A Matter of horse  directed my attention (on twitter) to a blog post by Australian horseman Ross Jacobs
In his latest post he writes about how "good training is about directing a horse’s thoughts". This quote blew my mind - it should be obvious, as we are not supposed to make a horse do something (which implies resistance on the horse's part). But put in words like he did it somehow opened up another level of understanding for me. I also love the post he did on science and horsemanship. So check him out, it's more than worth a visit!

You've already learned of my love for my ariat boots and my jodhpurs. I don't know if you enjoyed reading the post but I fore sure enjoyed writing it and this is why I proudly present the sequel of what I might call "My most beloved gear". Or something.
We purchase a lot in our life as horse addicts and riders. But some items just protrude. Because of their quality, their looks, their durability or simply because they come in so handy.
Like my hat. It's a stetson felt hat, brown with a string around the neck. I picked it from perceived a thousand models somewhere in a store in Montana, US. I was wearing it on my trip home and gathered some irritated looks from urbane travelers at the Frankfurt hub. I even had it sent back from France where I forgot it.
equipment horses
My hat. Photo: Nadja

At my barn people might think "she's playing cowgirl again". But tell you what: I don't care. This hat does not only look pretty good on my head (at least in my opinion), it's also just plain functional. If the rein is pouring down, it protects your head and allows you to stay outside even when the weather is miserable. If the sun is burning down, it will shade you face, spare you a sunburn and keep you from blinking incessantly. It has been folded tightly, stomped, stood on and bitten by some nasty muzzles, it has been soaked and bleached. Never mind, the heat is still going strong and I don't want to miss it. And of course it carries a bit of a laid back attitude too.
Another favorite item of mine is my 45 foot lariat rope though I get tangled in it every time I use it and am probably a pretty ridiculous cowgirl. Carries around a lasso and and doesn't know how to handle it. Well, I don't intend to rope cows anyway. I use it as a communication device for the horse, as a particularly long line. It's made for the use on horses (special sort of rope I guess). I like it because it's stiff enough and offers enough stability to not get completely lost plus it is light enough to not pull on the horses head. 
My project horse - who's rather on the lazy side - does flying lead changes on it. It allows him to move out quite a lot and less confined, he is more motivated to go. I also like to put it in a loop around his head (but none that tightens!) to test where he is at mentally. I can control his neck but not his nose - so I see if he's tuned in to me looking at me or if he's looking out (I picked that up from Stephen Halfpenny, who has some great videos on youtube). 
So now you know about what I like to use. Tell me about your favorite items!
I don't know if you know that I am an art historian in my other life. 
Sophie from Chevalie, a blog about riding and horses (it's in German) has drawn my attention to an artist and I want to share that with you just in a few words. Her name is Jill Soukoup, and her works are somewhere between realism, impressionism and expressionism. Which means rather bold brushstrokes and an atmosphere created and dominated by vivid color and light. I see a lot of Van Gogh in it. I don't like paintings of horses too much in general because they often tend to be kind of kitchy. But I find hers quite impressing. Even better are the architectural studies. 
I don't know about you but a good piece of art always brightens up my day. And Jill's definitely did!
Do you remember the post about talking with the ears? You find it here. This one is the sequel. 
I‘d suggested to look at your horse‘s ears if he doesn‘t react to an aid. If you see them pointing in your direction, you‘ll know that the horse is listening and trying to understand you. If he doesn‘t react appropriately it‘s because he is unsure what to do. So instead of reinforcing and repeating the aid (he already hasn‘t understood the first time), it‘s worthwhile to think about how to help the horse understand what you want by changing the aid.
Now how can we change it?

I recommend to look at the following:
-Check how you sit on your horse. Maybe your weight is in your horse‘s way or disturbs his balance
- Check where your energy is directed to and where you are looking. Does it help the horse or affect in negatively?
- Check if you really want what you are asking for - or are you afraid or uncomfortable with it? Because if you are, the horse will most likely obey your emotions, not your aid. He can read your true intent.

get the message to the feet
"Get the message to the feet" 
is an important concept in horsemanship  
Photo: Nadja

There are, of course, some prerequisites you want to have if you choose to change the aid instead of reinforcing it:
  • Your horse is actually listening. If he is not, it can be appropriate to remind him with a stronger aid. 
  • The horse knows the aid. If he doesn‘t, it is necessary to reinforce as you want him to understand a certain cue. 

I hope that doesn‘t sound too confusing. Let me give you an example for making clear I mean by changing instead fo reinforcing the aid:
If you‘ve established a backup by shortening the reins and driving with the legs, and you horse doesn‘t back up, it makes no sense to then ask for the back up with constant pressure of the legs. We need to stay with our initial aid but change its components. In the case of backing up these components would be where you as a rider are looking at. Down at the withers, putting additional weight on the forehand that should become lighter in the backup? Or up and between the ears to help the horse lift his shoulders? Do you lean forward or do you sit back? 
Those are the subtle changes I‘d try to make in order to help my horse understand me.

Welcome to our second guest post! 
After Dressage Hafl's article on Horsemanship and Dressage, the topic this time is saddle fitting. Jill Southern, who has written a booklet about it, gives her view.  

Jill has been around horses most of her life with a particular interest in training and also had spells dealing with breeding and showing youngstock. Simply being on yards for years and observing lots of horses was an education in itself, of sorts, together with books, videos, attending demonstrations and having some lessons with some good trainers, she says. Still, she doesn't claim to be any kind of expert. But as a good fitting saddle changes so much for horse and rider and is quite simple to achieve, she felt compelled to at least try and get the message out there.

