Aug 142013


Keeping up with the times, The Equine Independent is now on Twitter.

You can follow us on @equindependent (the full name was too long, even without “the”!)

You can also hashtag equind if you have any comments related to us (TEI is about elephants…)

Aug 082013

Pony Access is the end result of a random visit I made to the St. Pauls Trust City Farm in Balsall Heath, Birmingham back in 2006 ish. I went to demonstrate my safe pony drawn vehicle, the Saddlechariot system, with Henry the pony, for potential inner city farm use.

I wasn’t convinced it would work in an inner city environment, but I am always willing to try something new. Henry and I arrived early, so I took him for a drive around the neighbourhood to calm him down. Ambling along a street, we were both alarmed to hear screams, until we realised that children from the school playground ahead, had caught sight of Henry. As we pulled up next to the chain link fence, a forest of hands came through to stroke, scratch or just touch Henry. Over and over again, I heard “I’ve never touched a horse before!”

Henry at Balsall Heath

If the teachers hadn’t asked me to move on after half an hour, as the children had already missed the first fifteen minutes of the next lesson, Henry would be there still. There are over a million horses in the UK, but for millions of people, they might as well be on the moon.

Beau, a huge, hairy biker at St Paul’s Trust introduced Henry and me to the community and over the next couple of days, and succeeding visits with Henry, and then Obama, I learned how much people love ponies. Henry and Obama have driven all over Balsall Heath, working with Beau and various community groups, meeting endless friendliness, and enthusiasm for meeting, or just seeing ponies.

Ponies cut across all social, political, religious, cultural and ethnic barriers. Henry and Obama were my passport to Balsall Heath. I decided, way back on my first visit to St Paul’s Trust, Balsall Heath, that working with ponies, with people, was what I wanted to do.

In Exeter, in 2009, I had the good fortune to meet a number of disabled people, Ari, Damien, Agnetha, Sarah, Sarah and Bex and with endless support and encouragement from Bookcycle and the equally vital support of Kevin and the crowd from Organic Arts, who got vital funding from Devon County Council’s Aiming High Fund, I built, after many false starts, the iBex Saddlechariot, an all terrain, wheelchair enabled, safe vehicle. John Howson, a blacksmith, an artist and a craftsman turned my messy, but functioning concept vehicle, into something smooth and sleek, and has been helping me improve it ever since.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, Pony Access can take people in wheelchairs along beaches, across Dartmoor, through forests and round towns. We can collect rubbish and recycling with community groups, or timber from forests, or do row crop work on organic farms, or deliver and collect books for Bookcycle, or teach people to drive a pony, all in total safety.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, and what I had learned working with all these diverse groups, Pony Access became a reality.

The other half of Pony Access is training ponies. I had the good fortune to meet Nick Sanders of Rowanoak, in Brecon. Together we hammered out the basic principles of Pony Access training, and argued incessantly about details, before we realised that there are millions of correct routes to almost anywhere. Some take longer, some are harder work, all that matters is that they get there, safely.

Temple Grandin was a massive influence. Her work on Animal Behaviour started a whole chain of research and I have studied the work of many trainers and ethologists. Patricia Barlow Irick and Victor Ros Pueo have shown me lots of ideas, and I have gone off at endless tangents. But Henry, and then Obama, have taught me most.

Pony Access has a very simple agenda. And consequently a very simple training program. We want ponies that will work safely with people. There are endless varieties of work. From taking disabled veterans yomping across Dartmoor, to meeting very small children. And just about everything in between. We use the ponies for the work they find easy. If standing around being scratched is their idea of heaven, then it is easy to take them to a school playground and let them stand and be scratched. If they want to be moving, and exploring new places, yomping across Dartmoor is easy.Testing stability at Dame Hannah Roger's, Seal Hayne.

If I have twenty ponies, and I take them into a competition, only one can win. But I can find jobs for all twenty where each pony will shine, within a varied operation like Pony Access. Pony Access asks ponies to do what they find easy. And easy is low stress, and low stress is safe. And safety is what Pony Access is about.

The next section, Pony Access, why it is different, describes the differences between Pony Access and the traditional horse industry’s approach.

The section after that describes how we do what we do.

Pony Access, why it is different.

Pony Access works with everyone, providing access to ponies and access with ponies.

Since we work with everyone, we work with people with learning difficulties, and with mobility issues. Pony Access works with schools and health professionals who work within an ethical framework, therefore Pony Access needs an ethical framework.

Obama working at Bevern View.

This document is my attempt to answer any ethical questions that arise from Pony Access. It is not a complete document and probably never will be. As we expand, we will discover new problems and new solutions.

Pony Access is being developed on the basis that it is not staffed by Health Professionals or educationalists. Pony Access provides the ponies and the system that makes access to ponies safe. It is up to the teachers and Health professionals to decide what services they require and what the benefits are. Pony Access provides SAFE activities so that the health and educational professionals do not have to work out the benefits against the risks. We remove the risks.

Pony Access uses a vehicle, the iBex Saddlechariot, specifically designed to be safe for those with disabilities and for novices. The instant pony release system ensures the user is not endangered by any silly behaviour, up to, and including bolting, of the pony. The vehicle appears impossible to turn over as you can see.

We do not accept that any level of risk of injury to our clients is acceptable. For the ponies, this means good management and an ethical training system. Pony Access believe that good management and ethical training produce safer ponies, and the evidence supports this belief.

This document addresses the safety implications of various scenarios. The scenarios I describe may or may not be appropriate for any individual. That is a decision for the individual and their therapist or teacher. These are examples of what is possible, and the reasons the activity is safe.

Pony Access’s primary ethical responsibility is “First, do no harm.” (Primum non nocere. )To do this we need a safe operating system, fully compliant with Health and Safety principles. To ensure that we do no harm, we have to compare Pony Access safety with the safety record of the existing horse industry. If we were more dangerous, we would fail the “first, do no harm” test. It is for this reason that we have had to compare Pony Access Safety standards with the existing equine industry in the UK. I specify the UK because I live and work there and understand the system. Therefore what I say may or may not apply to horse practice elsewhere.

Bex enjoying the view in Exeter.

This document is based on Simon Mulholland’s 12 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles, and 11 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles for the disabled. Over these years Simon has learned from two ponies in particular, Henry and Obama. Experience with Henry and Obama working in schools, inner city areas, and working with people with learning difficulties and mobility issues has produced an understanding of what can be done, and how to do it safely.

Traditional Equestrian Safety

versus Pony Access safety.

