Flight Checks are what I do after playing with my horse and before I ride off from the mounting block. I make sure I have brakes and can move all four feet in all four directions (forward, back, left and right). It also lets me assess whether I have a good Connection and to help the horse get balanced and flexible before riding off. If anything needs working on I will either stay with it until softer and lighter or I’ll get off and work on it from the ground.
Here is a short film of the Flight Checks I do and how they can progress. I hope it helps to remind you to offer and find the ‘light feel’ on the reins, where our weight should be and to use our focus, seat and leg aids before using the reins.
Once you and your horse can do these with lightness and no brace you will find you will need them less and less. I use them before riding off and practice them now and then but because our ‘muscle memories’ in our bodies and brains have the techniques and actions stored we can use them when necessary (ie. an emergency halt w/relaxation) but can now refine them so that my breathing out and a lift of the rein is suffice to halt. I want the muscle memories there for if and when I need them…this one rein halt will not work well if the memories aren’t there, we would both be so far removed from relaxation that it would actually cause more tension and braciness….if we can avoid that and teach ourselves and our horses to have a ‘trigger’ of relaxation when the rein is lifted then we will all be safer in an emergency situation that hopefully never happens.
What is cross training I hear you say? Well it’s really just working your horse for just one discipline (ie. jumping, dressage, cross country etc) and can help to keep your horse happy mentally, emotionally and physically. SO if you are into jumping then by working on some dressage moves you can find you create better flexibility, moves and transitions for your jumping, by having fun out hacking you can find more fun and impulsion for dressage and maybe doing some agility or Trec you can find you have better focus for something like vaulting. Whatever you do you will find the more that you cross train the happier, centred and more rounded your horse can be.
Here is just something I’ve been working on with my boy Solly…..canter leads, from using them in dressage patterns we can transfer that knowledge to being able to do a good jumping course in canter.
Video 1: SLC’s through a serpentine pattern…
First I was just asking for canter, anywhere, then making it more specific for circles and in dressage tests. Here we are working on Simple Lead Changes (SLC) where we canter an arc then come down to walk or trot, get straight and then re-ask for canter on the other lead. I am trying to see how little walk or trot we can do before getting a new lead.
To be able to get the SLC’s we need Relaxation in canter, flexiblity and straightness on straight lines and curves, willingness and light cues and for Solly it’s been hard work as he didn’t understand canter cues when I got him so have been working on treat training, voice cues and lots of ground work.
More to come soon…..
(Video 2 = counting strides / Video 3 = using poles for accuracy / Video 4 = jumping)
Another show of my ‘approach/retreat’ method of familiarising your horse to something that may worry him. The sound of the massager I use is very similar to battery operated clippers although the wind blowing in the clip doesn’t allow you to hear it well. With all familiarisation tasks take the time your horse needs, reward and release for any relaxation (turn off machine, turn away or even reward with treats if you’re working on treat training) and build the amount of time you work slowly. You’re looking for your horse to change from being ‘worried’ to ‘positive tolerance’ and then to ‘acceptance’ if possible.
As with everything I do with horses the main criteria I’m looking for is RELAXATION with this technique. If we can set the horse up with relaxation before the vet comes then their neck muscles can be relaxed and the needle will go in without pain. Relaxed for this means low head and even just a wee bit towards you in an arc. Practising this regularly so that the horse will learn to it on command will help the horse, and vet, have an easier time with it all.
I’ve been asked a few times to show what I would do to help a horse relax and get ready for a dentist so here is a short ‘how to’ video on what I would do. If I had to do this for the dentist I would start months before they came making sure each day was better than the last. Most of the ‘unfamiliar’ things we do with horses can all be helped out with two techniques…’Approach & Retreat’ and a ton of ‘Familiarisation’. But remember that your horse may be less relaxed with someone they don’t know doing this invasive procedure so make sure you are there for your horse when the dentist comes to help the process go a bit more smoothly.
Also remember that these things do not happen over night, preparation is the key and taking the time to get out there and practice until you horse is more and more relaxed (low headed, no movement in feet and tongue), responding not reacting and happy with the procedure. If you really have trouble then take it very very slowly and if you need to sedate your horse then that might be the best solution until you can get better around his mouth.
