Notes from Rena of Dream Horse Training

Rena's website:

Independent Seat

Why did I acquire an independent seat at age 9?

I had no other choice!

I was "employed" in the army, at the age 9 and on. All the riding was free, paid for by the communist state, but the selection was difficult, they only took kids age 9-10, and then, it was like boot camp: do as you are told.

It was that, or no riding at all.

For me, it meant riding 6x a week ... the kids selected for the riding program had to committ to be trained for competition, army style. At age 10, the first 3 months were vaulting only, on vaulting pad. The horse was an Arabian stallion named Ulysses, a fat grey with a wide back and mellow temperament. Very few horses were gelded, and basically only after they had almost killed someone !

To "graduate" to saddle and reins, we kids had to pass a test... they would build a track around the ring, set up small jumps -- the instructor would ask the horse to go from inside, the rider did not have to use reins. Then they sent us around at walk, trot, canter, jump smalll jumps, on the vaulting pad, no stirrups, and our hands had to be up in the air, no holding on. When we could do that, we were ready to be rewarded by finaly starting to use reins and stirrups.... still had to vault once a week for rider training.

LOL ... I am not teaching this way today!!! LOL I would have no students at all.... *grin* I like the way I teach it now much better, but there were good parts about the old ways, too.

My early education was classical, and as much as there are things (the boot camp stuff -- do or else) that I totally disagree with .. I learned lots of good stuff from old-style cavalry trained officers. Like, having an independent seat. :)

No one talked about positive reinforcement -- yet the classically trained officers were using positive relelases. Using strong gimmicks was forbidden, and horses were ridden in a simple snaffle for jumping and cross-country and eventing, a running martingale *maybe* allowed.

I also remember the good training of our best dressage horse trained by one of the officers: after I won the national jr. dressage championship on him, I was allowed / ordered to show him jumping... we won!... he was versatile, in shape, and taught me how well-practiced dressage is the best foundation.

Why I always wanted to ride, no one quite knows. Grew up in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, under a brutal communist dictatorship. There was no private property, the state owned and (mis)managed everything. Athletes, kids too, we were all quasi-employed, all training paid for, but we had to perform, or quit, and had to obey, or else. Not a lot of choice.

When the communists took over 1947, they sent all good horses to slaughter, as they were considered a bourgeois tool of oppressing the masses. Horse people hid purebloods, the prized Arabians & TB's under the plow... so they would look like a poor man's workbeast, not a riding horse. Riding was severly stunnted.

Except in the Romanian army. Oh, yes, they tried to stomp out the old cavalry, but keep in mind that the cavalry was active as late as 1947. My grandpa **fought** on horseback in WWII (got captured and sent to Siberia) So, they kept a few outposts of the "cavalry" -- for parades and such. The officers, all formally trained in classical jumping / dressage, were happy to work with horses, and hide from communism in their own little world with the horses.

A Relationship With a Horse that WANTS to be With You

My QH, Gal, 18, is a schoolhorse. She gets ridden about once-twice a week, more in the summer, by my students who do not own horses. (I keep a private facility, low-volume lessons, but also, guided trailrides on and off the property).

Gal sees me, and a student, head up the road. With halter in hand. Every horse here, except the babies, knows exactly what I have in mind. Gal approaches us and I'll show a student her favorite scritchie places, then we proceed to warm up -- make sure the horse chooses to be with us, mentally -- then we go brush, saddle, warm up again, and proceed.

When I am done, I take all tack off and turn the horse loose. She isn't going anywhere, rolls, and comes back to us to hang out.

The icelandics do that as well. And after one month here, so does the OTTB in training.

Yes, some of the horses, if they are at a certain place in their training, will sorta hide behind a tree when they see me with halter and a student or two. But we work on that.

Like Judy, I simply would not want to ride a horse that doesn't choose to be with me.

Has it been easy? no. I had to learn how to get to this point. (lots of round pen, groundwork, and riding based on rewards, and knowing when to stop on a good note, and more) And, I could not have done it in a boarding situation. I had to manage the whole herd to get to such a point.

Can I get better ? YES!!! never enough time spend bonding with, or working with , any single horse belonging to myself. (unless they are in a training period).

Surprising fact: I have to point out to students or visitors that for the most part, I "shoo" horses away!!! ;) catching them is not a problem (with exceptions that we're working on) I have to teach visitors to know that all of the horses here should stop about 3 feet from a human, and not approach any closer than that unless specifically invited closer by a human.

