Horse Agility

 A new and exciting sport

 Is your horse playful, energetic and looking for fun?

 

There is a new sport called Horse Agility quickly growing in popularity in the UK and across Europe. In horse agility the horse has to negotiate a number of obstacles at the handler’s request.

 The Horse Agility Club was set up by Vanessa Bee of Positive Horsemanship in the UK.

Laura Domenica from Connected Horsemanship is an accredited HAAT (Horse agility accredited trainer) and will be setting up Horse Agility club of Ireland training days all over Ireland and running competitions

We will shortly have a Horse Agility Club of Ireland Facebook page. Please have a look and if you like what you see give us the thumbs up “LIKE “

 Theree are five horse agility levels.

Starter level–   easy obstacles designed to instil confidence and courage into horse and handler.

First level – similar but with slightly more difficult obstacles.

 Medium level– as above, but against the clock

 Advanced level –   as above and against the clock but with one obstacle that is a wild card and has not been seen by competitors before.

 Freestyle Agility – at medium level but horse is completely free and works loose over the course under the direction of the handler.

 Wild Agility- a course of 12 natural obstacles over at least 5km competed against the clock, horse on bridle and light lead rope.

 Check out horse agility club of Great Britain www.horseagility.co.uk 

 If anyone is interested in hosting a horse agility training workshop please contact me as soon as possible as the diary will fill up quickly        

                                                         

 Here are some pictures of my horse Winner; he’s only just started his freestyle agility training

  

  

 

 

Please check the website for the dates of the training workshops

  

forst trsaing shop in ballybrack Co cork on sunday 20th feb 

then ennis co clare Sunday 27th feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.connectedhorsemanship.com

info@connectedhorsemanship.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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photos to follow 

A few days ago i received a phone call from a lovely lady who had an international clinician booked to do a full day demo in aid of the Louth ISPCA. Sadly the gentleman in question appeared to  be having problems with his visa and at the nth hour could not come.  Susan o Gorman the organiser initially  didn’t know what she was going to do; the beautiful Ravensdale Equestrian Centre in Dundalk was booked, expectant owners of the problem horses were booked in, spectators tickets had been bought in advance, a round pen hired, seating arranged… what was she to do at this late hour??

Well I guess she did what most of us would do, she got on the internet and looked for a replacement! 

I’m delighted to say that Susan found me and i agreed at short notice to rearrange a lessons and do the demo.

I arrived at 9am in driving rain to find a great round pen erected outside and all the seating too. Fortunately Ravansdale is big and the smaller of the two indoor arenas was not being used, so the owners allowed us to set up camp in there, although we did so without the round pen. I like using a round pen, it is a very useful piece of equipment,     but in Ireland if you cannot do the same job at the end of a rope you will be hard pushed to find enough work. So while I enjoy  teaching round pen techniques, it is good to be able to  teach people how to work with their horses in the bridle and on the lunge, to achieve the same result.

 There were five horses lined up, the first horse in was a beautiful thoroughbred who the rider had no problem riding inside and who was show jumped but who was nervy and inconsistent  when taken to new places. This horse was pretty cooperative or at least gave that impression but his less than best effort at “making an effort” meant that he perhaps did not truly believe in his handlers ability to be his leader. As a result when the going got slighty tougher the horses lack of trust would manifest itself. The key for this rider was to become much more aware of his horses  “in-attention” and react by constantly calling the horse’ s attention back to him by whatever means were suitable in the circumstance,  be it by moving him , touching him , using his name, using his leg .In addition he needed to know when the horse was giving less than his best effort and ask for more. At the end of the day the rider had his horse going forward, through his back, and on the aids. They looked beautiful together.  

 The second horse was a trotter who had five gaits. Horse like this are challenging to retrain as riding horses but this little horse was capable of trotting and cantering. This horse presented a great opportunity for me to show the audience how so-called  behaviour problems can be caused by the horse being very out of balance under the rider. When he was ridden he would go way above the contact or  take the bit in his mouth and tank off, he was so straight in his body that he was like a spinning top that would fall over if it didn’t keep moving, and move he did, turning corners like a bus out of control. I explained to the audience that horses have to be aligned in their bodies to be in balance and lack of balance can affect horses in two ways, some horses wont go and some horse can’t stop. both are symptoms of the same lack of balance.

