I am proud to announce our first guest post! Today Dressage Hafl gives her perspective on horsemanship and dressage. She shows her horse regularly and explains how the horse's dignity can be preserved when competing. 




I believe that competition riding has to be founded upon the health and happiness of the horse. This is very important. If we establish that as the first condition, then the sport of horses can offer a lot to people because it develops a relationship between horses and people.
- Klaus Balkenhol

Do you think that dressage and horsemanship are like fire and ice? That dressage divas rather use white wraps than orange sticks? That leather halters with skin sheep are preferred over rope halters? For me as maybe not the typical stereotype dressage rider, it is a matter of definition. It might be true that many summarize carrot sticks, the horse whisperer (thanks Hollywood) and working with lead ropes and rope halters under the synonym “horsemanship”, but in reality, horsemanship is way more than this  - at least to me.

Trust and respect are two-way streets. We want the horse to accept us as leaders of the herd, to guide them safely and to provide protection and comfort. In return, they will give us their respect, and willing submission to our ideas about what to do next, and when and where. But this respect can only be based on well deserved trust.
-Walter Zettl

Mutual trust and respect, understanding the needs of your equine partner and developing a partnership is what I would define as horsemanship. And I totally agree with Walter Zettl, who was first known as a classical dressage rider and trainer. But he is also not reluctant to the ideas of horsmanship.  I have never had a horsemanship lesson; I have never had a Parelli stick - to me, it is not the method that you use that defines horsemanship, it is the way you act and behave and what’s even more important, the way the horse reacts and behaves. Horsemanship should not be confused with training or dominating a horse. Horsemanship is the basis for working with horses – the willingness to learn, understand and act in a way that allows true cooperation between animal and human.

You become responsible forever for what you have tamed. 
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When there are no words necessary to communicate with your horse, when he approaches you after being called when you go out to get him in the fields, when there is no panic when leaving the property to head for a show, when there is absolute tranquility when arriving at the show venue and the horse behaves like at home just because he trusts his human, than that’s what I call horsemanship. Trusting each other does not only mean that you are sure that your horse does not buck you off, it is the feeling of comfort you get when being in a complete new environment and the horse shows that he feels comfortable, too. It is the feeling of security when entering a show ring knowing that he would not do anything that would do you any harm. That he would  fight for you and give his best – as he is expecting you to treat him fairly and not start using whip and spurs just because you want to get that extra ribbon. 

The respect for the horse to realize when it is enough, when the tests are still too difficult, the movements not trained well enough, the horse’s fitness not built up enough. Asking yourself every day in training if the horse is ready for this specific movement, if on that specific day he simply does not feel that well to do these movements, when it is better to go for a hack and not doing things just to impress other people. 

The horse must be allowed to be a horse and to develop its character. Correct dressage and correct handling develop the horse's character. They become perkier, and more confident in themselves. They stop shying because they feel confident in their world. And their bodies become more beautiful through correct dressage, and they live longer and healthier lives. We take away the horse's freedom, but we give something back. We develop the horse's mind.
-Melissa Simms


Keeping your horse motivated, sound and healthy is also part of my definition of horsemanship - that is unfortunately som many times forgotten. Our horses are willing to do everything for us as long as they are in the right physical and psychical shape. You cannot expect them to perform when they are locked in stalls, never having any “spare time” relaxing with their horsey friends and the possibility to move freely. And it is in the responsibility of every horseman to grant that this is possible. They should enjoy their work! And you know that going to work every day when you do not feel comfortable at what you are doing, your job is not making you happy at all!

If you are going to teach a horse something and have a good relationship, you don't make him learn it - you let him learn it. 
- Ray Hunt

Unfair training methods, ignoring that it is a living being you are working with are things we see way too often in the news, on the Internet, on Facebook– among amateurs as well as among professionals. But there are exceptions also among professional riders and I have experienced it myself: in 2012, I spent two weeks in Denmark with a former Olympian dressage rider and he is convinced that horses benefit from the work on the relationship between horse and human. At least for me, he was the first professional dressage rider using rope halters, anti-shy training and so on. In 2013, I spent a month in the Netherlands at a Classical Dressage Center and their work with horses was full of what I would call horsemanship. It was in the way they worked with horses and in the way the understood horses. When we freeworked the horses, we communicated only via body language and it was simply fascinating! Words can hardly describe what it feels like when you can halt a stallion by simply breathing out! When I came back from this month abroad, the work with Hafl, my own horse, changed completely. And I see more and more dressage trainers who claim to incorporate horsemanship methods to set up a “more natural dressage”. Still, I do not think that you need to invent something new and stop riding in bridle and saddle and avoid going to shows. There is a chance that you show and have fair training and riding methods as well as a good relationship with your horse. One of the more popular examples for his approach is Uta Gräf, who even rides highest level movements bitless – but does compete on conventional levels as well. Don’t be blinkered to try something different and new! 