I have to be able to carry a grain bucket on a dark night and *know* that none of the 7-10 free horses will crowd me, indeed, they'll wait at 5 or more feet away. ('course I remind them with subtle or not so subtle body language.)

Light Contact, Bits

Have you ever met people who just did not know how to touch you? Hairdressers, nurses, doctors, the dentist's assistant, salespersons fitting your shoes or dress, ..or , yeah, ... dates .... ;)

Some people are just rough, and don't get it, don't get that INSTANT adjustment, the testing, that it takes to touch another human being and not hurt them...yet be firm enough to achieve the goal, like untangling hair or whatever...;) On the receiving end, some people are more sensitive than others...

an experienced nurse / paramedic / physical therapist would know how to touch in a no-nonsense, effective way, and adjust their touch to the sensitivity of the subject .

PS: I have pictures of Buck Brannaman and each of us clinic participants playing horse & rider :) ... And I do Buck's exercise with my students:

put the bit in the soft part of your hand, between the thumb and the index finger. Just let the bit rest there. It will feel cold, heavy.

Then, someone can pick up the reins behind you, and you pretend to run.. they are instructed to stop you by using the reins as if they were riding a horse.

It is surprisingly easy to:
a) HURT !!
b) if the "rider" pulls once and jerks hard ... the "horse" will subsequently CLAMP her hands.... and not even be aware of it (like a hard of mouth horse.)
c) even tho the person playing "rider" is likely more gently on a runway human than if their horse was running off, they can still pull incredibly harshly.

Try that.

Light contact can mean:
-- I can feel in my fingers if the horse as much as moves his tongue inside his mouth. In fact, sometimes I even release and reward just for that, if I choose to do so.
-- picking up the slack in the rein is already light contact!
-- tightening fingers on reins is light contact
(like the old saying about the little bird: we hold the reins as if holding a teeny chick, we don't want to crush it , we don't want it to escape)

Prerequitises to having light hands:
- independent seat
- rider's hands belong to the horse's mouth. If my seat dances the samba in the saddle--not on purpose -- , my elbows will act as joints that disconnect my poor seat from my hands. My seat can do *almost whatever* in the saddle, but my fingers will be able to feel that tongue inside the horse's mouth.
-- sometimes, stronger pressure might be needed, but...I always pick up the reins very lightly, no jerks, then gradually increase pressure should it be needed.

Why do I even need stronger pressure? Ideally, I don't. Practically speaking, I try to *match* the pressure the horse puts on me.

IE, if the Icelandic Muska used to weigh one ton in each rein it was she who put the pressure, not me.-- I just did not "give" the rein to the pressure.

Note: I'd work on that by asking for bending first, and Muska 's head used to weigh a ton when I asked her to bend.. but we practice bending the head with halter, from the ground first. And we lighten up the head by asking for the hindquarters to disengage.

Yes, if the horse disengages the hind, the head will get lighter and bend easier behind the jaw., which will allow me to release and rewards. What we teach from the ground is then easier undersaddle.

IE, if a horse "dives" for grass... like a schoolhorse might do ,knowing that little kids will let the reins slilde, and the horse will be able to grab some grass on the run... I will "hold" the reins, and the horse might hit them with some pressure ... sometimes, I have to keep my hands against the saddle, so my hands don't "give" by mistake to the horse grabbing for grass...

How to teach a horse to get used to light pressure? by RELEASING the reins when we achieve what we want on light or no pressure... ie: when Muska the Icelandic tolts nicely, I'll slightly release the reins... but keep her tolting with my seat...she keeps tolting for 3 strides say...if I feel the slightest change in her rhythm, I'll pick up ther reins again (no jerking, just slightly) and reming her, keep tolting girl... release again, she tolts good for 3 more strides... and I will then ask her to walk (by slowing down my seat) as a reward, and I'll pet her etc.

(This was just an example, as with time and as the horse gets strong enough to tolt, obviously we'll increase the lenght of it untill we tolt as long as I don't ask for anything different.)

Natural Horsemanship

of something Lee wrote in a post ...

I am a total supporter of the teachings of Buck, Tom and Ray. I hesitate to call my style natural horsemanship, given that the name is Parelli's biz name and has come to encompass the rest of us. Just reminding everyone here that Tom Dorrance refuses to give his method a name, he sais it's just common sense, and how can one *copyright* common sense...

