Well Trained Or Withdrawn

When training your horses, what I find to be the most difficult at all times, is motivating the horse. A horse like Saleem for instance, tend to just shut down and let me do whatever I want, only responding if I ask something of him he can’t quite figure out how to do, and then, it’s a negative response. Like his headshaking. It’s a negative, stress induced, response.

What I do want from him, is a positive response. I want him to feel happy when he completes a task, no matter how simple. I want him to work with me, because he wants’ to figure out what I am asking, and I want him to feel joy when he succeeds.

In short, I want him to be WITH me.

Saleem finds it hard to trot across bars. That is a fact about him, it requires a lot of concentration on his part, and a lot of courage, two things of which Saleem does not have much.


Asking him to do it, like this, is the best way I have found so far. If he is wearing a halter, he tends to get unfocused if I signal him through it, and then he gets unfocused, he closes his eyes, and shakes his head, making it nearly impossible for him to trot across anything.



So, what I am training myself in here, is no contact, not interfering. Just leave him alone and let him figure out the job. He will get it. All I can use the rope around his neck for, is to ask him to keep a straight line, and even that is difficult. All in all, he is on his own here, learning that he has got four legs for the first time, and he displays a perfect collection, according to his strength and top line, and absolutely no headshaking.

He even followed me across the bars, and between them, with nothing on, which is HUGE for Saleem, truly displaying his growing self confidence.


Six months ago, he would have given up in advance, never even tried to get near the bars without guidance.

And here is where the all important thing is for me. His focus. Look at his ears, and where he is looking. Not at the scary task he is performing, but at me. He is with me, he is having enough confidence to actually look away from the bars and ask me, the all important question; “Was that it?”


Not, “How do I survive this?” or “I’ll do it so you’ll leave me alone,” but no, Saleem is asking me “now what?” That is the response I want from my horse. Any horse. It must find what we are doing easy, and entertaining at all times, otherwise you are doing something wrong as a trainer. I’ll be the first to admit, it has taken me years to figure out Saleem, and I am not entirely there yet, but I am getting  there now, because I never strayed from the path, so to speak.

Saleem is a horse I could have easily broken. I could have easily kept him “shut down,” ignored that he wasn’t with me, and that he wasn’t happy, and just been satisfied with him, solving the task I gave him. I could have even fixed his headshaking by tying his head down. Saleem is a nice horse, he folds. He would have withdrawn into his shell, like a snail and never looked out again.

What I am getting in these pictures, is my snail, looking out of his shell, and me, carefully not poking him, because he will recoil. I am truly jumping for joy at these pictures.

Even more so, after yesterday, where my friends and I went to a DHE event. (The Whole Equipage.)

In theory, it’s a great concept. Agility, trail, horse friendly dressage and jumping, no draw reins, no pole bits, no force, no spurs… Even an optional noseband, which makes me cheer. Absolutely my kind of event. There were ground work as well, and lots of things you could do with your horses, even if they couldn’t be ridden. Brilliant.

I did notice though, that as good as the idea was, bringing it to life, is not always that easy. A lot of the horses I saw yesterday, seemed “closed off.” Desensitised. Like they were overwhelmed and shutting the world out.

I know it takes a very well trained horse, to ride it in a cordeo, to jump it in a cordeo, but to me there is a world of difference, between “well trained” and “Withdrawn.”

A well trained horse, still has its spirits. It has its temper, it is alert, it pays attention to the world around it and it has fun. A withdrawn horse completes its task and waits for it to be over.

Which is why it is taking me so long, for instance, teaching Marble to  not bite. I never want to compromise her temper, or her personality. Nothing is more important to me, than keeping the mind of the horse intact. Ablaze too, and his rearing up against people. I tell him no, every time, but I don’t ever want him to stop playing with humans. I love how he has no shell, like Saleem, to be lured out of. I want to keep him that way. Ablaze has been WITH me, since the day he was born. I never want to break that trust.

A lot can be said for and against cordeos, I do find it impressive when you are able to jump in one, and a lot of professional riders should take a look at this girl and be ashamed of the spikes and the pole bits and the draw reins they use.



That said, I am not too impressed with the collecting and the balance in most of the horses I saw at this event. Most of them were carrying themselves very wrong, and even if it is not done on purpose, it is still abuse in my world. Leaving the horses head alone is a good thing, we can all agree on that, but it is still your job as a rider, to make the horse carry you without lowering its back. A lot of the riders I saw yesterday, did not manage that, and failing that, it is still not horsemanship to me.

There was a few very impressive equipages. Like this pony, who is missing an eye. I believe it was a boy, if it wasn’t, you will have to excuse me. I was too busy looking at how happy he was, how alert he was, how he gave his trainer his undivided attention at all times.


And this little fella, who was one of two horses, who managed to handle the water on the agility track, and he never hesitated.




He simply had fun, and followed his human. To me, that is horsemanship. Working with a happy horse, who can handle the job and wants to play along.

I do hope that DHE shows become more common, since they are the only alternative to ordinary shows, but I still think we have a lot to learn about reading our horses in general. I am not sure I will be competing here, any time soon either, simply because once again, I find that there are rules I don’t agree with and tasks, like riding too many circles between the obstacles in jumping, that I find to be confusing for the horse. But I will be keeping an eye on these events.

Maybe someday, I’ll learn to fit in. Maybe not. Until then, I’ll go back to figuring out, how to make Saleem shine, because he does, whenever he comes out of his shell.

IMG_3232Simply shine.



About Starstone

-Owned by horses. Writer, Photographer, Director, Musician.
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