Are mares more difficult to train than geldings? Equine behaviour study says no.

As a riding coach, I’m occasionally asked if I’ve perceived a “gender bias” in competitive riding, I chuckle – while I wouldn’t say that guys get more breaks than women, or vice versa, I do think “difficult” mares tend to get a bad rap!
Yep, the “As long as it’s not a chestnut mare” syndrome is alive and well.
Yet, I’ve worked with enough grumpy geldings and mild mannered mares to debunk the gender bias in horse training.

Horses behind the bit.

Once a horse learns how to escape the hands of a rider, he’ll tend to hide behind the bit even with a rider of educated hands, avoiding the annoyance before it begins. In equitation science, this is called “avoidance conditioning”. Thankfully, most horse show judges these days aren’t swayed by that horse with his nose tucked in – they’re looking past the head to analyze the balance, rhythm and relaxation of the whole picture.

Our horse’s welfare – who defines “abuse”?

One thing I love about speaking and coaching riders on the science of equine behavior is reviewing all sorts of studies to help sort through the fact and fiction of equine learning and horse welfare. Research ranging from trailering to horse training methods to tack – how what we do with horses, or neglect to do, affects a horse’s stress…

Responding to Pressure – horse and humans. Part 2

We’re always horse training – there’s no neutral. I encourage riders to be mindful of each moment – on the ground or in the saddle, catching those little resistances and using them as horse training yield-to-pressure opportunities …The payoff is my horse is less likely to say “no” when the pressure’s on. Fewer costly wrong leads, added strides, or seconds lost in speed events.
What about humans? 10 months of pandemic pressures have squeezed many of us emotionally, financially, relationally and physically. When I’m feeling squeezed by circumstances, what does it bring out in me?

Horse tack. Nosebands – how tight is too tight?

Standard equipment in English disciplines. Training equipment in western. While nosebands are designed to prevent bit evasion, in the horse business, we’re inclined to default into thinking “If a little is good, more is better! Glad to see that Equestrian Canada has added a 2021 horse show rule addressing nosebands. The question upstream from noseband “restrictions” – are we masking bit evasion without asking WHY the horse might be resisting?

Responding to pressure – horses and humans. Part 1

I’d hedge a bet that most riders would say it’s more satisfying to be in the saddle than beside the horse, on foot. But if the reason is because it’s SAFER on your horse’s back, groundwork in yielding to pressure would add to the everyday enjoyment of your equine partner!
Does your horse ever…
• Knock you with his head, smearing your horse show jacket?
• Tetherball around you, calling to his buddies after unloading from the horse trailer?
• Snatch your arm almost out of the socket, diving for grass?
• Swing around at the mounting block?
• Chew on the lead shank (or your hand) when you’re holding him at the show ring?
Do you look for opportunities between horse show classes to hand him to your “groom” (code – mom, dad or significant other)?

Equitation Whisperer?

Our horses, in their unique design, respond to subtle signals preceding our deliberate cues. Another reason, besides great equitation scores in the show ring, to practice quiet seat and hands is to make it easier for the horse to detect these subtle pre-signals Intentional cues will go unnoticed in sea of random, meaningless rider movements—the turbulence of flapping, pumping or clenching that a horse will learn to ignore.

Is your horse in a rush? (Part 2) 4 more tips to SLOW DOWN, tone down your horse’s tension and tune in to your aids.

Horse tension and relaxation – over and over I’ve seen how these really matter in horse learning. Your horse’s emotional state determines how easily he learns – absorbs and acquire skills.
Like cruise control, “self-carriage” in pace describes a horse neither rushing away (accelerating) nor slowing down. He stays within an imaginary box of the rider’s relaxed aids, without having to be held there.
If the horse is hurrying, he’ll be showing some degree of a prey animal’s flight response.