I fully agree with Lee saying that an old style accomplished and well trained rider with good attitude ... riding in a full spade bit and 2-in spurs on full regalia western saddle... is better with and for a horse who has been appropriately trained for that level, ... the horse is soft, responsive, not hurting... *better* than... some young yahoo riding in a halter bareback who pulls / prods his horse..."naturally" ... or rides in poor, uncollected, manner that will hurt the horse in the long run.

Personally, I learned best from Buck... but it was anything but an instant process. Takes time and dedication, like all good horsemanship.

The One-Rein Stop

The 1-rein-stop is a bit more complex if it is to work properly in a stressful situation.

First and foremost: my goal as a rider is to stop:
a) the horse's fear (get his attention back to me, be sure I am not gripping in fear)
b) stop his feet. (it's really about the feet, not the reins or mouth)
c) promptly release and reward the smallest softening, the smallest response to me

That's the key:
To slow down, circle and stop a horse, we need to disengage the hind. I ask actively with my inside leg behind the girth, for the horse to disengage, and stop asking (reward) with my leg ASAP after the horse turns the hindquarters.

Disengaging is a forwards movement, so if the horse backs at all while practicing this at a stop or walk, it's not ok. When I practice this at a walk, I also make sure the horse turns at the shoulders as correct for all bending.

The one -rein-stop is not effective and downright dangerous (horse can fall and / or run off with head turned to the side, yes they can do that) unless the hindquarters disengage, and the horse is in a proper frame for bending. Do not attempt 1-R-stops on hillsides. The 1-r-stop is a good exercise, not a punishment -- do it sooner, don't wait untill a runaway gets faster and faster. The bend doesn't have to be excessive.

1. Turn my body, and when the horse's inside hind leg leaves the ground, ask for disengaging. Timing is important, allows the disengaging to flow smoothly and lessens the chance of tripping. For practice with my students, if we go left, they call out "left, left, left, (to pick up the rhytm) and LEFT when they decide to ask for disengaging. Release riders's leg ASAP .

2. smoothly pick up the inside rein. The inside hand acts as a guide, lets rein glide through -- I use the outside hand to pull the rein trough and increase the bend gradually. At first, do not bend too much, and watch for the "softening" , the give, behind the jaw. Release fingers slightly on the rein for that This is reward number 2, again I release even in a "hot" situation, horse gets a small reward before we came to a complete stop. Ask for more bend, if you need to, and again, reward with a slight release, but not a complete one.

3. if you were practicing from a slow wallk or standstill, step 3. is to WAIT. Patiently wait for the horse to come to a complete halt. Your legs are relaxed, body turned, and you keep constant pressure on the inside rein, horses's head still bent. Be sure to have slack in the outside rein, many riders do not realize they are keeping pressure on the outside rein.

If the horse is still moving... as he will and is desirable if you were at a faster walk or gait ... you would be moving in a circle, and repeat 1. and 2.

4. horse comes to a complete halt. WAIT some more (relaxed seat/legs). Do not release the inside rein untill the horse "gives" and softens, but when the horse does, you need to "drop" the rein, meaning, do not let the horse slide the rein through your fingers, just let go of the inside rein and rub /verbally praise profusely. (your outside hand holds the loose reins now, but you are ready to gather them up in an **instant** should the horse move before you ask.)

Common rider error:
a) not releasing inside leg after asking for disengaging (rider is tense and forgets to relax the leg)
b) It's called a 1-Rein-stop-- be sure to not pull on the outside rein. Horse cannot turn his head all the way around if we keep tension on both reins, plus, some horses begin to consider backing or rearing if there is pressure on both reins.

Timing issues: rider needs to practice:
-- release the inside leg, but not the inside hand- not until the horse's head weighs nothing, puts no pressure on the inside rein.
-- practice smoothly gathering reins, especially longer rope reins. (sounds like a trivial issue, but it takes practice or else we won't do it well under pressure.)

Note: we teach the horse to disengage, and bend/give the head from the ground, then practice separately in the saddle. Horses diffrentiate very well between: bend head, keep feet still. Or move hindquarters, without bending the head. Then we combine them in a smooth motion, the 1-rein-stop....

More About Disengagement

"I have seen plenty of horses run sideways with a rider on board, nose bent to the knee, hind quarters "disengaged" and horse running like a crab. Dangerous and not very useful, IMO ..."