One of the most useful techniques I use and it can be so much fun to play with. I even use this to groom our big horse as he’s 18.2hh and standing on a barrel or mounting block to clean him whilst he moves around for me is a great example of using the techniques for a purpose and a great connection.
This first video is of me and Solly who has not been played with for about 3 months over Winter. He’s got sticky feet and is a bit mouthy so I thought it would be interesting for you to see how to sidle to the mounting block with a slightly uncooperative horse first. The second video, done the next day, is of Solly, Tara and then Stormy all sidling to a large stone as a mounting block, just to show how good training is not about tricks but about communicating with the horses mind to his feet.
If you’re starting to try this out remember a few things:
1) Always have a good drive away before trying to ask horse to come towards you
2) Always reward (with a rest, a rub and a good boy/girl) for the SLIGHTEST try. I ask for more with mine as they have already been trained and they know what I’m asking but can be sluggish or dis-connected.
3) If horse goes INTO the pressure they are either not understanding or being polite and not wanting to come into you (which hopefully you’ve already taught them) SO don’t get frustrated just keep gently asking for the slightest try and reward immediately they try, even if it’s just a shift in weight.
4) Progress on one side to start with (which ever side you and horse find easier) and then ask for the other side so that when you’ve progressed enough the horse should be able to go from sidling to the right and to the left equally.
5) Try sidling up to many other things as it’s not about the block it’s about the techniques and communication of moving your horses feet about. Try from a large stone, a gate, put horse into ditch, a block in a different place.
6) If your horse is not understanding your ask to come to you and goes around and around the block then place the block against the fence so that he can only go so far, hold the lead rope underneath the chin and that arm straight and strong (like he’s tied up) so that he can only move his hindquarters out or towards, this will help stop forward movement or circling.
Here is another Training Tip Video showing progression of ‘putting foot on something’. If just beginning this sort of thing then try with something bigger first and progress to more specific, smaller things. Always make sure the object is safe for your horse to put it’s foot on.
A round pen is a very useful piece of equipment. I use them for a safe place to introduce a horse to horsemanship, starting liberty and riding techniques. They can be any size you want and I’ve found that you can ride safely in them when you are unconfident and then progress to riding the outside of the pen when you are more confident. Two pens near each other can help create a perfect figure of 8 pattern for transitions, SLC’s and FLC’s and four in a symmetric square shape helps when learning the clover leaf pattern. They’re easy to put up or move and handy if you need a small place to graze a horse at home or when away. I’ve made many hundreds of round pens over the years and here are a couple of ways to make them easy to put up.
A lot of horses have unwanted behaviours around worming time, their heads go up, they backup and the try their best to resist eating the nasty tasting wormer. These behaviours are instinctual but we can change them if we take time to help our horse relax and understand what we want.
Worming had not been a problem with our horses as we’ve been giving them the tablet form and they all took them like treats. Now we are syringe worming I’ve discovered that Solly has some negative behaviour with it all. He throws his head up so high I can’t reach him, he’s turning away and if I didn’t have a halter on him he’d be off. So instead of getting upset, I thought, what a prime opportunity to do a Training Tip Video of me teaching him how to take a syringe wormer with relaxation and positive reinforcement, and here is the first part….
So, I have done three practice sessions of worming on Solly (and the other herd members) and have progressed to not treating now and doing it at liberty. Here are some pics from our 4th practice today.
Pic 1) is of Solly looking at the syringe, I’ve placed it in the area I want his head to be.
Pic 2) is of Solly sniffing the syringe…smell is a huge part of this so it will be interesting to use the real wormer with him!
Pic 3) is of Solly taking the syringe himself .
Pics 4&5) are of him taking the apple sauce…all at liberty.
Pic 6) is Stormy taking the syringe for some sauce.
Pic 7) is Tara smelling the syringe.
Pic 8) is Tara taking the sauce, I held my hand on the outside of her head to encourage and sooth her, she could move her head that way and I wasn’t forcing it all, she just needs more support and love.