Pony Access is demonstrably safe. However any discussion of the Safety of pony or horse based systems has to look at the data from the existing equine industry.

I don’t like making comparisons because it makes enemies, however any new program is going to be compared with existing systems. On the principle of “First, do no harm,” any change to the existing order has to be assessed. If it is more dangerous than the existing systems, it contravenes the “First, do no harm” rule. I might be able to argue greater benefits, so the cost-benefit analysis would be in favour but this is a complex and uncertain route. Instead I have used cowardice as a design tool and developed a vehicle and operating system that keeps me safe.

Pony Access looks at all risks as unacceptable. Pony Access uses safe vehicles, safe systems.

The safety record of the traditional equestrian industry is not good. Pony Access is not part of the traditional equestrian industry because we don’t want to be traditional, we insist on being safe. But to understand the Pony Access safety systems, you need to understand the risks inherent in the current equestrian industry. Pony Access has removed all these risks from their own operations. The following catalogue of death and injury is all avoidable using Pony Access principles.

Professor Nutt in Nutt, D. (2008). “Equasy — an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”. Journal of Psychopharmacology 23 (1): 3–5.

This paper describes the risks of Equacy which “stands for Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the horse.”

Professor Nutt’s data states that Equacy (riding horses) has 30 times the risk of acute harm to a person compared with MDMA, commonly known as Ecstacy. He quotes a one in ten thousand risk of acute harm to a person from Ecstacy, and one in three hundred and fifty from riding.

A less scientific article titled Three-Day Eventing, Horse Sense: Three-day eventing is the ultimate test of horse and rider claims that eventing “is the world’s most dangerous mainstream sport, suffering more fatalities among participants than football, boxing and motor racing combined.” (Global Traveller 2007 Three-Day Eventing. Richard Newton.)

Richard Newton’s article was written in 2007, and the article is in praise of eventing. The annual death toll of 11 from eventing ( is seen as a reason to watch the “sport”. In contrast Formula One had managed 13 years without any deaths in 2007, and Formula 1 attracts millions more viewers. Formula 1′s safety record still stands at the start of January 2013. Safety is achievable. Traditional equestrian activities don’t seem to be interested in achieving it.

Pony Access does NOT involve riding. Riding is too traditional to change, and the risk of death or injury is present from the second you get on top of the animal for the first time. The reason is simple. A fall from height. Once you are on top of a horse, the only way off is down. Getting off a moving horse while riding astride is not easy, so in case of accident, the rider tends to fall head first. According to Professor Nutt’s data, in some shire counties, riding is a greater cause of head injuries than road traffic accidents.

Pony Access does not provide riding in any form because we cannot see a way to make it completely safe. By contrast we can make driving the iBex Saddlechariot pony drawn vehicle completely safe, and we can make working with ponies on the ground safe, so that is what we do. By not riding, we instantly eliminate all riding related safety problems.

Pony drawn vehicles.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot system. This is a pony drawn vehicle designed by a coward, me, to be safe. Before I explain what makes it safe for wheelchair users, driving on their own, across rough terrain, we need to look at the historical data about traditional Carriage driving risks.

Traditional carriage driving is dangerous. Two ladies with no connection to equestrian activities have died as a result of carriage driving in the last two years. One was a passenger on a tourist carriage on Sark where the horse bolted, went up the verge and overturned the carriage killing Dora Jufer and injuring 8 others. If they had been using the iBex saddlechariot safety system, nobody would have been injured, Dora Jufer would not have been killed.

(BBC News, 6July 2012.

In 2011 a lady visited her local park in Suffolk and died after a horse hitched to a carriage bolted and crashed into spectators at an event in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Carole Bullett would be alive if the iBex Saddlechariot system had been used.

(BBC News 20 June 2011.

There are no safety systems to cope with a bolting horse in traditional carriage driving. This fact is demonstrated in the 2012 Risk Assessment for The North East Driving Trials Limited, a competitive carriage driving society.

Appendix A


1) Introduction

By far the highest risk is the HORSE which is an accident waiting to happen.

Runaways by a horse or of a horse attached to a vehicle are very serious and all reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent this happening. This is stating the obvious and equally obvious is the preventative measure…… we just leave them grazing happily in the fields !!!!

(North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p10)

That is all there is about bolting horses with vehicles attached. We leave them in the field or ignore the problem. The 58 page document points out frequently the risk of loose horses with vehicles, and suggests that if the air ambulance is called for an accident Drivers may wish to uncouple the horse(s) from their carriage and they should be allowed adequate time to re-couple after the helicopter has departed. (North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p49)

Therefore Carriage driving experts acknowledge that a horse out of a vehicle is massively less of a risk than one in a vehicle, but assume that there isn’t any solution, because there isn’t a TRADITIONAL solution.

The iBex Saddlechariot was designed to cope with a bolting horse and a wheelchair using solo driver. It does it safely.

First we must look at the hazard, a bolting horse. The definition of a bolting horse states (of a horse or other animal) Run away suddenly out of control: “the horses bolted”. Three factors run throughout all the definitions, suddenness, speed and lack of control

The reason for bolting is simple for the horse. If it is scared its natural instinctive behaviour is to run very fast, away from threats. Horses are open country animals, so they run to open space. A wide, empty horizon is safety.

The horse doesn’t hang around thinking about bolting. To be an effective defence against predators, it needs to be instantaneous, and when running away from a threat, there is only one speed, as fast as possible.

Controlling a bolting horse is a contradiction in terms. A bolting horse has got out of control. A good horseman may be able to get the animal back under control but this will take time and luck, neither of which are available.

Training cannot eliminate basic instincts. If a pony or horse panics, it runs. The only way to stop it is brute force. No single person can stop a panicking pony, let alone a horse.

If you add a vehicle to a bolting horse, the situation is many times worse. The vehicle follows the panicking animal, panicking it further. The animal doesn’t consider the width of the vehicle, and will go through gaps that a horse will fit through but which the vehicle won’t. The vehicle is therefore banging and bouncing, further scaring the animal. This creates a positive feedback system, the faster the horse goes, the faster the thing follows him, making more and more noise and crashing into his sides and so on.

A vehicle and horse can total over a ton in weight easily, moving faster than Usain Bolt, and unable to manoeuvre or avoid obstacles or people. The results are described in the two accident reports above.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot. The driver has a rip cord. When anything goes wrong, or when it looks like there is a risk something might go wrong, the driver pulls the ripcord and the animal is released instantly. If the animal is bolting, the vehicle stops following it. If the bolting animal aims for a gap wide enough for the animal to fit through, it fits through without a vehicle mashing anything in its way. The animal will avoid people, and objects, and aim for open space where it can see any approaching threats. Once it reaches a suitable place it stops, and pretty soon starts grazing.