As much as I am a supporter of the 1-rein-stop (and would like to rename it, so it's about seat&legs not just reins) .... I agree with the above. I've seen it too. I'd probably call it "fake" disengaging, because if the horses would be truly soft thru the bend, they'd stop. ('course if they are truly soft a dangerous runaway just wouldn't happen, it wouldn't get that far in the first place, and they would stop with 2-reins and straight).

IMO there is no "EASY" fix for anything...I saw John Lyons ask students to bend a horse's head 300 times!!! So much is about the details of how we do what we do, and when. Still, when I teach a 1-R-stop to newbies, it does drive the point home that pulling on both reins equally is not effective.

A few notes:
-- For me, the one-rein-stop helps with a lot of other issues ... the way Buck does it ... the way I teach it...
-- theoretically , a horse that is advanced enough to go in the curb never needs to be doubled up. If the horse does not stop with the rider using mainly seat aids, then he is not ready for the curb. That goes for Peruvians full of brio as well as for the seemingly more laid back western horse.
-- after the stop, we practice shifting the weight back, and moving the front feet. It can be an interesting way to practice shifting the weight from hind to front to hind. Sometimes I demonstrate by getting on all fours in the arena and seeing how I have to shift my weight to turn on my haunches or my hands !!!! (it really drives the point home if one tries *g*) Yes, the basis for this is "western".. and can be the first step in teaching to spin.


The way I do it (I learnead the basic procedure from Buck/Ray/Tom, and adapted it to suit whatever situations I find myself in):

1. do it early .. I define a runaway as any horse who takes one step in a faster gait, or at a faster speed, than I asked for. So, if want a horse (who is capable of doing this exercise) move forwards inch by inch at a snail's pace and he walks on at a slow walk, the slow walk is a "runaway" Just trying to drive the point home of "correcting early."

2. direction: in an arena, turn inside, so you have space to circle. Outside: pick a flat open space. For instance, it is preferable to steer a runaway to a suitable spot 20-50ft ahead-- say a driveway -- than try to circle/ stop in a tight place like on a narrow shoulder of a road. (there is more to this point 2: how to best steer to the closest safe spot)

3. legs aids:
I never do the western thing as described by Lee. I just wasn't taught this way.

Turning right:
I will use my right leg oh-so-slightly behind the girth, "open" to the right, turn my eyes, shoulder, hip, knee to the right. I will ask with the slightest of pressure, start light as feather AS ALWAYS!!. Always, always give a horse a chance to do the right thing -- they do surprise us and actually "obey" even the slightest aid sometimes, yes, even in a panicky moment. However, increase the pressure withing 1/10 of a sec or so, this is no time to wait if the horse ignores us. When I say "increase pressure" I mean increase the tap-tap-tap pressure, which is easier on the rider ...constant pressure doesn't work.

To teach my horses how to differentiate betwen a rider clumsily cluthing with the leg by mistake and a rider using a leg aid, I tend to use a leg aid by tap-tap-tapping on the horse in quick taps. The lightest of taps are invisible, merely a rhytmical tightening of my calf, but they are very clear, to me, as well as to the horses, they are very distinct from a constant pressure aid that the horse could conceivaably confuse (riders tend to apply constant pressure with legs to steady themselves on horse or simply because rider is not advanced enough to be aware of what the body does.)

Right leg should stop tapping ASAP the horse moves haunches over, but if I decide we need to soften more, or need to move more, I'll ask again for disengaging. Very important to keep in mind that this all is a forward motion. It's this "forwards in a circle) that prevents bucking sprees.

I often ask for a few times of "disengaging the hind" -- release the leg (wich is a reward for the horse... and also lets the horse know it did "good", this is what I wanted .. this is our "calming" dance, horses really learn to concentrate on the job of disengaing/ circling and thrive on the releases)... in the course of the same 1-rein-stop.

In turning to the right, since my whole body is turned right, my outside leg (left) will be oh-so-slightly in front of the girth, left knee sort of pushing into the saddle. Left leg does nothing... although I might use the left leg to "block" (very slight tap-tap's) should the horse think of taking off to the left,( while bent to the right.)

