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INTERPRETING HORSE BODY LANGUAGE
Horses clearly don't speak in fact rarely vocalise anything when it comes to communicating especially with humans. Sure they use body 'language' but let's be careful how we interpret that. 'Language' is a very emotive word and carries all sorts of connotations that body 'language' simply does not live up to. There are all sorts of ways a horse communicates with its body but as humans we do not have an innate understanding of these as we are a different species. Ask 10 people what they think a horse is saying and you will probably get at least 8 different answers. Firstly, context is key. What is currently going on and what happens immediately afterwards are very important signals. Horses don't have the human cerebral cortex and therefore are beautifully in the now. They are of course unconsciously formed and controlled by prior experience and genetic patterns but cannot and do not consciously link one with another although it may look like that. This is why we end up teaching horses often the very thing we don't want to. Every interaction you are teaching them to do or not do something whether you like it or not.
In my experience you need to take a variety of body signals into consideration (and the before and after) in order to correctly interpret a signal. Recently, I got on a very nervous horse, who was licking and chewing and had its right hind 'cocked' in the 'relaxed' position. We took this as a good sign that she was indeed relaxed but as it happens was still very nervous. It turns out the cocked hind leg in this instance was not a sign of her being relaxed but of being immediately ready to move off. In this instance the tail also showed signs of being 'nervous' and the rest of her face was also showing some signs of nervousness.
The moral of the story for me was a) take ALL the signs into consideration and b) always go with your gut in the end which in this case was telling us that she was still very nervous but one of the 'key' body signs we thought was telling us the opposite.
I like to revisit what I consider to be truths every now and then just to check I got it right and see if there is anything else to learn. I am in the process of rebacking a nervous 9 yo mare with a friend and it has just reinforced for me the importance of 'working' with your horse from a young age to avoid all sorts of problems later. Briefly the potted history: The horse in question was unworked for 4 years or so then worked a little over the next year or so but already terrified of most things. The backing process was then started at which point said mare had 2 riders on the ground. Mare bucked off 2 experienced riders and went to another professional rider for 8 days but had him off regularly too. She was hacked out by the owner intermittently but only walk and trot for a good while after which for various reasons the mare was put out in the field for another 1 1/2 years. I came across her now about 8 weeks ago and started the full backing process about 6 weeks ago. We started from the beginning again and got on her after 3 weeks or so and she was brilliant. Unfortunately she regressed for no obvious reason and another 3 weeks later we got back on and now I think we have broken the back of her problems. This should never have happened of course. Techniques like Join Up or all the other various wonderful ways would be completely unnecessary if we just brought up our horses from the very beginning to behave properly and did 'work' early on (this does NOT mean riding, in fact I think it is difficult to justify riding a horse let alone competitively as a 2 year old or even frankly as a 3 year old and then it must be done with great care and understanding. BTW, I think this is the main cause of Kissing Spines, riding a horse too early.).
So, yes, early, consistent, sensitive work, particularly for a sensitive/low confidence horse like this is invaluable and saves many problems later, many of which unfortunately now will probably remain for the rest of her life, just like with children who don't get that necessary early grounding. Speak to us if you need horses backed or rebacked or just need some good, old-fashioned behavioural work.
STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW
This motto is something that I (and many others) have trouble abiding by. And when you are dealing with horses it's even more difficult and even more important. Firstly the horse cannot gives its opinion and secondly because of that people can accuse you of all sorts of things and really all you can do is argue back or ignore the criticism. For any of you that know Gerd Heuschmann (if you don't, look him up) he was vilified when a part video of him working with a remedial horse went online. They had got completely the worng end of the stick, had not understood what he was (and did) genuinely trying to achieve and was vilified by certain people for it. We all have to develop our own ways of doing things based on research, experience, our personality, the horses we are working with and what we are trying to achieve. When I first started out on the professional part of my horse career I did a talk to a group of horsey women near Limoges in France. It just ended up in them throwing lots of abuse at me. I vowed never to do anything similar again. All that matters at the end of the day is results. Listen to your horse and let him teach you and let what everyone else says wash over you. DO NOT ENGAGE! You are on a hiding to nothing as what you do can never be corroborated by the horse except in its way of going and behaviour. There are 2 things close to my heart right now that exemplify how important this is. KS (Kissing Spines) and the Pessoa.