The first thing the animal does, if it is allowed, is to remove itself from the vehicle. It does not hang around mugging the passengers of stealing the driver’s mobile. Heading for open space is the natural instinct of a plains living prey species. There are still risks from a bolting pony, but using the rest of the Hierarchy of Controls, the risks can be reduced to minimal. Using small ponies, not attaching metal shoes, careful pony selection, non violent training methods and all the principles discussed in the next section.

What about the driver and any passengers? Releasing the animal, applies the brakes. The driver is sitting on what has become garden furniture. The animal has departed at speed. The major risk is boredom. At least with passengers, he has someone to talk to.

The instant release system can be operated by the driver and by any helpers on the ground who can all have a ripcord. A remote control release system is available so an experienced person can oversee the activity, maybe with trainees, and still operate the safety system from a distance.

Pony Access can provide all terrain access for those with mobility problems, and provide an entry level, equestrian activity, in complete safety. I have only discussed the most serious hazard, the bolting horse with vehicle attached, but the answer to most problems is the same, release the pony and the problems of a pony drawn vehicle are removed. The risk assessment, details all the other factors which Pony Access has considered and made safe.

A bolting horse with a vehicle attached is the most dangerous scenario. With Pony Access, this is not a risk.

Pony Access as an educational/mental health resource.

People like ponies, they enjoy contact with them, stroking them, brushing them, leading them around and interacting with them. This is believed to have major benefits, but we need a comprehensive risk assessment, to know whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Again we start with the historical risks. To do this we have to look at the safety culture of the traditional equestrian industry.
According to “A review of the human-horse relationship “ published in “Applied Animal Behaviour Science 109, 1-24, 2008.” states “Despite a long history of human-horse relationship, horse-related incidents and accidents do occur amongst professional and non professional “horse persons”. Recent studies show that their occurrence depend more on the frequency and amount of interactions with horses than on the level of competency, suggesting a strong need for specific research and training of
humans working with horses.”
If the level of competence has no apparent bearing on the level of accidents, it suggests there are major problems in the traditional equestrian industry, defining competence. Further on in the same study they note that “for vets working with horses;that the tendency to be injured was more related to the degree of exposure to horses (increasing number of equine patients for vets who didn’t work exclusively with horses) than to experience: the practitioners who did not own a horse were less often kicked by horses. The same conclusion was reached in other studies performed in Switzerland”
Vets who are not horsey, and not owning a horse is a simple definition of horsey for a group who have the skills and contacts and earning levels to keep and afford a horse, are less likely to be injured than horsey vets.
Clearly something is very wrong with safety principles in the horse industry if experience has no increase in safety, and if ownership of a horse increases the risk of accidents among trained professionals when working with other horses.

When safety is mentioned, the traditional horse industry focuses on hard hats. This may look like a sensible approach to safety, but in modern Health and Safety circles, Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, which includes hard hats, boots, gloves etc, is considered to be the last resort when all other safety systems have failed.

Health and Safety specifies that BEFORE you use PPE, you must try all the methods that come before PPE in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.

We need a quick digression to establish what hazards the hard hats are protecting you from. You cannot use motorcycle helmets on horses despite their ability to cope with the Suzuki Hayabusa road speeds of 300kph. Equestrian hard hats are different and are tested on a horse shoe shaped anvil, in addition to the standard tests.

Snell Foundation – Helmet Development and StandardsAn Excerpt From; “FRONTIERS IN HEAD AND NECK TRAUMA Clinical and Biomechanical” N. Yoganandan et al. (Eds.) OS Press, OHMSHA (c) 1998

The use of a horseshoe shaped anvil suggests the horseshoe is a hazard.

The American Medical Equestrian Association confirms the point. And states The equestrian hazard anvil has a deep and sharp design, meant to approximate the angle of a horseshoe or a jump standard edge.

(American Medical Equestrian Association. February 1996 Vol V1, Number 1 Why Not Use A Bicycle Helmet for Horseback Riding? )

Health and Safety, (HaS) is very clear about hazards, and the process for dealing with them. The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls is the global system used by HaS professionals. If you are not familiar with the principles of HaS, click this link for the information.

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls insist the first approach is to try removal, as the iBex Saddlechariot does with a bolting pony. The hazard is a bolting pony, pulling the ripcord removes the hazard of a bolting pony in a vehicle.

Horseshoes clearly can be removed. Horses are born without them, and millions of them live and work without metal nailed to their feet. The Manual of Horsemanship produced by The British Horse Society and The Pony Club (1966 p209, 1993 p217) states,

Working Unshod.

This is quite a feasible proposition provided work on hard gritty roads or flinty tracks is avoided. Not only is there a saving in shoeing charges and visits to the forge, but an unshod pony is more secure on every type of surface and hence more surefooted. Furthermore, the injury resulting from a kick is materially lessened.”

Ponies without shoes are clearly safer than those with shoes. They are more surefooted, and one of the factors that scares prey species more than anything is losing their footing. (Temple Grandin. Animals in Translation. 2005 p268.)

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that the first thing to try is removal of the hazard, or “elimination”. Removing the shoes removes the requirement for special equestrian hard hats.

If the horse has a foot problem and the vet says it needs shoes to protect its feet, what then?

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that before trying Hard Hats, which are Personal Protective Equipment, (PPE), and the least desirable and final option, you should try substitution. Is there anything other than a lump of metal that can protect the horse’s foot?

My pony wears Old Mac Hoofboots, which have been on the market for years, and compete against a whole range of rubber soled, fabric upper, trainers for ponies and horses. These do not have the risks of injury associated with steel sharp cornered horseshoes. Substitution also seems to remove the need for special equestrian hard hats.

Using Personal Protective Equipment (helmets) specifically designed to protect against a hazard, horseshoes, without trying any of the methods detailed in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls, breaks every rule of Health and Safety Policy.

Pony Access policy is simple. We do not use metal horseshoes, considering them to be knuckledusters for horses.

We try to leave hard hats were they belong in a professional attitude to Health and Safety, as a last resort. When clients are driving on the iBex we use Bicycle Helmets to BS EN 1078:1997 as agreed with our insurers. The vehicle has hard surfaces, balance across rough ground may be tricky, a hard hat makes sense to protect against any unforeseen problems. We use hard hats to cover any hazards we can’t predict, not to solve problems that are clearly obvious and to which there are simple answers.