First of all, I believe that dressage should be the foundation for all horse sport disciplines. But, I also think the dressage community would benefit from the skill sets that natural horsemanship principles provide. 
-Walter Zettl

I am personally trying my best to do all of the above. Training plans ensure that he is fit enough for what I am asking of him, changing routines help to keep him motivated, all day in the fields with many other horses keeps his mind fit and listening to him keeps me from overworking or overburden him. A good horseman is also a good listener, but it takes time to understand and it takes even more time to set up a proper communication with your horse. 
The horse will teach you if you‘ll listen. 
-Ray Hunt

I would claim that my horse and I understand each other – and that should be the result of any training method applied – call it specifically horsemanship method or not. Without it, one cannot really be a horseman – rarely, you get ribbons for good horsemanship. But in the end, it isn’t about the ribbons – it is about that specific bond that develops between human and animal.
Put the relationship with your horse first.
- Pat Parelli
Whatever you do, whatever you work on with your horses – it is not that you are doing it for yourself, you are doing for the horse.

One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.

- Dale Carnegie

You liked this guest post? Than visit Dressage Hafl to read more of Hafl and his adventures!

I don‘t like horse people who roam the country wagging their finger and telling others what to believe and what to do. But sometimes I too feel the need to lecture people (and I know this is no good a tendency). So here comes my lecture of the month! To differentiate it from the well thought trough and highly elaborated utterances of the wagging finger horse people I will deliver it as a rant. Here we go:

I am not able to put into words (and that in itself is saying something) how people unnerve me who characterize their horses with a flood of negative attributes they themselves have to answer for. „He‘s insensitive“. „He‘s slow to catch on“. „He will run you over.“ „He will ignore you“. „He‘s just plain stupid.“

Those are some sentences out of a sheer endless procession of bad traits, judged from a perspective of endless human arrogance
Those people who are too ignorant to realize that their horse‘s behavior unfortunately is just a reaction on their own, or if they perceive it who are too lazy to offer their horse some quality (as clearity and consistency take work and time), those people I want to yell in their faces: „He‘s insensitive because you are a brute.“ 
„He‘s slow to catch on because you are unable to get across what you want.“ 
„He runs over you because you offer no good reason to follow you.“ 
„He ignores you because you‘ve proven over and over again that you have nothing important to say.“ 
„He is just plain stupid because you give him a hard time learning.“

People, your horses will only be as smart, brave and sensitive as you are yourselves. If you don‘t like what you see in your horse - well, go on and start working on yourself! 


Anything you want to rant about? I am eager to know!



Rantler from beingwithorses
Rantler is in a bad, bad mood
PS: This will be a once in a month exception. I have no interest in pointing fingers and in patronizing people - they can decide for themselves what is good for them and their horses. And the vast majority of the content I keep delivering will be balanced and rather on the factual side of things.


But horses can be an emotional subject and I think it‘s fair to let these emotions out once in a while - no offence intended. In order for you to know when to duck away and when approach casually, let me introduce Rantler here. As soon as he shows up, you know: she's scolding again!




We don't want to admit it but there were moments when we punished our horses. Beat them, pulled on the reins, spurred them. One might feel bad afterwards, the other might think that the horse deserved it that moment. 
I don't want to go on about how to define punishment in scientific terms - there is as you know a difference between punishment and negative reinforcement in behavioral studies - but I want to give you two situations I have experienced lately as examples why and when punishment does not work.


1. The human triggers the behavior he wants to prevent


Whenever a friend of mine wants to saddle her gelding, he puts back his ears as soon as he sees the saddle. When she lifts it he starts weaving his head back and forth, and as soon as she dives for the girth and starts to tighten it, he turns his head and tries to bite. She tries to correct his bad expression with verbal commands like "Stop it" or "No" ; but
when he turns to bite she hits him with the hand. So the gelding stops biting and retreats to swishing his tail, shaking his head and pinching his ears. At a short notice she has succeeded in preventing the worst behavior - the biting part. But as sons as she comes to him with the saddle the next time he will start all over again
The punishment - beating him - only makes him hate saddling even more. He will not stop misbehaving because the human triggers it again and again with the saddling process. 
It's obvious that the gelding has a problem - be it the saddle pinching his shoulders, be it the human cinching up too quickly too tight or be it that he has abdominal pain. So instead of punishing the horse for giving his opinion it would be more appropriate to find and remove the cause of his behavior. So he doesn't feel the need to defend himself anymore.