Let's take KS first. There's a great operation now available (at the cost of many 1000's of pounds but, hey, the insurance pays so who cares?), the so-called 'lig snip'. I love that phrase. It sounds so small and insignificant but this involves severing the joining ligaments of the spinous processes and then often shaving the overlapping bones sometimes by a couple of cm or more. Given that this is a physical process and a relatively simple one, this should work close to 100% of the time barring very poor surgery. But the reality is that it is about 70% successful which begs the question why? Well, this is because KS is a symptom not a cause. In this case you can shave the offending bones which are rubbing together and cut the ligaments between the spinous processes so they regrow a little longer and the horse can go completely differently but you haven't sorted out the problem. The horse wasn't born with it so why has it happened now? That's what our job is and we have had experience now of 10 KS horses none of which have had surgery and all of which are back in work often at a much higher level than they were doing prior to the diagnosis. Have a look at our website for more information about what we do.
So, the Pessoa. The bete noire of horse training tools. "It's so hard and harsh", they say. "It forces the horse to go behind the bit", they say. "Gerd Heuschmann really hates it" they say as justification. As with any tool it is only as good as the hands that use it and this is the key with the pessoa. Most people buy one off the shelf with no training and are simply trying to force their horse 'into an outline'. But the problem is they haven't learned how to use it properly and in the wrong hands you can ruin a horse in 5 minutes. It's like buying a car without learning how to drive and like driving a car it can in fact be dangerous for the horse too. In fact, better still, it's like buying a car without knowing the highway code and what the car is for. The Holy Grail of developing a horse is not what it looks like but how it is moving. The fact that a horse looks great when it is moving well is not the point. This is usually based on years of proper work.
So, my advice, is go with your instincts, establish your base principles and let everything you do chime to those principles and let the results do the talking. And of course ALWAYS be prepared to LEARN but not by throwing away what you know and going with the latest and greatest but by putting aside what you know for a while and then properly evaluating the new knowledge. Assimilate the good and leave the rest.
LET HORSES BE HORSES-1
There are of course many similarities between humans and horses. We are part of the same kingdom (Animals), are mammals, have muscles and so on. But there are clearly also big differences and in this series of articles I want to talk about a few of them. Imagine if you put us out in a field and told us that would be where we would be for the rest of our lives apart from the occasional ride out with another animal on our back pushing and prodding us around. We clearly wouldn't last very long and would indeed become bored (not least!) and look for any way we could to escape. I was wondering today if horses do actually get bored. Of course one of the main problems we have with horses is that we cannot verifiably communicate directly with them so everything we say is interpretation at some level. We often talk about making training sessions interesting or ensuring the horse doesn't get bored but what is that based on? What could be more boring than eating for 12-16 hours a day? In our opinion horses can't get bored as this requires a different type of intelligence which animals don't have (not saying good or bad just that they don't). They are always in the now. They have to be. They are still wild at heart and must always be on the look out for predators. When we are working with them they have not the faintest idea what is going to happen from one moment to the next: first this way, then that. Stop. Go. Walk. Canter. Trot. Left, right etc. You get the picture. Humans can try for a while to be in the now but the cerebral cortex usually gets in the way unless you are a monk or ascetic living in a cave in the Himalayas. It is this ability to be in the now that means they cannot get bored. If you think about it boredom comes from wishing you were somewhere else doing something more interesting imagining a different time or place, wanting to be somewhere different possibly with someone different.
SAMSARA'S UNIQUE MUSCLE THERAPY
In our unique muscle therapy, we use a recipe, probably based on an old gypsy recipe, which uses a combination of a variety of herbs/plants. It is very successful in sorting out soft-tissue damage. Originating from teh days when your horse was your livelihood and vets weren't around or if they were they were not affordable, it was vital you had remedies that work. What confuses me a bit is why 'scientists' are so sceptical when it comes to herbal/plant-based remedies. Over time about 50% of the most commonly used medicines originate from molecules first discovered in plants, often from old remedies. In fact, if the internet can be believed over 80% of new molecules in the current fight against cancer come from plants. I was watching the BBC's Shark programme yesterday, and they were talking about the unique attributes of shork skin, one of which is that NOTHING, not even BACTERIA can stick to it. Isn't that amazing?...well maybe not. Animals have had a lot longer to develop than we have and it is no surprise to me at all that nature keeps coming up with the goods. Check out our website at www.samsara-equitation.co.uk for more information on our unique muscle therapy.
ISSUES WITH YOUR HORSE?
Before looking into all sorts of weird and wonderful solutions, supplements, operations etc try thinking how you different you feel when you are really fit (or not as the case may be). I know that I feel a whole lot better, stronger and more able to 'push' when I am fundamentally fit and how much more so with horses. Make sure a significant part of your training goes to keeping your horse appropriately fit. By the way it is OK for your horse to sweat and pant. It's good for the system and is the way you increase fitness. Of course if your horse has not been worked for a while you need to build up slowly but your horse can do a lot more exercise than you are probably doing. Schooling sessions are all very well but 2-3 times a week of a fully concentrated schooling session is more than enough with the rest as good, long rides out over varying ground and terrain. A general good level of fitness will not only help your horse ride better but keep him more healthy and happy and less prone to injury.