4. Right hand acts like a guiding hand, but I pull the rein through with the left. Right hand asks with feather light pressure. Always start asking with the lightest pressure you can. ALWAYS, even in an emergency... if the horse even looks as if it'll turn his head, oh-so-slightly release pressure on rein, but be sure to have very frim grip and make sure the horse cannot pull the rein t hrough you hand, then ask some more, release for the next small bend, and graddually increase bend. Right hand goes around and back to rider's belt, in fact I steady my right (inside) hand on my tight or waist.

Left (outside ) hand lets the left rein loose, sliding through if needed, so the horse can bend right. Left hand helps pull the right rein trhgouh the right hand, so it's a smooth pull l all the way, NEVER JERKY, not even with a runaway. ( I would not dream of jerkyin' on a young horse's mouth!!! -- not even in an emergency, but I do quickly increase pressure if needed ) Left hand is ready to grab the mane and help steady the rider.

I can't emphasise enough that the 1-rein-stop sequence works for me because I am able to "reward" the horse many, many times before we come to a complete stop. The teensy releases in rein, and leg, the combination of asking/ reward seems to keep the horse's mind occupied **while** we are doing the 1-rein-stop, and take the mind back to me, away from the gremlins in the bushes.

It is obvious it takes practice and repetion... like every thing else, like anythign we do on horses, like playing an instrument, like flying a plane, like being a good gymast, dancer, paramedic, or whatever. To be able to do something well under pressure takes many repetitions.

Reluctant Horse That Rears

I am glad you are asking this question here.

The problem is, IMO this problem cannot be solved with a few words of advice in writing. If a horse rears often as you just try to ask him to go forwards, we are dealing with a situation that needs to be looked at carefully. I strongly advise that you take a few lessons or attend a clinic or such, where an instructor can evaluate both your riding style and your horse. Even though you have not experienced rearing before while riding other horses, this horse may be more sensitive. And you may cause him to rear, wich of course is not your intention. Or, someone else let him get away with rearing in his past. And, it has become a habit, he already knows he can do it, and it gets more difficult to change what he does. To change his behavior, you need to change what you are doing before he rears up.

Asking a reluctant horse to go forwards:
(this has worked well with Iceys, and really works with all breeds) I'll start by moving front feet a bit left (look left, take left rein out, forwards, and sideways, 'bout a foot or so away from withers).

Reward by stopping kicking, slack left rein) the a bit right (reward), then after the horse is "unstuck" ask for a small circle right, then left, as long as we are moving we are ahead of the game, and with every circle, I go forwards towards where I want to go in the first place.

It's difficult to rear if a horse is bent. If a horse is truly bent through the whole body, like when you ride a circle correctly, he's unlikely to rear. If you feel his front end get too light, take the inside rein out and low.

Avoiding a rear if I feel a horse is getting ready to:

ask with my legs, very quickly escalate to kicking, When I ask, I ask with rhytmical movements, and I escalate into many kicks, usually with emphasis. I want the horse to see I am kicking, it's not the force of my "kick" per se (I'm the one who wants to avoid using the word "kick," but when I rhytmically ask my horse to move, there's no doubt in anyone's mind what I am asking.)

I'll extend my hands forwards and keeping them low so the rein is getting a slack and allowing the horse to move forwards. I assume you are riding 2 handed, if you are using one hand, go to 2 reins so you can keep your hands low.

It is very important that the horse has a slack rein as you ask him to go forwards. This is one of those duh! statements in writing, but when we are in the heat of action, I have seen it too many times that riders are not aware of having pressure on the reins when they did not mean to. Even the best riders need instructors/ coaches sometimes!

If he even thinks you kick and pull at the same time -- that's a cue for rearing. But, I won't have the hands symetrically next to the neck. It is very important to be ready to bend the horse, in fact, ask for a bend. The inside hand will go low and out, outside hand goes up the mane. If the horse starts to rear, I'd be ready to grab the mane with one hand at least, or grab around his neck with one arm, if our saddle does not have a horn.

The slight asymetry in hand position is important, because it leads to the next part of our body, our upper body:
At the same time, my upper body goes forwards, as if you were about to jump a fence. Or go uphill on a steep hill.

Forwards, but again not 100% straight over the mane. I always keep my face very slightly to the side -- more precisely, to the inside of the slight bend I am asking the horse to do, and have so avoided being hit in the face by a horse's head coming up.

this all happens before a rear, once a horse rears, do not bend, just be forwards, grab the neck / mane, and be ready to rhytmically kick as he goes down so you can keep asking him to go forwards.