The reasoning behind horseshoes and specially tested helmets is odd, and seems to contravene Health and Safety policy. The traditional horse industry attitude to whips, is just as odd, and again seems to contradict basic Health and Safety policy.

The Jockey Club, now renamed the British Horseracing Authority, insists that whips are a safety feature, therefore Personal Protective Equipment, and therefore by definition, a last resort when all other ways of controlling the hazard have failed.

They stateIt is the policy of the Authority, as set out in the Rules of Racing, that a jockey is required to carry a whip and that its use is optional.”

The Rules reflect the policy of the Authority that the whip can be used in racing only for safety, correction and encouragement – anything else is unacceptable as  far as the sport is concerned.”  Use for ‘safety’ would include using the whip to assist in avoiding a dangerous  situation.”

This research suggest otherwise. Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK

“Results: The risk of falling was significantly associated with whip use and race progress. Horses which were being whipped and progressing through the race were at greater than 7 times the risk of falling compared to horses which were not being whipped and which had no change in position or lost position through the field.

Conclusions: This study has identified whip use and the position of the horse with respect to others in the field as potential risk factors for horse falls.”

(Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK Article first published online: 5 JAN 2010 DOI: 10.2746/0425164044868387 G. L. PINCHBECK*, P. D. CLEGG, C. J. PROUDMAN, K. L. MORGAN, N. P. FRENCH

If the whip is a safety device, instructions for its use as Personal Protective Equipment should exist. I can find no trace anywhere of advice on using the whip as a safety device. There are no tests of the effectiveness of different whips as Personal Protective Equipment that I can find.

I have read all 117 pages of “Health and Safety in the Racing and Breeding Industry. Guidelines on Good Practice August 2007” and the 2010 edition and it doesn’t mention the whip or its use, anywhere. Since this document is endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority, and the National Trainers Federation, and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association , the National Stud, the Stable Lads Association and the British Racing School and the Northern Racing College, and is endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive, if the whip is a safety device, it would be mentioned, discussed and the best practice for using it would be described.

It isn’t.

It isn’t just the Jockey Club who insist on the whip, the British Horse Society insist you bring one to exams, this is their checklist.


Before you leave home, check you’ve brought the correct whips, spurs, hats, gloves, body protectors, paperwork (booking letter and membership card; at a Stage 2, exam you may be required to show the Chief Assessor your Riding and Road Safety certificate), pens, pencils and reference books.”

The Pony Club test ten year old children to see they know how to Hold the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand.” (

I can find no instruction from either the BHS or the Pony Club how the whip should be used as a safety device. I only know my pony is absolutely terrified of whips, and panics when he sees one.

In racing, research shows whips are a possible cause of accidents. Racing has no known training system for the whip as a safety device, yet it is compulsory. Horses are known to react to pain by accelerating, which is why people use whips on racehorses. There seem to be no safety benefits from rapid acceleration in any intelligent use of a horse. The British Horse Society and the Pony Club insist that people carry them. The Pony Club test children as young as ten years old to see they can carry a whip, but provide no information how they may be used as a safety device.

This seems to contravene all principles of Health and Safety. I will revert to whips later, to discuss the positive safety benefits of not allowing whips or any other weapon to be used.

The horse industry’s attitude to helmets and whips apparently contravenes the most basic principles of Health and Safety. It makes no sense to insist on head protection against a hazard that is unnecessary for most animals. It makes no sense to insist that everyone carries a whip which is clearly associated with increased risks for those who are disqualified for not carrying one.

The lack of logic in the traditional horse industry extends to council advice to equestrian businesses on Health and Safety.

Let’s look at the advice and see how it can be improved.

Gosport Borough Council issue guidelines to Riding establishments with copious information on electrical risks, Hazardous substances, dust etc, but very little on the major risk, horses. Here is the information and advice they do give.

3. Horses
Horses are large, heavy and unpredictable animals but risks can
be reduced by taking the following steps:

  • Providing adequate training for staff.
  • Ensuring competency of handling through training, qualifications and experience.
  • Observing recognised methods of horse restraint.
  • Providing suitable personal protective equipment (safety footwear, protective headgear etc.).
  • Good standards of general horse handling (loading/unloading;han
Aug 012013

In my work as an equine behaviourist one of the main concerns of my clients and potential clients is how long it will take for a problem to be resolved and how much time will they need to invest to solve the problem. Both concerns are of course completely valid and it is important that the horse owner knows and understands the process, the steps involved and the estimated timeline of progress. However, I am often surprised at people’s expectations when it comes to how long it might take to solve a problem.

Some people are very happy when I suggest, for example, that within 2 months, very often sooner, they should see significant improvement but some are taken aback and want to see quicker progress. Their viewpoint is often not linked to how much time they can invest in helping their horse or how long the problem has been going on for. For example, (the following is based on experiences but not on any one client in particular) an owner has had a horse on box rest for eight months due to a long process of veterinary diagnosis and treatment. Every day in those eight months the owner’s workload has been much more than when the horse has his/her usual regime and turnout. The owner has needed to visit the horse more often resulting in early mornings and long nights – they have had to arrange additional feed, additional support to clean the stable regularly, and time investment in taking the horse for in-hand grazing opportunities. After the horse has been given the all clear by the vet for limited turnout he starts showing distress in the field and seems to ‘want’ to be stabled. The behaviour is escalating and the horse is becoming more difficult to handle in many situations to the point where the owner calls me in for behavioural advice. In this illustrative case, we would look at the management routine of the horse, the relationship between horse and owner and would create a phased, step-by-step programme to reintroduce the horse to a routine involving turnout. I might say that if aspects of the management are changed and the owner spends often just 5-10 minutes dedicated training with their horse per day then within 2 months (often much sooner) we would expect the horse to be comfortable to spend time in the field and that if the steps are followed that there would also be an improvement in the other issues. Some people recognise that this isn’t much work needed to solve the problem that is causing them significant time investment (to manage a constantly stabled horse) and that will improve the life of the horse but others say that they don’t have 10 minutes a day to work on the behaviour modification programme. In such cases we can consider other options, bringing other people into the solution and so on but time and time again I am surprised by the reluctance to invest a small amount of time to solve a problem that is causing much more time and heartache, not to mention the compromised welfare for the horse.