I demonstrated how teaching the little horse to yield his hind end and move his shoulders and to back up gave him the feeling of my being in control of his movement. This allowed him to relax and trust me and as a direct consequence his inverted spine and stiff shape began to change as his body began to bend laterally and relax. I rode him showing the audience how the rider has to align the shoulders with the hindquarters, while  keeping my core aligned with the horses spine. I explained that fighting the bend of the horse is not something you can do without causing distress while  aligning the shoulders with the hind end will always cause less problems than the other way around.The owner was shown how to do “in hand “work with this little horse to facilitate bend and balance and his head became low and he relaxed and he yawned a lot. Given time this little horse with the astonishing blue eyes will learn to move like this under saddle too. 

The third horse was a very sweet older horse who was somewhat introverted, he did a lot of licking and chewing during our session and i spent a lot of time drawing his head end and pushing his flanks and hindquarters. This horse gave me the opportunity to show the audience how much horses hate having energy sent to their head area, they find it invasive and threatening. This was a lovely sensitive horse who was looking for leadership but who had become a bit distressed with all the confusing signals he’d been trying to decipher over the years. I helped his rider with her ability to offer him the correct rhythm by controlling the speed of her rising trot, she needed to spend more time in the sit phase of the rising trot and achieving this helped the horse to slow down and come in balance. They did some lovely work  under saddle at the end and this showed what a nice mover the horse was.

The fourth horse was a very large two and a half-year old irish draft cross called Nelson. He was gorgeous. The youngster unlike some of the older horses was totally unphased by his new environment and being very inquisitive decided to roll when he saw the sand, investigate the jump stands and then the audience taking his poor owner along for the ride. This youngster gave me the opportunity to show the audience how to use my  body language like another horse and herd the youngster from behind  aiming my energy into his flanks and at this hindquarters to turn him and stop him running off. He very quickly came to heel and it was interesting for the audience to see how quickly and easily the untouched horse can change when he  has no  learned behaviour or habitual brace from interacting with man. His owner was very pleased when Nelson walked calmly out of the arena by his side.

The last horse was another beautiful TB ex nat hunt horse who was very spooky outside. When i produced a plastic bag, I can honestly say i have only seen one horse more extreme than this horse. His ability to go from completely calm and level-headed to extreme prey animal instinctive behaviour in a heartbeat was awesome. He really could lose the plot and i could see why he was called dangerous at times. This  beautiful horse  gave me the opportunity to show the audience how important it is to keep your emotions  under control to help the horse in times of need. i explained how perfect harmony between you and your horse in terms of energy could be described thus

Imagine total harmony between  you and your horse, in terms of energy, is depicted as  the number “twenty”, 10 energy coming from the horse and 10 from you the handler. 

What happens when, as in this case when the horse spikes right up to an “eighteen?” where does your energy as the handler have to go to maintain harmony?

The audience of course gave me the correct answer, your energy of course must go down to a” two.”

This is of course the challenge facing all of us in dealing with this type of situation for so often our energy goes up with the horse’s energy. It is our ability to stay calm in the face of the storm that centres the horse again. I was glad that my years of training enabled me to offer this to this horse.

All these horses and this demo were special moments for me that made all the training, the tears, the frustration, the feeling of “will i ever be good enough”, the ache to be good enough, the desire to keep training, yes today it was all worth it.

It took me a long time to get to the stage where i really enjoy the journey, a journey with no end, that what keeps my work  fascinating

Thankyou everyone who came to participate and to watch, you taught me a lot and i  couldn’t do it without you.

Why use a round pen?

Let us look at the dynamics of round pen and why it is a useful tool in helping us shape the behaviour of the horse.

The horse’s needs

We’ll start by looking first at the needs of the horse. The horse has survived as a species for 55 million years, that’s seven times longer than us. During this time it survived by living in herds and running away from predators. In the wild, and in the domesticated horse, herd dynamics control the behaviour of horses. The existence of a hierarchy within the herd is an important part of this dynamic and allows decisions to be made regarding safety, feeding and breeding.    

 

Horses by nature are herd animals                                                                                                                                        Horses will spar to determine status.