2.) forwards and sideways in a circle
Part of the problems we riders have, is that, WHAT IF the horse actually responds to our kicks / use of crop, and actually *bolts* forwards?!

I know very few people who then truly praise the horse, do not clamp with their legs for balance, and are not immediately pulling on reins to slow him down!!!

Personally, being that I seldom train in arenas with good footing, a horse that actually obeys and vigourously goes forwards can be in danger of slipping, stepping in a hole, etc . In a good arena, I'd pet while the horse goes on, and I'd encourage a good gallop with long reins. Outside, well, no, I can't quite do that, it's not safe.

And I have the same problem with things I consider dangerous, like water balloons or hitting a horse on the head: while you hit the horse on the head, you are in a bad position to coordinate what happens next, and I for one, I would not want to be riding a horse while I'm popping one with a water baloon in the head. If I were inclined to pop balloons over a horse's head, I would SURE not be riding it the first time I pop one, I'd be "sacking out" with it in a safe place. (which would make baloons not scary enough to "cure" rearing, therefore unusable in that manner.)

Yes, teaching a horse to lower his head is a good thing, something we better horses anyways, rearing or not. I teach them to lower their heads if I lower my hands, apply slight pressure to the bit, and wait. (release when he softens chin and drops head.) It is also a perfectly good exercise to teach horses to lower their head by touching the mane half-way to the ears, and yes, at the poll ( a useful thing when bridling.)

But we still need to ask the horse to move forwards, reward when he does. That's part of the reason why, when I ask a reluctant horse to move on , I'll ask for a step small enough -- I mean training step, but in this case, litterally a small step -- that he'll actually do it, giving me an opportunity to reward.

Compare that to a horse thinking, gee, I am scared to death to abandon the safety of the barn / other horses, this is a new owner, new place, who knows what allien goblins await 10 feet away over there, -- horses refuses to move, we kick hard , horse thinks, why is this rider loosing it , doesn't she see the goblins, doesn't she know they'll gobble up all beings away from the safety of the herd, horse rears only to be hurt when he does by being hit, ... and everyone walks away unhappy.

When I "unstick" the legs by asking for him to move the front feet to one side and the other, then move hind, then move forwards , I just set him and myself up for a way to increase trust. Be sure to reward the slightest try of your horse to move forwards :)

Pressure on the Poll

I do keep pressure at the poll while urging the horse forwards. I start teaching them that on the ground. (release presure if horse lowers head even a tad with softness and give, then start again to lower head even more, long release and praise when the head is where we want it).

I am working on this right now with an Icelanding mare, and it's funny, because she is small, and I have to bend to keep pressure on the poll while urging her forwards from the ground. I do this by asking the horse to lower his head (a forwards low) by applying pressure on the leadrope (say with left hand), so the pressure on the poll comes through the halter. I ask them to go forwards by driving with the right hand.

Then, I can do it under saddle, like I said, by asking with one rein forwards & low& a tad sideways. (similar to what Lee wrote)

This comes to mind because I am working with a TB right now, and she used to sling her head up high everytime I urged her on, from the ground as well as in the saddle. Guess someone in her past must have clamped on the bit while asking her forwards. Yes, she did try to rear as we were leaving the barn, I was on foot doing groundwork .

So over time, I've been teaching her that she can move on with a low head. Eventually, as we progress, this is no different than asking a horse to move forwards with a soft feel, or half-halt. On advanced horses, yes, definitely, we can very well ask them forwards while asking them to collect and we won't have to push our hands forwards or have visible slack on the rein. The hands will move forwards with the horse's mouth, keeping appropriate light contact.

Or, in a bridle, there is slack in the reins, but then the slightest almost invisible contact with a bridle will put pressure on the poll via shanked bit -- and the horses should be light enough to go forwards and lower the head to wherever the rider asks them to via bridle, but this is at an advanced stage where horse knows how to work from behind already and the rider / horse team have ironed out unintentional miscues.

Working with a Problem Icelandic Horse

"The rescue / rehabs were difficult. There is a tendency towards nervousness in some of the horses, maybe too much inbreeding, or breeding for hotness. Those horses may never be reliable. Some don't seem to retain their learning from day to day. Some from those lines have been put down."

Interesting info, Judy. I was puzzled that one of the imported Icelandic mares I 've known for 4 years-- seems to regress unless I handle her a lot. All other horses I work with remember over time, but not Muska.