The rush to solve problems nearly instantly has been pushed in recent years by various methods of horsemanship promoting their approach with the selling point that it is so quick. Demonstrations introducing young horses to tack and riders in sometimes less than 30 minutes draw large crowds and I’m sure are partly responsible for creating expectations for all problems to be ‘solved’ in a short time. Training has moved away from being seen as a gradual process to something that can change with a ‘recipe’ for quick results. However, is everything as it seems? The answer is ‘no’ – being able to ‘get’ a horse to do something in half an hour in one situation is not the same as having solved an issue. And that is before even considering the emotional side-effects for the horse of some of these methods. Effective, ethical and easiest behaviour modification and training is done through small steps – desired behaviour is ‘shaped’ gradually, building confidence as we progress through the steps.

Another key element is that learning isn’t just turned on or off when we want to define a training session. The inspiring trainer Ben Hart (Hart’s Horsemanship) very correctly points out that every moment we spend with our animals teaches them something. When a horse is tied up in the sun and a pile of hay while we chat to our yard friends the horse is learning that although they can’t move away the yard is an OK place to be as it’s somewhere you can eat and nothing much is expected of you. When we poo pick in the field the horse learns that when their human enters a field it doesn’t always mean that being caught and ridden is the result. It is easy to forget this – for example, one owner’s horse used to pull and break away when being lead from the field to the yard. Every day the owner spent around 20 minutes longer than it should have taken catching and re-catching her horse as they not very efficiently made the journey across a field. To re-train this behaviour would have only taken a few minutes a day and much of that could have been during the walk they had to do anyway but the owner claimed to have no time to do the training. What was not understood, until we explored things further, was that every time they made the journey the horse is learning – even if that is learning that the journey between field and stable takes 20 minutes and involves a break away to see other horses across the fence!

This article is a plea to think about the time we spend with our horses and what they are learning from us in that time, to slow things down and allow ourselves and our horses time to learn gradually in steps building confidence along the way. We don’t have to make time for behaviour….we just need to recognise that the time we spend with our horses is teaching them something, and we need to be mindful of what!

Suzanne Rogers
– Animal Welfare Consultant and Behaviourist – Learning About Animals (
– Trustee – TAWS (
– Co-Founder/Programmes Advisor – Change For Animals Foundation (
– Animal Welfare Advisor – CVA CPD Programme

Jul 122013

As I was sitting outside this morning, enjoying the sun, I watched two workers relaying a pavement. After a while I realised there are many similarities between laying down a pavement and training a horse. Every tile is part of the whole, if you leave one out there will forever be a hole, disrupting the connection between both ends. You need some necessary skill and knowledge, familiarity with the technique, to lay an exceptional pavement, but learning by yourself is not out of the question, if your eyes and heart are willing to see your mistakes. Sometimes you might have to go back and repair your error, sometimes you might have to start over from where your pavement was still sound. Just like a tile laying only slightly askew, it might be hard to locate your mistake by sight, but you will feel its presence every time you walk over the path. Training a horse is a process, it takes time and effort, you can’t miss a step and you need to evaluate regularly. Others can help you see the things that need improvement, so don’t turn them away, but remember that perfection is is just a state of mind, and that you can only reach perfection in your own eyes.

20130712-160058.jpgThis view of training as a process, building blocks and making connections, is not a new one. Take a look at the Scala of dressage, of which I prefer the version put into a pyramid form. The rider is added at the bottom, because the rider, being the worker, controls the whole process and carries the responsibility of completing every step and reaching the top. After all riding a horse is a partnership, equal parts of human and horse, so why should the Skala concern only the horse?

Apart from the rider, relaxation is for me the first and foremost step in training. Lack of relaxation is not only signified by tension or nervousness, but also by a certain amount of resistance against being manipulated by the rider. Relaxation means the horse is willing to let go, both in his body and his mind. This is achieved with trust and feel, force will only create submission, never true relaxation. This is where the relationship between horse and rider stands or falls.

Rhythm, or tact, is the basis of the horse’s movement. We all know walk should be four beat, trot two and canter three, but can we feel the difference? Can you help your horse achieve this purity of gaits? Rhythm comes naturally to a horse in freedom, which can easily be messed up by adding a rider on top. Rhythm is for me not only the beat of the gait, but the horse being able and allowed to move at his own natural potential, which means the rider should not get in the way with his own riding, or force the horse to move in an unnatural way.

Contact is not just the tension in a leather strap between the horse’s mouth/nose and the rider’s hands. Contact is the connection between rider and horse, which includes all physical, verbal and ‘mental’ cues, with understanding coming from both. A horse shouldn’t be afraid to take up this contact, and the human should let go of everything standing in his way to achieve it.

Impulsion is both the power and strength of the horse’s body, specifically hindquarters, achieved by correct conditioning, and the horse’s willingness to lend all this power to his rider. Impulsion is what the rider feels in his hands when the horse’s movement flows from back to front without blockages.

I think the term straightness would be better served by balance. As a horse, like every living being, will keep his own preferences for one side or the other, I don’t think any horse can be truly straight. However, the horse can be brought into balance, with assistance from the rider and his acknowledgement of these preferences. Balance is what keeps the horse healthy, an even loading of each foot, each bone, tendon and muscle, will ensure there is no overexertion of either. Balance is physical balance of the horse, but also balance in his training and a resulting balance in his mind.

Back to the original pavement. Every tile is the same size, it doesn’t matter where exactly you put each of them. However, small irregularities might make them serve better when placed at a particular time and place, to improve the strength of the whole. Just like that, horse training is individualized and every horse will need different things at different times. That does not mean, though, that every horse’s path won’t need to be complete and laid entire to reach the end result: collection. Ability to carry both himself and the rider in a way that doesn’t harm him.

So, let’s stop laying only stepping stones and risking the health of our horses. It is each owner’s responsibility to care for their horse’s well-being, and correct, useful training is very much a part of that.

The pyramid in this article is sourced from

Jul 122013

With the explosive increase in people using social media, such as Facebook, I find myself being sent an array of video clips from You Tube. Usually these are accompanied by a message that says “Isn’t this amazing?”, “Isn’t this funny?” or “Isn’t this terribly cruel?”. However, often the message is totally inappropriate considering the content. Although the sender thinks I’ll be impressed, in the, grammatically incorrect, words of the song ‘It don’t impress me much’.