CHARLIE COMES 2ND IN HIS FIRST EVER TEST
Great news at the weekend. We came 2nd on Charlie's first ever test. Watch the video on Youtube. Really pleased for everyone involved.
WHAT DO HORSES THINK?
I think a lot when I am around my horses and am constantly challenging my thinking and checking in 'Does it make sense?'. We have not the feintest idea what horses actually think so I try and come from a horse's perspective. As a prey animal it's abssolute priority is security. Without this of course nothing else matters. Then sustenance and finally procreation. Now I keep all my sport's horses stabled except for a good hour or 2 of work 6 days a week. None of them have stable vices, they are all polite and well-behaved. Add to that when I let them out the stable loose they will happily wander back in again after a short while it makes me think. For a human of course nothing could be worse than being 'imprisoned' in a stable. But that's just it it is the human perspective. Yes, but horses have long legs and need to move all the time. But the long legs are for running from predators. The ancestors of the modern horse were small, short-legged beasts. And then a horse came to me recently who I know well and had been with me 7 months ago for training. When he came back this time he was very nervy but after just a day or 2 back in the stable he is his old self. And that got me thinking what had happened? Well, out in the field (remember the horse can't logicalise) he is exposed to danger the whole time and must be constantly on his guard. In the stable, he is safe and as long as he has company, is well-nourished and exercised regularly why would he want to go anywhere else, or at least, it clearly doesn't harm him. Now I am not saying that turnout is not a good thing, just musing on a myth that horses must be turned out as much as possible in order to be content. Next time you observe your horses turned out take a look. They eat for up to 16 hours a day, rest and stand doing not much for the majority of the time: no videos, no books, no holidays. They're not human and I believe as horsemen the onerous is on us to keep that front and centre when we work them. Next week i'm going to talk more about poor behaviour and nervousness and what might cause it. A recent insight I had has taken me quite by surprise...
FLAME GOING STRONGER THAN EVER 18 MONTHS ON
And so 18 months on not only is the wild dream for Shabs and her horse Flame a reality but now things previously thought just not possible are all of a sudden becoming very real. Watch the video here of her very first walk and trot test with this once dangerous horse with a severe KS diagnosis: Flame doing his first walk and trot test.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CHELATED CALCIUM IN A HORSE'S DIET
This is an interesting video on the importance of a specific nutrient, chelated calcium, in the horse's diet. We all pay lip service to the 'we are what we eat' mantra, but really we are and so too horses. What are horses eat can have a profound effect on behaviour, locomotion issues and any other problem with any bodily system because each system of course requires certain combinations of nutrients to work optimally. For us, nutrition is the first port of call when we get a new horse in. Of course changing a horse's nutrition will usually not show significant effects for a month or two but as this video shows it's well worth it. Check the teeth regularly, do annual FWC's and worm regularly. Make sure you feed concentrates with at least as much forage well mixed in as the horse's stomach deals badly with the high acidity that digesting grains requires and do a blood test every now and then and particularly if your horse is having issues.
Fiona Price of Horsehero.com brings her horse Taz for therapy
We (Samsara) have made good progress so far over the 2 years we have been back in the UK with our unique muscle therapy and rehab program. We have had some great stories but we are really excited about our latest horse, Taz. He is the proud mount of Fiona Price (of Horse hero fame - www.horsehero.com) and we are very privileged that she has chosen us to sort out Taz's final niggles. He has come a long way since this photo when she first got him. He is now on the World Class Squad for endurance competing at 2* level (120K) but that last 5-10% in his body somewhere is holding him back. You can follow his progress so far in Fiona's blog on Horse Hero (http://www.horsehero.com/celebrity-blog?CelebId=1671) and there are videos of him on the site (http://www.horsehero.com/video-search?keywords=Taz). Mostly our stories so far have involved horses which have been written off. To go from not rideable to rideable is an obvious difference but the proof of the pudding with Taz will be in the eating, as they say, and that won't be until he starts performing at the peak level again in 6 months' time or so. Fingers crossed and watch this space! (See below for pics of when Fiona got him - left - and riding in endurance competition - right.)