  

  

  

The hierarchy

How is status in the hierarchy decided? Horses spar with each other and herd each other into boundaries, telling each other where “not to go”. A horse, able to control another horse’s movement, will hold a higher place in the hierarchy and will earn that horses trust and respect. Horses derive security from knowing where they stand in the hierarchy. Being herded around might not be considered fun to us humans but this is the language of the horse and they do it without emotional involvement. 

Horses herd each other by moving into the flanks. 

  

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intent and energy

To illustrate how horses move each other, imagine you are walking up a busy high street. There are many people coming towards you, one person is directly in your path. You know instantly that this person has no intention of conceding space and if you don’t move he is going to shoulder you as he passes and pushes you out of the way.

How could you tell that this person was not going to alter his line of travel? You read his body language, his intention and his energy. Horses similarly use intention and energy to move each other and will resort to force if the hint is not taken. Not only can they read intention and energy in each other but in other species too. They are constantly testing our boundaries and trying to move us. I am sure all of us have been shouldered or stood on, this is simply  the horses way of testing OUR boundaries…are yours secure?

One important difference between us and the horse can be explained by the same street scenario. How would you feel if you were moved out of the way by this person in the street? You would most likely consider it rude, you might feel intimidated or even angry; certainly it is unlikely that you are going to thank the person for the experience. This is where horses feel differently. They don’t get emotional about “being moved”. To them it is part of a daily game called “who moves who”, a game played by horse rules that helps them know their place in the herd and that makes them feel safe. Safety is the horse’s number one priority

 

 

From front to back

Horses move each other from front to back, the mare drives her foal ahead of her, a  stallion herds the mares ahead of him. Horses don’t pull each other forward by the face. Remember this is an animal with almost 360 vision so he is able to look out for danger. As prey he is attacked and killed in the jugular or behind the poll so any interference or energy sent to the head area will cause distress.

There are always three energies working when horses move each other. Pushing energy, drawing energy and blocking energy.  Knowing how and when to use these three energies is the secret of communicating in the horse’s language. 

 

 Our responsibility

When removed from the herd where they feel safe, the horse will start to worry and begin to look out for himself. Much of the so called bad behaviour exhibited by horses around humans, for example, being herd bound, shying, and napping are examples of this. It is our job as handlers to provide  security.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A flight animal by nature, the horse’s first response when frightened, is to run.

 

 

The round pen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The round pen offers the handler the opportunity to influence the horse’s movement and affect his behaviour. The handler will herd the horse as if he were the horse with greater herding ability. If he does this well, the horse concedes the power to be moved and along with this comes his trust and respect for the herder, in this case the human.  When trust and respect are gained, the horse wants to be with the handler because he feels safe with him. In this situation the horse can relax and will become a  willing partner.

To be successful in the round pen the handler must mimic the way horses use intent and energy. The handler will use pushing, blocking and drawing energy to exert influence over the horse.  When this is not done correctly is can cause distress to the horse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The session is initiated in this case  when the horse turns his back on the handler.

 

Too much assertion

As the master predator, it is easy for man to instil fear. The handler must be mindful to use the correct amount of “ push” as he moves the horse around the pen. This will be different for every horse.  If the push used to herd the horse is too forceful, it will engender fear.  Part of this equation involves posture, an aggressive body stance is inappropriate. The handler’s body must remain balanced over his/her centre and free.

Too little assertion

With other horses, the push needed may have to more assertive. If possible the handler should use only his intent and energy to move the horse. Practised handlers will have refined this ability over time. Just as you read the persons intention in the high street, so the horse reads the handlers intention to “take the space”. If the horse is not convinced by the handler he will not move. Learning to have believable intent is one of the skills of round penning and indeed of working horses generally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The angle of the push

Horses read energy coming from our “core”.  Our core is our centre, the part of us around our belly button. If we aim this energy at the wrong angle and take it to the wrong area of the horse’s body we can cause confusion and even fear.  Aiming our core energy at the head of the horse will send a predatorial message causing the horse to become distressed.

The pushing energy from the handler’s core is aimed at the flanks. Here the handler is using her  energy alone to move the horse, the whip is not necessary and is held facing downwards. Note, although energetic, her stance is relaxed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depending on how the horse is reacting the handler may change the horses direction by blocking the forward motion and drawing the horse in the new direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The handler may send blocking energy out in front of the horse’s line of travel, well ahead of the horses head in order to stop him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here the horse accepts the handlers push and shows its acceptance by dropping its neck and  head, the handler softens her body.