Punishment does not work with horses

2. The horse doesn't connect the punishment with his behavior


Lately an excited mare hit her owner in the head when she quickly turned her nose from left to right. The owner hit her back with the stick. For the mare that didn't mean "Oh, I mustn't knock over my human" but rather "I knew right from the start that this place was dangerous!" When she was turning her head her focus was not on the human and her hitting the owner was coincidence. If the owner would have stood farther away the mare wouldn't have touched her. The human was in the wrong place - in the range of the mare's head - at the wrong time. 
Accordingly the mare doesn't relate her "bad" behavior with hurting the human - from her point of view she was only turning her head. 
As having to accept knocks in the head from your horse cannot be the solution, we better turn to prevention. The human has to teach the horse to respect and to insist on his personal space - even in situations that spook and distract the horse. 







It's a common problem: Some things our horse is perfect with, others he just doesn't seem to get. He might be great in the arena, but life threatening on a trail. He might be gentle with kids but behaves like a steamroller when you try to guide him to the pasture. The reason is quite simple: We too are perfect around our horse in some things and others we don't seem to get neither. 
It's human to not always feel secure around the horse, to not always be self-assured, to not always react quickly and to not always keep up the same level of awareness. But: If we were able to we would be in less trouble. Though it is not realistic to always expect 100 percent quality in everything we do, we can aspire to and try to be as good as possible, starting with the small things and doing them step by step.
Pat Parelli challenged his students to always ask for the same quality from the horse no matter what he does. Let it be leading, mounting or backing up. This gets us down to the core of the problem: We don't ask for the same quality on a consistent basis. Yesterday we focussed on backing up and we would immediately correct our horse if he was shuffling and dragging his feet. Today we haven't slept too well and so we don't pay much attention to our backing up and accept a slouching horse.
But it is not only the quality of the same maneuver we are inconsistent about. We also fail to offer the horse some orientation in general: We tickle the perfect half pass out of our horse, but he is allowed to tun over us when led. Our posture when jumping is flawless, but if the horse threatens when we put the saddle on we ignore him. 
All of that leads to a horse that doesn't believe we are dependable as sometimes we are extremely particular about something and other times we are careless. That does not exactly make us a leader for a horse. If we are not dependable, we cannot expect our horses to be
This article pretty much boils down to a quote of Buck Brannaman: "Everything I do with a horse I do it with quality".


Resistance can either be physical or mental. I can refuse to do something because I am too weak: „No, I won‘t push the wheelbarrow up that hill. Don‘t you know that I wrenched my wrist the other day?“ Or I refuse because of other reasons: „Me again? I‘ve emptied it three times in the last week already! Now it‘s definitely your turn!“ 

Same thing with horses. If something doesn‘t work and you are pretty sure the reason is not physical try to find a mental brace. Yesterday I came into the arena with Paledo - not overly ambitious. We walked for a while, me testing how responsive he was to my cues when I wanted him to stop, step quicker, halt or go back. That wasn‘t too bad. I let him come to a halt, hooked my finger into his rope halter and asked him to give to it (I wanted him to bend the neck and the poll). I gave some millimeters with the speed of a snail. I spent some minutes asking for the bend - with modest success
Then I realized that the brace was not a muscular thing in his neck or poll - it was a brace in his brain. He just said „no.“ So I changed the game from „If you don‘t yield I will keep up the pressure“ (which did not impress him at all) to „If you don‘t yield I will have you run for a round and ask again.“
Finger hooked in, asked again for a subtle response and a smooth bend, he didn‘t react, so I send him out backward and on a circle with some energy. When I had him come in after a lap his ears were pricked and his face attentive. Finger hooked in again, asked for the yield - and there it came, a subtle smooth willing response and yield to the pressure with the perfect flexion in neck and poll, in less than a second. 

The solution to a problem is often not to be found directly next to it (asking to yield did not work) but it lies somewhere on the way you were traveling when the problem appeared (he does not yield because he lacks respect and a reason to do it).

I've just found an article that covers the same topic more in depth: http://learnhorses.blogspot.de/2011/09/dont-embrace-brace.html

I like the youtube channel of Warwick Schiller.
This video, I've recently stumbled upon, is about how to ask a horse to move a certain body part without directly asking him - it's a lateral approach. Amazing advice!