She must have been abused. Especially since she seems to have deep-seated fears of being approached suddenly -- her muscles het hard and tight, and I can see her eyes starting to bug out. If I however am careful to approach her like a colt, ie with deliberate moves like showing her the saddle pad emphatically everytime, she's fine. I've spent time just massaging and scratching her, and just today, I could see in her expression that she was deciding if she should give in and relax and enjoy a good scratch, or should she worry and be tight? :)

She does ok under saddle, she became my saddle horse when I'm there and no one else rides her. She must have been abused / scared / handled too rough.

She's lighter now, responsive, and not spooky on trails. She still is suspicious of sudden moves by the rider though, -- the sacking-out is where she regresses most . Today, I had to *show* her the saddle bags, and the camera, etc... but she was fine after that.

But, she is one of 4 mares owned by the same family, and 2 of the mares are darlings everyone rides, including the 4 year old (with my close supervision). The 3rd is beautiful, athletic buckskin I can ride everywhere on difficult trails, sensitive. After I worked with her, she now is safe for her owner.

I am getting ready to start their 2 colts under saddle, they are coming up on 4yrs. One's a gelding, one a stud...they lead, haul, pick up feet, and the stud is well behaved around the mares and gets along great with my Arabian stud.

And I just got a new boarder, a 2 year old Icelandic stud. :) He kept me busy :) will keep you posted, we took videos of all the excitement.

Rena with 5 Icelandics, 2 of which are young studs

Keeping Up With Other Horses

I have found that I cannot keep up with my clients when they ride thier Iceys and I ride Arabians or QH .. not unless I do medium trot to keep up with their (even shuffly , slow) tolt :) So I have to ride Iceys to keep up! I do not know about RMH... I 've ridden a couple of fit Peruvians who would be able to gait faster .. in terms of trailriding together ... than some of the out-of-shape Iceys that my clients ride only occasionaly. I have not had occasion (yet) to ride an in-shape tolting Icelandic with a PP.

And, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one's Icelandic occasionally only. Whatever works for each of us is cool, training for fitness should be fun, not a chore.

So I'm wondering if you experience with the RMH - Icey trailride was just a one time fluke (Icey had an off day or something) or is getting up to speed something you'd like to work on with your horse?

Not to mention that at this time of year, Iceys have a heavy coat on, and it's warm outside here in CA. Mine are dripping wet if we even think about exercising in mid-day. The coats are so thick, that by the time I notice the dripping wet part, they are soaked!

However, there are many other factors, ranging from:

** fitness of the Icelandic
**to saddle fit
**to where they are in their relationship with us riders:
-- in terms of trust,
-- training level,
-- freedom to move forwards,
-- good use of hind,
-- and, can we ride without constant pressure in the mouth?

If you need trouble shooting, do post again to that effect, with more details ... :)

and, my .2 cents: there are no stubborn horses. Only horses who a) cannot physically do what we ask b) are confused about what we ask, and do not understand our request, or are not in a position to do what we ask (we asked too much too soon.)

Hot, Nervous, Sensitive?

Yes, and this too is something newbies need good information on, not always easily accesible to them. Discerning where a horse is naturally, genetically hot, or just trained to be hot-sensitive is not always an easy task. If I'm asked to evaluate, I usually tend to test my first impression, and not offer an instant label on a horse I don't know.

As to most normal-use horses, I like also to have them be able to ignore when a rider dangles the legs to play! We practice ( I do that when training too) having our seat be still, our body posture saying "rest, relax, stay", and having no "intent" or "energy" (whatever that is) telling the horse "forwards."

Then I may dangle my legs as if to strech and relax, or as if to adjust a boot, or adjust the leggings, or such., adjust stirrups in English saddles, etc. If the horse leans forwards as if to start walking, I'l pick up on the reins and ask for soft feel / shift weight back / step back., release. Pretty soon, horses know that "leg-dangling" means rider's playing. But *asking* with the legs & seat HAS to have a different feel than "playing."

I've done lots of that with Muska, family owned problem-Icey . I tend to ask first-time riders to book a few private lessons, but at least one, before attempting to go in a group.

In that first private lesson I have *often* let a total greenie ride my sensitive horse in the barn, the one who does turn left when I merely look left.

after a longish introduction to horses, to the training goals etc, and after demonstrations from the ground or after I demonstrate, ...

I set up that first time ever ride in a safe round pen or smaller arena at home... and I know 100% that I can controll that horse from the ground :) and *show* that to the rider...

