he keeps his horses encapsulated in perfectly controlled environments. In the real world, a horse needs the lesson of pressure/release, or else you can't ever hand the leadline to your husband, for example.

Pignon admitted he had no idea what one of his horses was going to do on stage, he just hoped the horse would stick around. In his case, he has a highly trained group of horses who pretty much follow his orders, unless they don't, which to me is entertaining, and I'd pay to see Cavalia again. The willful horses who refuse to come when he calls, well, he just laughs because the audience loves it; it doesn't matter that they obey afterall.

But I ask myself how he trains his dressage horses...

Laura Crum said...

Lytha--I did see Cavalia--I am going to admit that I was less impressed than I expected to be. I've seen better "trick riding" at the rodeos, better liberty work at the circus, and my friend who is a dressage rider said the dressage type work was pathetic. It WAS a beautiful spectacle, and I enjoyed it, but no, wouldn't pay what I paid to see it again.

Having a liberty horse who doesn't come when called is far different than riding a horse along a busy road and having it spook and bull through the bridle into the street. I think that is your point and I agree with you.

As I said in the post, the number one thing we should consider when training horses is to create a reliably obedient horse, such that both rider and horse stay safe. I honestly think that this sort of obedience cannot often be achieved without some version of the methods I am talking about, which I would call traditional horsemanship. I do believe that those who abuse these methods and are cruel to horses are usually doing this in order to achieve an "extreme" of some sort--in order to win an event. Minus competition and the evil it creates, I think you would find that the methods are only abused by those who are inherently cruel.

Thank you for an interesting comment--it made me think. said...

Hi Laura I waited until I had some quiet time to settle down, read this post and read through all the comments, too - they’re every bit as interesting - and then write my own thoughts.

The notion of tying does seem weird to me. There’s no history of tying as a breaking method in the English equestrian world, as I’m sure you know. We are taught from an early age to tie horses up via a piece of twine so that he won’t injure himself if he pulls back - a very different attitude! But is it one that teaches the horse that he can get away when he’s had enough? A lot of the time, yes! So I can see the benefits of tying, for all the reasons you give in your post. Mind you, I’m left wondering how, when teaching the horse to be tied like this, you make sure the rope/halter/thing he is tied to won’t break!!!

As a child, I saw horses being broken with some pretty extreme methods - cruel, when viewed through the lenses of age & hindsight. The place where I learned to ride/spent my summers had an adversarial attitude to their horses, it was like they expected a fight every time they started the breaking process. I saw horses literally sh*tting themselves with terror and I saw horses being backed with one leg tied up so that they wouldn’t be able to exert their full force into dumping the rider. Anyway, I now wonder if "tying” at the start would have made life a little easier for those horses all those years ago. The closest we would have come back then, and still practised in many places today, is tying the head down. The horse would be bridled with a breaking bit (straight bar with little metal keys attached to encourage the horse to play with it) and then the reins would be attached to the breaking roller/saddle. He’d be left in a stable for hours and hours like that, learning to submit to pressure on the reins BUT I now think that, at best, this teaches a horse a tight, tense way of setting his head and, at worst, teaches him to lean on the bit (Flurry!)

At the end of the day, my friends still produced broke horses in much the same time frame as you say here - by the age of eight they’d be solid hunters/jumpers - BUT a few of those horses would always be difficult and need an experienced rider. Was that the case in your world - were there always some horses who would never be idiot-proof, no matter what?

Does the breed of horse matter, do you think? Is it bred into the American ranch horse line to submit wholeheartedly when they choose to submit? Would tying work with a crazy TB? (By the way, IME TB’s in Europe are hotter than those in the US. I have no idea why, but I rode some very safe, placid TBs in the US and rarely rode a TB I could trust over here.) Would tying work with a big, dumb warmblood? (Yes, a lot of them are dumb but I”m sure I’ll ruffle a few feathers saying that!) I think they would figure out fairly quickly not to fight when tied but they might not extrapolate from there to submitting to pressure as you describe here. Would it work with a draft breed? (What the heck could you tie a shire too!!!!)

Rabbitting on a bit here but I think breeding has more to do with temperament issues than we realise. In Ireland, Arabs are famous for flightiness - I wouldn’t touch one with a barge pole (sorry, Arab lovers, just not my kinda horse). The French Arabs I’ve met are completely different - level headed and hard working. But there are two distinct strains of Arab here, those for endurance racing and those for showing, and it’s all endurance Arabs that I’ve met. I do feel that once the horse world stopped breeding for work horses and started breeding for the showring, we started to lose something. And don’t get me started on how Irish breeders have messed up the nice sensible Irish horse by introducing continental warmblood stallions….

Anyway, I’m looking forward to your next thought-provoking post on the subject.

Laura Crum said...

Martine--Thank you for a very interesting comment. I have the same thoughts. I don't know much about any breed other than QH's and I have wondered how these methods would work on other breeds. I honestly just don't know.

I do think the tying is kinder than the methods you describe (overall) and we gave a lot of thought to tying with both a halter and rope that a horse could not break, and in a place where he was unlikely to hurt himself and could not get away.

It really is very interesting to hear how horses are broken and trained in other disciplines. And yes, to answer your question, there was always a small per cent of colts who would not get "solid." They seemed to be genetically wired to be resistant, and were never truly safe to ride.