Flying donkey

One of the first things I was sent with a totally inappropriate comment was a photo of a donkey hitched to a cart with a load so heavy that the donkey is hanging in the air from his/her harness ( My friend sent me this picture with a message saying “This is so funny, I know you like donkeys so you’ll love this!”. I didn’t love it or find it amusing. It so vividly illustrates some of the problems working equines face – hard work, heavy loads, often in extremes of temperatures with little opportunity for shade or rest. Their owners are usually dependent on these animals to earn enough money to feed their families. I was shocked and saddened that this was being circulated as something funny – and that my friend thought that I’d actually like it!

Nearly 10 years later I had just started working at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and a video version of the same scenario was circulating – as a ‘funny video’ ( I wrote to one of the newspapers that was promoting it in their online video section: I highlighted the plight of the donkey in the scene and they replied saying that it’s what their readers enjoy! Judging by the thousands of views and comments, they were right.

Last year I was visiting The Palestinian Territories in my role at WSPA, working with the Palestine Wildlife Society in their community project to improve equine welfare. They are partnering with donkey owners in Bethlehem and surrounding areas to explore together what changes they could make to the way they manage and care for their donkeys, mules and horses to improve their welfare and quality of life. One of the community representatives approached me with a mobile phone and showed me the same video of the donkey mentioned above. I thought that he also finds it ‘funny’ and that I’d use the opportunity to discuss overloading with the owners. However, he showed me the clip and then said, through an interpreter, “Isn’t it so terrible? Does the owner not care? Does he know not to load the cart that much?” I was very moved – at least not everyone finds it amusing.

Does the means justify the end?

A more recent example of a video clip with an inappropriate message is a video of a horse competing at high level dressage. Apparently the horse was trained using clicker training and I was sent this as an example of something impressive because so many people know I promote reward-based training methods.

Watching the video I observed a highly stressed horse, mouthing, swishing tail, very tense. I was not impressed. “But he was trained using clicker training” – Don’t get me wrong I think that in the right hands clicker training can be a wonderful and positive training experience for human and horse. However, clicker training can also be done in a way that is not a positive experience for the horse. Maybe the horse had learnt some movements through clicker training, but was it done well? Did the trainer work for long periods frustrating the horse to get the desired movement? Was the horse given the opportunity to walk away to graze or have a break when he wanted to? The video showed a very ‘unhappy’ horse, irrespective of if clicker training was used.

Naturally nagged

A third, and final, example is a natural horsemanship video that was beautifully edited, with soulful music, showing a lady riding a horse bareback and bridle-less. The horse lies down on command and other similar tricks – accompanied by a message “How lovely, something for us all to aspire to”. Again, what does observing the horse tell us? To me the horse looked hyper-vigilant and tense, looking for every subtle cue from his owner. This is most likely the result of being trained so extensively using negative reinforcement that the horse has stopped thinking for himself or exercising choice and has become ‘shut down’, like a robot. Impressive perhaps – but only because this shows how horses can learn to respond to subtle cues.


Of course it is generally inappropriate to make assumptions about what happens during the rest of the animals’ lives and training sessions apart from just the few minutes in these videos. However, we should always encourage people to consider what the horses are telling us in such footage rather than the message from the person sharing it.

It is interesting and sad that people are so impressed by what we can make horses do and not by what they do just by being horses. Why do we find it so impressive when a human can train a horse lie down? Because people intrinsically know that as a prey species this is a big deal for a horse? Many people consider dressage to take the horse’s natural movement and put it under control of the rider. However, behaviour is only normal and natural if it is done in context and for the ‘normal’ amount of time. Thus a horse in a field spinning quickly to avoid a threat is natural, spinning repeatedly as a trick is not – yet people so often find such abnormal behaviour impressive.

So, what would impress me?

What would I forward on to other people as an impressive horsemanship? What would I aspire to? I think the answer goes something like this: A video clip showing a group of horses grazing in a large open space. A human approaches and one of the horses leaves the herd and approaches the person with relaxed body language suggesting this is because he wants to, not because he feels he has to. The horse is greeted with a big scratch. Then horse and owner walk off together, exploring the landscape, sometimes walking, sometimes riding. If they meet an obstacle that the horse is unsure of the human lets the horse take his time to consider the situation, rewards calm behaviour and they calmly continue on their way. The horse is allowed to graze and browse, the human might take time to photograph the landscape but the horse quietly waits because they are used to spending such calm time together and as such he isn’t having to watch the human for every small command she might give. This is the type of video I would think as something to aspire to – but I suspect it would never get a million hits on YouTube.

Jul 122013

The first question is why do we need anything other than the customary practice we’ve built up over the years? And the answer would be that many of those practices are remnants of a past that was radically different from today.
You only have to go back a little over a 100 years and the horse was still the single most important utility in human society. Large numbers of horses were used commercially, for transport and draft in and around towns and cities, requiring them to be kept locally and intensively. Large numbers of military horses were concentrated in cavalry line accommodation to allow for daily group training or immediate deployment.

Those conditions of use and the utility value of horses joined together to produce an attitude that was completely different to that of today: the following quote is from a recent book by Ann Norton Greene: By century’s end, the people driving the horses were in most cases mere employees, who thought of horses as company property. As managers demanded the hauling of larger and larger loads, the employees sometimes abused the horses to satisfy them. (1) Pretty much the whole focus of horse management during the age was how the greatest use could be made of the horse – and, once the horse is confined in a building behaviour becomes of less importance, except where it either interferes with or restricts use.

Go back further in history and we come to a time in which many horses were kept extensively by nomadic or semi nomadic peoples. Their survival required that they knew the horse in a very different way. Without fences and walls and gates your ability to manage and maintain a herd of horses for the use of your immediate or extended family depended entirely on how well you understand their behavior. Each day your primary task was to make certain the herd had sufficient feed and water, or you could expect them to voluntarily relocate! With the horses constantly moving they tended to stay far fitter and healthier, and there was far less need to protect the tough durable hoof that such movement produces. But competing stallions, geldings and mares need to be effectively managed, and in such a way that organized cavalry maneuvers can be mounted rapidly. Very little of the knowledge from this older past has trickled down, often because it was held by people with no written language – which is a great shame. There may be a lot more useful lessons to be learnt from those more distant times than from much closer history.

And so here we are at the present. We have a very different environment to that of the 1800 or 1900s. The commercial and military use of horses across the developed world has all but vanished. There is no longer the necessity for large groups of horses to be kept so close into towns and cities that they need to be managed intensively and in confinement. By contrast there are greater pressures on real estate, which, for a space hungry animal such as the horse, is a major threat. There are also developing concerns over the environment, requiring that we think about how horses fit into the larger, sustainable, picture. Plus there is the growing movement of people that want to connect with animals in a more open, respectful, practical and ethical way.
Arguably what we need is an up to date and complete philosophy suited to these present needs, rather than a mish-mash of customary practices from the past that reflect a different reality. Behavior based horse management (BBHM) is one attempt to create one.