Nevertheless, people have the most amazing first time experience if they let me coach them through... (no reins) .. look left.. keep your arms straight out... let your gaze follow your fingertips as they point to that tree... let your shoulders turn ... now allow your hips to turn.. relax your hips.... notice that your inside leg goes back, outside leg presses a bit into the saddle as it goes just a smidgen forwards... (I may touch their ankles to notice if they are truly relaxing their legs)... and the horse WILL TURN at that point, at a standstill... and I emphasise how the first time rider has just turned a horse without reins ... they GLOW !!! ('course the horse may turn because of where my body is at, but that 's besides the point :)

Then I ask them to "imagine" they want to walk "there to that cone" NOW!, and please just start WAlking... and the horse walks on... please "freeze" NOW.... and the horse stops... ..the riders just GLOW ! :) (again, I "help" the horse but how I move/ stop --and yes, I can pick up the lead rope anytime, I'm close enough to do so, but I want the first -time rider to have the feeling of having done it by themselves)

Then, I tell them... you won't ride this horse again ... next time, you will ride so&so, and she will be different, not as easy ... but I want you to remember how *you* could control this horse with your body...

I have done this with both my personal "hot" mare Sony, but also with Flotty, a gorgeous black, **hothothot** Icelandic gelding at Icelandic Crest. (after I had known Flotty awhile of course)


I was thinking we need to talk about defining, and adjusting sensitivity.

To define: sensitivity is how quickly (time) or the amount of pressure (force) that we get a response from a device, a thing like a car or airplane, or a system (the legal system for instance) Cars' sensitivity is adjusted from factory to fit us, the majority of the buying public.

In Germany, none of the small cars had power steering. When I came to California, I was *horrified* LOL to drive with power steering, because I could not feel the road!!! The cars with power steering would :
a) take WAY TOO LONG to turn
b) the wheel was turning, but the car wasn't !!!
( someone loaned me an ol' "classic" boat-type car!! A collectible , if you will :) and I was *hating* it ;) after the sporty German cars.

Point being, the "sensitivity " of cars is adjusted by technicians. A race car is adjusted to be more sensitive to an experienced driver & crew --- betcha they don't loan the car to another driver without test-driving.

AS a trainer, I am asked to train a youngster for "anyone can ride" goal in life, I will "adjust" the horse to NOT be too sensitive, as a matter of fact, I have to start riding that horse like most other people would --

But if I'm working on a prospect for an owner who desires a close partnership with one horse, well then, the 3 of us, owner, horse, and I can work on a "very" sensitive horse ....

Obviously, the temperament of the 3 of us working together is important... but yes, we can teach a fast horse to slow down, and "lazy" one to pick up life, etc... as long as the rider knows his/her part in the process. If a horse is sold to "green" riders, the slower horse might revert (somewhat anyways, over time) to being slow..

Anyways, this is a discussion for another post sometime ...I''d be nice to hear Lee and Liz on this... we desire "sensitive", but (too much) brio may not be everyone' s cup of tea....

who sometimes enjoys riding her good ol' schoolhorse mare who is not super-sensitive (just smart and alert and nice)

Riding by the "Seat"

My personal way comes from watching how the horse moves side to side.

What seems to work for me is a side-to-side rock in my seat, timed in synch with the horse's hind legs -- and to that, add the "forwards" seat cues, as in walk on, or energy and intent to move forwards. (kinda hard to explain). Upper body straight ,but not leaning back. Rhythm: slow for slow tolt, faster if desired.

If I keep my body "dancing" in that fashion and keep that rhythm, the horse is supposed to keep on tolting...

If I stop my movement, like, "freeze" my seat, the horse is supposed to notice, and slow down, into a stop even. In fact, i make sure with all horses I ride, that I stop my seat a fraction of second before I even start asking with the reins.

This is really no different than using the seat to keep walking, trotting , or cantering, it's just that I am sure others have slightly different ways.

An imperfect analogy is a swing: the swing swings if a child swings seat and legs... ( geeze, it's late, sorry for the sentence !!!) :) If the child stops moving the swing will slow down. But a horse is more complex than a simple swing.

After a lots of practice, this techniques lets me walk, trot, stop, back, canter, etc,... bridleless. Add the tolt for tolters... But riding bridleless is not the goal here, the goal is to have light contact and not depend on pulling.