BY YASMIN STUART
HELP! MY HORSE NEEDS REEDUCATING
You have recognized that your horse needs reeducation. Whether it’s a behavioural issue, pain-related problem, or something else that has led to you needing to retrain their posture, you are taking the first step to helping your horse to become healthier. However, once you’ve recognised that your horse needs re-educating, the steps to re-education can be quite daunting.
It’s a bit like problem solving. Working out where it went wrong and why, would be an excellent place to start. Without this valuable piece of information, you could be chasing your tail for months.
For the purpose of this blog post I’m going to be using the example of a horse rehabilitating from kissing spines.
WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
Well for this horse it was a multitude of issues. He was trained in a sub-optimal manner: dropped back, over-flexed neck and trailing hindlimbs. This was then compounded by the fact that his saddle was ill-fitting, so even if he had ‘wanted to’, he would never have been able to lift his back. After moving like this for months, or even years, his behaviour started to change. Perhaps he started hiking his head up to initiate trot or began bucking in canter. This was deemed to be a training issue and so the schooling was ramped up- the horse was being punished for trying to explain that he needed help. The final straw was that he began refusing fences. This was the catalyst that made the owner seek the help of a vet.
The horse was diagnosed with kissing spines. He had the necessary veterinary treatment – in this instance field rest, the affected dorsal spinous processes medicated and was then given permission to begin work again. However, if he was to start work in the same way he would surely reinjure?
With horses that need re-educating, they almost always have a proprioceptive deficit. This means that their movement pattern is abnormal because the ‘map’ their brain has created of where their body is in space is slightly blurred. So, in this instance, this horse’s normal movement pattern will be that of a dropped back and over flexed neck – his soft tissues have remodelled for this to be a normal and safe way of going. This will go hand in hand with limited shoulder and hindquarter range of motion.
I like to begin by addressing their shoulder and hindquarter range of motion with forehand and hindquarter yields. This is where I ask the horse to move away from a gentle touch of my hands by either crossing one forelimb in front of the other whilst keeping the hindquarters planted or one hindlimb in front of the other whilst keeping the forehand planted. You soon get a feel of where the restrictions are. The horse might move more easily with one leg than the opposing or might try to run through you to offer a different answer. These responses are all totally ok – I treat them as diagnostic feedback of how the horse is coping with the question I’m asking. It’s important to add here that you need to recognise and adhere to your horse’s threshold. If the horse finds this situation stressful then you will need to back off and give the horse a minute to digest the question or re-ask another day.
Tip: Consistency builds trust. Make sure that your cue is always the same and that you reward the second your horse even thinks about offering the desired behaviour.
This can then be shaped to elicit the original desired response. For instance; if the horse finds it difficult to mobilise their right fore, initially I would reward a shift of weight onto the left fore- the horse was thinking in the correct direction, but the original desired movement is not accessible at this moment in time. Also, their comfort must always come first. If they are persistently struggling to do something, then this will require further investigation – whether from a vet, bodyworker, behaviourist or trainer.
This probably all seems like a lot of faff- there are plenty of people who crack on with their horse’s training without doing all of this. However if we can help our horse to understand exactly what is asked of them by making it easy and attainable, then they’re more likely to enjoy working with us, therefore more likely to be engaged and as a result the rate at which they improve will be quicker. This method also increases their manoeuvrability before we implement the next step.
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