You’ll note that the word ‘natural’ is completely absent so far – and for good reason, since the meaning is so very open to perception. For example ‘natural behaviors’ would likely refer to those found in an ethogram of a particular feral or semi-feral group – in a single, specific, environment. But whilst free expression of those behaviors has often been seen as synonymous with ‘good welfare’, the behaviors a native pony may need to carry out in the New Forest, or a brumby in the Australian outback, are not necessarily going to be the same as those of a fully domestic horse living in the suburbs of an industrial city. In each case what the horse needs is to carry out a package of behaviors that allow it to become functionally adapted to its specific environment. How natural or not those behaviors are, or by what standard they’re ‘naturalness’ might be judged is really irrelevant.

In any case for most horses it’s the human element within their environment that has by far the most powerful impact. And if the horse is going to survive in a domestic environment its ability to interact with people successfully is essential. There are behaviors that might work for feral horses but that don’t fit the majority of domestic environments. Encouraging the expression of a behavior from the ‘wild’, but that has a negative effect on the ability of the horse to function well in a domestic environment makes no good sense, no matter how ‘natural’ it might be.

BBHM operates on a principle, shared with conservationists and the organic movement (2), that what is needed is a caretaker, whose role is defined as “a human who assists animals in their daily interplay with their environment”. (3)
So the caretaker’s role is to assist the horse to adapt functionally, and fortunately horses are very adaptable creatures. Even so, there are going to be environments to which it is simply not possible for the horse to adapt, and in which it fails to function well. What makes sense in that situation is to acknowledge the reality, and move the horse out and into one where successful adaptation is possible. Across the remaining range of environments how much work the caretaker has to do will depend; in some the horses are going to need a lot of assistance to get through each day, in others far less.

So what would ‘successful adaptation’ mean? Let’s consider a horse kept primarily for riding. The horse will need to be healthy, and both physically strong and fit enough to carry the rider’s weight in comfort and safety. The horse’s senses need to be operating efficiently so that the horse is able to make decisions while being ridden that impact on rider safety. The horse needs to be well rested and in a well balanced emotional and psychological state in order to interact well with both the rider and the riding environment. Effective communication must exist between horse and rider, plus a co-operative attitude in which the horse carries out the movements that are communicated to it willingly – and for that to happen the attitude of the horse to that particular person, and really to people in general, has to be good. And obviously the adaptation should have some duration – so however the horse is kept it has to be sustainable over an extended period.

If they are to assist the horse to adapt functionally caretakers have to be able to design and manage environments that reliably produce the desired outcome. And for it to have widespread value it has to be done at a reasonable cost.

A majority of the horses that are slaughtered each year have failed to adapt in some way. Physical problems such as with feet from insufficient movement, or lower leg lameness’s from being put into work too early, allergic reactions to housing, obesity and other systemic issues from feed problems, plus the raft of psychological problems; dangerous or anti-social behavior, stereotypies, work intolerance, anxiety and depression. The aim of a philosophy like BBHM is to facilitate successful adaptation to the benefit of all involved – horse, people and the greater environment.

By Andy Beck

1. Norton Greene, A. (2008) HORSES AT WORK – Harnessing Power in Industrial America. Harvard University Press.
2. Algers, B. (1990) “Naturligt beteende – ett naturligt begrepp?.” Svensk Veterinartidning.
3. Segerdahl, P. (2006) Can natural behavior be cultivated? The farm as local human/animal culture. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2007) 20:167-193


Jul 122013

Just checking over the site as administrator, I noticed a couple o f draft articles lurking. They actually go back a couple of years but for some reason never got to the point where the “publish” button actually got pushed! So, with profound apologies to the authors – and I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are, except one of you is Suzanne – I shall do the honours and push that button…

Jul 042013

Ever wondered why you should always mount from the left, lead from the left, why in sports black saddles and brown warm blood horses of a certain size are favoured? Or why people call it horse sports but wear uniforms instead of comfortable sports gear? Ever wondered where sports such as competition dressage and show jumping came from? Then read on, for you are about to find out!
Many will tell you it all started with Xenophon, the Greek war general who was the first (that we know of) to pen a dressage and horse training manual. In fact horse sports did not start there at all; they only started much later in history. You see, up to the early 19th century horses were very important for people’s everyday life. It did not really matter what one did, a horse was almost always part of everyday living and surviving. People were mostly brought up with horses and communicating and working together came rather naturally from very young age. By working together constantly, human and horse would learn to cooperate side by side, simply by trial and error. Repeat what works, get rid of what does not. What people found out many centuries ago is, that when you just sit on a horse without certain preparation this horse will soon start to function less and less. The horses started to get physical problems which of course showed up in not being able to perform up to scratch. What people also found out is that you should wait at least until 5@half; years before you start preparing for ridden work and that stallions, because of their build and stamina, were most suitable. Besides that, all the mares were needed to bring up foals; after all for safe and light communication, one needs horses of excellent social upbringing.


The Friezes of the Parthenon in Athens, which I visited several times as a child, clearly show extremely collected horses on their haunches without bridle!

I imagine that horse trainers would have observed the horses in their herds and discovered what specific qualities those horses possessed that would function best under their riders. What they thus discovered was that those horses that were able to move their bodies in a certain way, were the ones who would perform best and last the longest as a riding horse. So a logical conclusion would have been to ask horses to perform these certain movements, which the best quality horses did, to see if that would improve their performance and withstand being ridden longer. Obviously, it did and the Gymnasium of the horse was born. You can read about it in Xenophon’s book ‘The Art of Horsemanship’ and many books of the so called ‘classical masters’ thereafter.