 

Reading the horse

The handler must read the horse’s body language throughout the session and alter her body language accordingly. He/she will be paying close attention to the mouth, the ears, the eyes, the tail and the “frame” (shape of the horses spine) All these give the handler vital information as to the mental and emotional state of the horse.

Emotional intent

Most importantly if the handler does not have the best interests of the horse in her/his heart at all times the horse will never trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The horse willingly comes to the handler when she uses drawing energy, note the bend in the handlers body. The horses head is level with his withers denoting acceptance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The horse stands held against the outside boundary of the round pen, he is soft in his body and bent  trustingly and respectfully around the handler.

 

  

At connected Horsemanship we are often asked about the merits of round penning horses. We believe this technique is invaluable when it is well done. 

I work with horses in this manner when we can but round pens are not largely available around Ireland so I feel it is important for people to learn how to achieve the same result when they are working the horse on line. I therefore I teach both techniques, for more information see www.connectedhorsemanship.com.  

Connected horsemanship is delighted to announce that Monty Roberts will be coming to the Dublin horse show and he will be demonstrating his method of round penning, see also  www.connectedhorsemanship.com/blog.html.   

Details as advertised:   

The RDS welcomes Monty Roberts to the 2010 Fáilte Ireland Dublin Horse Show which takes place from Wednesday, the 4th to Sunday, the 8th of August inclusive. Monty Roberts the world renowned natural horseman will demonstrate his revolutionary equine training techniques during an hour long demonstration on each day of the Show. The sessions will include a demonstration of Monty’s legendary JoinUp technique with a young horse that has not previously been saddled or ridden, a trailer loading session with a difficult horse that refuses to load, and ridden and non-ridden remedial sessions with problem horses. To book your ticket to see Monty Roberts at this year’s Fáilte Ireland Dublin Horse Show, visit www.rdstickets.com Daily general  admission ¤21.00, please note there is no extra charge to attend Monty’s demonstrations.   

Here are some photos of Cindy and me working away.

There have been some interesting moments. Cindy did not take kindly to be asked to move on ahead of me on the lunge. She did a great deal of posturing, pinning her ears repeatedly, swirling her head and generally try to tell me where to get off. She’ s a gas ticket and i can now see why her two young male owners had a bit of bother with her, this mare has attitude and she will test your patience and your persistence. But its nice attitude, enough to be interesting, as we say she has a bit about her!

Cindy working on the lunge, low and low, her throughness is not yet consistent but coming. The low and low posture pictured in the photos is necessary to stretch her shortened topline, and free up her shoulders allowing her to come through from behind.

Cindy lunging to the right , note the soft lateral bend in her body, her relaxed posture and her inside hind well engaded well under her body.

Cindy braces

Cindy lunging to the left which is harder for her.

work in hand

Next week ,Cindy working in hand, the objective here is to help Cindy to stop bracing into the bridle and going above the bit when she feels pressure of bit or pressure from my inside leg, either way her response is to invert and go above the bit, however once this is contained she then sucks back from the bit going behind and chomping like mad.

Horses evade pressure generally in three ways, they either go above the contact , bear down on the contact (lean), or they go behind.

Going behind of the three is probably the most challenging to fix especially with a sensitive horse like Cindy, she has to learn to trust the hand again and i have to be good enough to supply that hand.

Connected Horsemanship had a fantastic time last weekend at Diamonds Lane Equestrian in Portaferry Co Down.

Laura Domenica with Judy Braniff owner of Diamonds Lane Equestrian

The horses and participants were very varied during the weekend offering the spectators lots of different situations to watch and learn from. We had a lot of spectators over the two days from varied backgrounds, riding clubs, other branches of natural horsemanship, showjumpers and a lovely lady who was a horse sport Ireland L2 coach.

Ssaturday started with two wonderful hairy black and white cobs belonging to Jane and Martina. Both girls had experienced quite a bit of bother with their horses being scattered or bargey and invading their space and carting them around a bit. At the end of the day i was delighted that both girls had very good control of their horses on the ground and were beginning to really teach them things that would really help build and cement their connection. They could lead them, they could stop them , turn them move their hindquarters and ask them to back up and to respect their boundaries.