Horse Winter Insulation
Now that the colder weather (and worse wet) has finally arrived in earnest we are all looking at rugs and how to keep our horses comfortable. It is the combination of wind and wet that is really the one to look out for. We have no idea how well insulated a horse is in fact. Even a clipped horse still has those amazing fine hairs next to their skin which still provide a lot of insulation. I've often wondered is there any way we could find out for ourselves how insulating it is. We humans with our relatively fine head hairs and little else besides. Blankets, because they squash down the hairs they are resting on can provide less additional insulation than you might think. I have read a figure of as little as 15% extra. For me the key things to do are make sure you feed extra when it is cold, fresh water slightly warmed if possible (you can get devices which buried deep in the ground provide enough of a temperature difference to lightly heat the water a few degrees) and protection from the wind and rain. And you must always remember that if you start rugging you have to continue.
VET CORROBORATES SAMSARA KS WORK
It is with huge pride that we have our first veterinary endorsement of our work. Here's the quote in full:
"I've known 'Flame' for many years when concerns of his movement and top line started to arise back in May last year. Subsequently my investigation brought to light that this lovely Thoroughbred gelding was suffering from impingement of several dorsal spinous processes ('kissing spines') throughout his thoracic and lumbar spine. As I believe that surgical removal of these processes will only lead to a significant destabilisation of the horse's back I agreed to the owner's request to try and rehabilitate him at the Samsara Equitation Centre.
Having seen him during several re-examinations a year later I am impressed with his abilities to hold his core muscles and move through his back and abdominal line. Repeat radiographs have not shown any further deterioration. The horse is again able to enjoy ridden work, thanks to the professional rehabilitation programme and his dedicated owner."
Ralph Hege DVM MRCVS, Galley Hill Equine Surgery
FIRST SAMSARA TRAINING CLINIC A SUCCESS
Our first Riding and Training Clinic went really well on Saturday. We had 2 horses after 2 pulled out late on but the feedback was good and the results were excellent. Here's what one owner said:
"Thanks for your hard work today. It was so reassuring and encouraging to see the trust, respect and bond Squirrel is developing with you even in such a short time. You have a real talent and I'm so hopeful that you can help us both." Lindsay Woodford.
Watch this space for further clinics later in the year.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS WITH REGARDS THE INFORMATION YOUR VET HAS ON YOUR HORSE
It is worth knowing your rights when it comes to vets and your information such as x-rays and the like. Most are very happy to give you what you ask for but some like to throw their weight around. Check out our link on this (Requesting information from your Vet) but in short if you paid for x-rays they are YOURS and the vet must give you a copy. Even if you didn't pay, you can request a copy through a freedom of information request at a cost of no more than £10. So now you know!
HEUSCHMANN says "Good Job!"
Went to a riding clinic yesterday with Gerd Heuschmann on a horse which came to us a year ago with Kissing Spines. Clinic was great and GH rode him and was very impressed that a year on he can feel no evidence of KS in the way the horse moves and behaves. Job Done!! He'll be leaving us soon now that our work is done. We shall miss him but wish him luck in his new life.
5 YEAR-OLD SPICE FINDS A HOME
Spice, the 5 yeard old mare, we had in for backing over Christmas, has found a great home. She was barely with us 4 weeks and went from a trembling wreck to a horse who could stand for 20 minutes whilst humans chatted without getting stroppy, Well done to Becky Gooch for rescuing her from teh butcher's and fulfilling her 2013 (yes) New Year's resolution. Read the case study to find out more.
BOBTAIL ENTERED IN 1.10PM AT CHEPSTOW ON JAN 17TH
One of the first horses we worked with in the UK, Bobtail, a 3 year-old gelding at the time, has been entered for his first race in the 1.10pm at Chepstow on Jan 17th. Might be worth a flutter!
KISSING SPINES CAN BE HELPED WITH REHAB ALONE
A recent article in this month's Horse and Hound vindicates Samsara's approach to Kissing Spines in horses. It talks first of a new less invasive procedure to cure this painful condition but it starts off saying that a vet in Sweden is having good success without surgical intervention. To quote the article:
"Equine surgeon Bruce Bladon points out that a colleague in Sweden who has operated on a lot of kissing spines cases has more recently had excellent results — without surgery — with horses sent to a rider experienced in equine rehabilitation and re-schooling.
Certainly we know that with our unique muscle therapy and then good rehab to teach the horse to work in a proper outline and build its core strength excellent long-term results can be achieved. You can read the full article by clicking H&H Kissing Spines article.
Samsara Muscle Therapy Qualifies for Insurance
Great news. It's official that the Samsara Muscle Therapy qualifies for insurance as long as you have veterinary sign-off. Pass it on!
Horse Magazine Article July 2013
HORSE magazine ran a 5 page feature on us in July's issue. I still can't quite believe they want to write about what we do but here you have it in black and white (well, full colour actually!)!