The art of war
Also, from Xenophon (and even before Kikuli) up to La Guérinière, we see that war training and horse training are interlinked, they are in fact one and the same thing. Within war it is obviously of vital importance to have outstanding communication with your horse that almost reacts to your thoughts. After all, you won’t last long in battle if you have to fight your horse as well as your opponent. Having said that, having a horse reacting to your thoughts is but a start, the next is that you have to have the horse’s thoughts as well. With that I mean that a thinking horse will also expand your lifespan. When being attacked from parts where you can not see but your horse can, would you rather have a horse who only acts on your commands, or a horse that reacts by getting away from every type of danger, whilst – mind you – keeping you on board. The ultimate war horse, called a ‘destrier’ would even protect his rider should he be slain and on the ground, by standing over him or by pulling him out of harms way by his garment.
Another example, this time of every day life. Towns were small and separated by enormous woods through which you had to travel, sometimes days on end. These woods were full of thieves, not all the likes of Robin Hood and his merry men, rest assured. So, if your horse did not want to go down some path and kept snorting and staring, it was to listen to one’s horse and choose a different path which the horse thought safe. The sum up, to have a long life you need a horse with which you have optimal communication, thatis healthy, agile and strong and that thinks! As it obviously takes time to get to this level of partnership, starting afresh with a new horse was not that evident. So the Gymnasium was designed to keep horses healthy, thinking and communicating for the many years to come. From the start of training at 5½ years preferably up to an age of 25 to 30. Still really common in places like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, for instance.

Xenophon’s thoughts on the subject:
“But whoever would desire to have a horse serviceable for war, and at the same time of a stately and striking figure to ride, must abstain from pulling his mouth with the bit, and from spurring and whipping him; practices which some people adopt in the notion that they are setting their horses off; but they produce a quite contrary effect from that which they intend.”
“For by pulling the mouths of their horses, they blind them when they ought to see clearly before them, and they frighten them so much by spurring and striking them, that they are confused and run headlong into danger; acts which distinguish such horses as are most averse to being ridden, and as conduct themselves improperly and unbecomingly. “
“But if a rider teach his horse to go with the bridle loose, to carry his neck high, and to arch it from the head onwards, he would thus lead him to do everything in which the animal himself takes pleasure and pride.”
“That he does take pleasure in such actions, we see sufficient proof; for whenever he approaches other horses, and especially when he comes to mares, he rears his neck aloft, bends his head gallantly, throws out his legs with nimbleness, and carries his tail erect.”
“When a rider, therefore, can prompt him to assume that figure which he himself assumes when he wishes to set off his beauty, he will thus exhibit his steed as taking pride in being ridden, and having a magnificent, noble, and distinguished appearance.”


This section of the Bayeux tapestry shows the battle of Hastings in 1066. The reins hang slack and often are not held at all. The front and hind legs at the same level suggests terre-a-terre.

Cannon Fodder
This was all fine in man-to-man battle until in the early nineteenth century when warfare changed. Heavy artillery was the new deal and all these horses that were brought up with such care and had so many years of careful training died by the masses. Years of work gone in minutes. Everything changed there and then: it was painfully clear this era of intelligent horse training was over. There was no time for long training and above all, it was not needed! For horses would not come back from the battlefield and if they did, they would often only be good as meat to feed the soldiers. So, to save time they now started the training with foals of 2½ years. Not much preparation at all, just saddle on, lunge and rider on, done. Of course, this would destroy any horse in due time, but who cared? The horse was not meant to last. An other advantage is that a young child of 2½ is much easier to bully around and brainwash than a 5½ year old agile stallion. After all, galloping towards cannon fire does not seem like and intelligent thing to do, and it isn’t. So intelligent, self-preserving horses were not a choice; on the contrary! Now horses were needed that did not think for themselves and complied with every order, no matter how stupid or dangerous. For this purpose the army needed horses that did not offer any objections whatsoever, which became the new purpose of training. Horses who acted like machines to all commands. To reach this goal, stallions were no longer used. Geldings started at an early age, 1½ to 2 years. Mares were used as well. There was a vast demand for horses now as they did not last long anymore. The social upbringing of horses was no longer valued so much, so the foals were taken away from their mother at 6 months as opposed to staying in the herd for years as was common in the past. The training now had one prime directive: complete and utter obedience. Or in other words, to train cannon fodder. To get that obedience it was vital to break any resistance (thus thinking in fact) by a constant demand for precisely that which the horse did not want to do. For instance, a horse did not want to canter, then the riding soldier was commanded to use violence by putting spur and whip to the horse until it cantered and then keep it cantering for as long as the rider wanted. Of course the obvious reason for a horse not to canter would be that his body was not strong, supple and straight enough, nor mature. But again, that did not matter anymore. A horse spooked somewhere? Beat him towards that spot. This was all just preparing for artillery warfare. Or in short, training cannon fodder.


British cavalry rider from 1842, sitting behind the movement therefore hindering his horse, and pulling his horse behind the vertical with the reins.

Being the army and liking things uniform, horses were preferred to be the same height and the same colour. Bay was more available than black; grey was not practical and red blood is such a dramatic sight on a white horse, it could lower moral. In training, all riders would lead from the left, mount from the left because their weapon would hang left and above all, in exercises horses would all need to be ridden in the same head set. Head down would prevent the horse from looking around. It is far more easy to dominate a horse who can not actually look around. Now tell me, by reading this, does it all seem familiar? Of course from the late nineteenth century horses became less and less important in warfare. The lieutenants and generals however kept horses for inspecting troops and keeping fit. Busy bees as these high officers were between battles they would start holding contests to show off how obedient their horses really were. These horses were so obedient that they could pull off movements that almost looked like some high school movements! Of course, trampling on the spot is not piaffe, so levade could never follow as the horse is in contra-collection. The horse would sooner stand on his head than on his hind legs, from this contra-balance. Shoulder-in could only be performed on 3 tracks not 4, simply because it was not really a shoulder-in, but just a form of yielding along the track. For a true shoulder in, a horse needs to be able to lift the shoulders and that is impossible when not being prepared from early and correct training. All the high school movements were gone… a true piaffe and levade is the door to the airs; cannon fodder was never able to reach a performance like that. From this cannon fodder training modern horse sports and school riding developed. It is all about showing how obedient your horse is and what a rider can let him do, inspite of the horse itself. The cannon fodder training is therefore constantly present all around us and riders, just like the soldiers and their horses then, do not think about what is healthy, sane, logical or even fun. They all keep up this training without questioning why, looking at the old master’s training as if they were aliens or even worse… do not even know they existed. I once spoke with a well known grand prix dressage rider about Riding Art and he had never heard of La Guérinière, nor of Antoin de Pluvinel. He did not know what Levade or terre a terre was. I was shocked… to me that is like being a painter and not knowing who Rembrand or Rubens were! Or a chef who has never heard of Michelin stars! What would you think of such painters or chefs? Would you expect any good work from them? Not me.
So to complete this – alas- ever so true saga, I would like everyone to ask themselves one question:
Are you training your horse for the benefit of both of you, or are you training cannon fodder?