Laura helps jane with her cob

Martina works with Dillon, a riding school pony for many years, he is very braced but with martinas patient help he will learn to bend his body and use himself in a better way

Next came Andrew and his lovely pony Scottie, Andrew has been working with me for over a year. I am very pround of Andy , this dedication and his progress. He is already a horseman and one to watch for the future.

Andrew works with Scottie

When Andrew bought his horse Scotty he was very anxious and very inverted. I am going to ask Andy to tell Scotties story in the Students Stories section of my blogg.

Here are some photos of Andy lunging and riding his pony, look at the relaxation and softnness and the wonderful postion of Andys body that is facilitating this. The photos of Andy riding he is working on getting his balance perfect at the rising trot so that his horse can carry himself.

Scotty used to throw his head in the air even with a martingale, andrew now turns him just with his focus

Andrew perfects his balance at rising trot so he can allow Scottie to really use himself

Day one ended with me working with the second of Sarah horses. This thoroughbred had offerend up some pretty interesting behaviour when Sarah got to lunging him, rearing, striking and even coming at her with his teeth, he sounded quite aggressive. When I first started working with him he was and tried to srtike me a couple of times but the true source of his behaviour was was his herdboundness. He constantly whinned for the other horses, prancing around and paying no attention to anyone human. Once i started moving his body in a purposeful way he began to settle and changed quite quickly. At the end of our session he was quiet and settled.

At the end of the day i loaded him in the trailer, this had taken three hours the night before to get him there and Sarah loaded him herself after i did. she was i think delighted and so was her dad.

Sarah loads her horse at the end of the day

others photos from the day

An unexpected visitor gives us a giggle at lunch time!

taking shelter from a rain shower

taking shelter from a shower

participants learn how to walk and "hold" their own circle for lunging

participants practise walking circles for lunging and try to "hold" the shape of the circle as they walk

catch em young!

Particiants practise lunging position

This is my horse Winner

 

 Winner Six year old Trakehner gelding. Bred and started in Poland in dressage yard. You can see Winner ridden in a competition on youtube, type in “Winner trakehner 2004” 

 Winner is only just four years old in this video. You will observe that Winner is ridden quite high, is behind the vertical for much of the video and that he grinds his teeth at the end when he is brought to a halt. This level of elevation of the head and neck is not appropriate for a horse in the early stages of his training. Winner has a rather low set neck so this makes it more difficuot for him to elevate . 

Winner was then imported to Ireland by his owner a polish girl. She had owned Winner since he was one year old and had always found him to be a cheeky and mischevious colt. She was alarmed at the demeanor of her horse after a year alone in Poland. The horse she got back after his training appeared to be lazy, sullen and introverted. This girl tried to do her best by the horse but he appeared to hate being ridden. He would not go forward and grinded his teeth continuously when being ridden. She felt everything between them was a fight even although she tried not to. In the end he was ridden with spurs and these had to be applied just to do transitions from walk to trot. Sadly she decided to part with him. I saw him advertised and something drew me to him. 

winner as seen in his "for sale" add

   

 

    

  I went to see Winner but left without making a decision, i felt there was a lot more to the horse than i had seen that day, he  appeared introverted, disinterested in the proceedings, although not  badly behaved. His owner runs a busy stables and stud is a very competant handler and rider and would not stand for any nonsense from horses. i left undecided and in the proceeding days wondered about the horse but did nothing. i went to see lots of other horses and didnt buy any of them either. In retrospect there were horses i probably should have chosen but for whatever reason i didnt . i always think the teacher will come when the student is ready and clearly there was something i was supposed to learn and the horse to teach me it had not quite yet appeared or i was not quite ready to learn. either way the weeks went by and i remained without a horse.  

 Many weeks later i was looking again and found the  fine trakehner’s add and wondered if he had been sold. I decided if he was still unsold i would ask to take him on trial, he had remained unsold.   I brought him down to dublin, i remember when he arrived i attempted to reverse him out of the box (as i expect all horses to do) The horse refused to budge, i took me quite some time to realise that the horse had not one clue how to back up, out of a box or otherwise!! We had to open the front door to get him out.  

The trial