WHAT'S IN A WEEK?
Well, a completely new horse if Jodi Sinclair's experience with Henry is anything to go by. The diagnosis was Kissing Spines and the solution either an expensive surgery or putting out to grass neither of which appealed to Jodi. 1 week and £150 later she has what she and her friend describe as a difference horse. Read her feedback here.
KS HORSE IS BETTER - IT'S OFFICIAL
Well it's now official. Remember the horse with Kissing Spines? It has recently become an Elite KWPN mare. We're all so chuffed. X-rays are clear and she is showing no signs of pain. Not bad for a horse classed as dangerous and recommended for the great stable in the sky!
TO BUTE OR NOT TO BUTE!
...that is the question! :) I have long be against the use of any drug just for the short term release of pain especially where it replaces the search and resolution of the deep, root cause. Bute these days is used almost without thinking on horses with pain. This article is a very interesting rebuttal of its use by a well-known US vet.
HORSE MAGAZINE ARTICLE
Read Kerry Turner's excellent article on Horse Muscle Management in Horse Magazine's April 2013 issue. It was inspired by a visit to our yard. Here's the link to the website: http://www.horsemagazine.co.uk/. Thanks Kerry!
HORSE MUSCLE MANAGEMENT
Read Kerry Turner's great article about how best to manage your horse's muscles.
8 YEAR-OLD 'NO HOPE' GELDING GETS A LIFELINE
We have already taken on our first horse in Wales for rehabilitation. His story is very typical. When he was bought he already almost certainly had a problem which turned out more severe than at first thought. After 4 years of searching and trying every option his owner had all but given up hope until she saw our advert last month. He had been seen by vets, trainers and other experts but unfortunately although something was clearly wrong no-one could find the cause. Now, don't get me wrong, not every horse can be helped but MANY horses can in particular where they have unexplained lameness or poor performance. This horse can too and should be back in normal work within 2 months. Watch this space for regular updates.
HOW TO BALANCE YOUR HORSE - 5-DAY WORKSHOP
Feb 3rd-8th 2013 and Feb 17th-22nd. Samsara is delighted to announce it is hosting a workshop by the Dutch dressage rider, Monique De Rijk (http://www.atletischerijkunst.nl). She was trained as an instructor by the well-known Belgian trainer Antoine De Bodt (http://www.hoefkatrol.be). In this workshop you will learn how to balance your horse, what can happen if she isn't balanced and how to correct it. You will also learn practical exercises which you can use to continue your development at home. Practical videos will also be made available online to all attendees. £350 for a 5 day course. Food and accommodation is not included. You are encouraged to bring your own horse but it is not necessary. Horses can be stable in our yard for £10 a day all-inclusive. Click here for a practical demonstration of what can happen in a short space of time.
Click here for a full brochure of the course.
SAMSARA MOVE TO WALES
Samsara are moving to Wales on November 15th 2012. We will keep you posted on developments. Our new address will be Cabalva Farm, near Hay-on-Wye.
VIGO BOUGHT By CIAN O'CONNOR .
For 3 months our stallion Vigo (out of Voltaire and Concorde and Ragna II) has been ridden in competition by Jean Charles Pirot a young, talented and ambitious French rider. Vigo is a perfect example of our philosophy in practice. Vigo was given to us by a top Dutch horse dealer as a 6 year-old as everything else they had tried to fix him had not worked. As a 3 year-old he had reached the 2nd stage of the KWPN stallion approval process only to have an serious accident in his stable. He kicked his hind leg through the bars and although he got it out he required surgery to the injury on his leg. As a result of box rest he got a severe colic and was once again operated on. Thereafter he recovered only to be permanently lame. Every option was tried but to no avail. The wound has healed perfectly but the lameness would not budge. What his problem was that he had severely torn the muscles in his left hind quarters. After 3 months of treatment with us he was no longer lame and was gradually brought on and back into competition.
Every horse requires a team around him in order to bring out the best and in particular early diagnosis and treatment of small problems is essential to long term success. Vigo was recently bought by the top Irish showjumper, Cian O'Connor, and we wish Vigo and Cian every success in their new partnership. Here are a couple of videos on Youtube of Vigo and Jean Charles Pirot in action:
BOLERO THE FOAL RECOVERS FULLY
Bolero the foal (Watch the video on Youtube), who was born on July 12th 2010, has now staged a complete recovery from the horrific injury he suffered shortly after birth. We used hot water and Samsara disinfectant to tend the wound over a period of about 6 weeks and he is now completely recovered with hardly a scar. Watch the video on Youtube and click here to for further information on the disinfectant we use for severe flesh wounds.