Hi everyone,

This may sound like an obvious question, but does your saddle really fit?? I mean, I expect your first reaction is to think "of course it does, you idiot" but how can you tell if your horse really thinks it does too? I spent years around horses and thought I'd learned enough to make sure my horse was well cared for, including whether his tack fitted correctly. I'd even had a beautiful dressage saddle made to measure for my last horse which, according to the things one usually is supposed to check, was a great fit. It was made by a very reputable company and they came out a couple of times taking every care to ensure it fit.  But by pure stroke of fate I came to eventually be shown that actually it didn't.

Jill Southern
Even when mounted, it should still be possible to put your hand under the front of the saddle and move your hand downwards under the panel to where the tree ends.If you cannot do this, then it is likely that the saddle is too narrow and tight, and no amount of adjustment to the padding can correct this. Photo: Jill Southern
I'd had the made to measure saddle for around a year, attending various training days with some really good trainers, meeting up with a few other riders who commented that my horse seemed to be getting more resistant and hollow in his basic way of going, not less, as you would expect after more training. The conversation eventually led to their telling me about a saddle fitter they knew because they thought my saddle may be the reason why. My first reaction was "it can't possibly be, it's been carefully made to measure" but I realised my little horse was not progressing the way he should so swallowed my pride and arranged for the fitter to come and see us with a car full of potential saddles.

Always one curious to learn, especially where horses were concerned, I quizzed the fitter constantly as she explained that the horse gives off signals and behaviours that show when he is uncomfortable.  She tried on saddle after saddle and taught me how to test ride my horse and what to look for and how I would know when he was really happy and moving the way he should. Some she tried she said were "better" but she wasn't satisfied even when we'd gone through half a dozen saddles because although he was more still in his mouth and tail they were indicating some resistance.

He didn't exhibit the behaviours she was looking for until the seventh saddle went on at which point, even before she said anything at all, I could tell we had found what we were looking for because everything about his way of going changed and I knew we had found a saddle he was really happy in. Unfortunately of all the saddles she had brought, it wasn't one I particularly liked for me, but I realised that, from what I had learned, I could find a saddle that was comfortable myself purely from the reactions of my horse.

I looked for months to find the saddle that was right for us both and when I did I noticed other things about his behaviour, both in the stable when the tack appeared, and out hacking, had changed. For example, I was married to a farrier at the time so his feet were always kept well trimmed but he had always tripped a lot when riding out.  With the comfortable saddle on this stopped altogether. These were things in addition to those the fitter had taught me to watch out for, but before I would never have associated the tripping with the saddle because he didn't trip when being schooled.

Does your saddle fit? Photo: Jill Southern
Over the next few years, from time to time, I had cause to "test" what I had learned on friends horses and found the theories checked out time and time again. The scary thing was it was amongst friends who were competent riders that had been around horses for a while too and when I asked them "are you sure your horse is comfortable in his saddle", they, like you, said "of course it does, you idiot!"  However, once they saw the change in their horse once he/she was in a different saddle that was comfortable, they had to admit, the saddle had indeed been affecting their horse, but they hadn't thought they had any particular problem at all.  It  was only by watching them ride and studying how their horse moved with "new eyes" could I see their horse's discomfort.

I guess my point is that we don't know what we don't know and sometimes we need to have a little less pride and be open to having our existing knowledge challenged. The topic of having a saddle that's comfortable has become something of a personal crusade for me because according to some very good saddle fitters I spoke to when I first drafted my booklet, up to 80% of horses are in a saddle that is not comfortable for them, so clearly it's still rife amongst us. I wrote "How to tell if your horse really thinks his saddle fits" available on Amazon simply to try and spread the message to as many riders as possible. The booklet illustrates what signs to look for in your horse and how to test ride him, it is purely the message. It is not intended to make anyone into an expert saddle fitter (there are good and much more lengthy books on that topic) but purely to try to get riders to really look for signs in their own horse that may show their saddle needs checking out. 
Some horses don't defend themselves. Others might toss their heads, kick or bolt, but this kind stays still, their eyes become bigger, glaze over, their body shrinks and tightens. They tuck their tail, contract their mouth, grunt or gasp trying to tell us humans to back down because they are having trouble. But we don't listen, we don't see their struggle and we continue with our demands, our loud aids, our whips and reins and spurs. 

The gelding I have been taking care of for the past ten years is such a horse. Gentle, obedient, still. And facing no resistance, we humans drive and push all the more, we want to develop, form, improve, reach our goals. It took me a long time to understand that the lack of fightback in a horse doesn't necessarily equal understanding.

But the horse countered my ignorance and my impatience with softness and loyalty. With helplessness and attentive eyes, maybe hoping - I don't know if horses are capable to feel hope - that I would change for the better. 
This is why I write this blog. 

responsibilities of a horse person
Give him some peace. Foto: Nadja

We horse people have not only the responsibility to be the best teachers possible for our horses. We need to let them teach us too. This is a mutual relationship, not a one way street where the human is the one telling and the horse is the one listening. It works the other way round as well.
To live up to the horse we need to stop thinking in our human categories. We need to look closely - and not turn away because we see things we'd rather not. We need to be in control of our emotions, and don't let false pride, vanity or disproportionate ambition take over.
Becoming a horseman starts with a decision, but is a process that never ends. We simple can never learn everything that is to learn about horses. 
So in this blog I write about the experiences and small epiphanies I've had being with horses. Interesting enough, they become more and more not less. He who has a closer look catches more, I guess. 
If we raise our awareness to these details and train our attention, we have the chance to become better partners for our horses. Not more, but no less either is my concern. 

Do you have a "why" that fuels you? Let me know!
Let's get personal. At bloggen.co (I am sorry, it's in German) I've read that list-posts are a nice way to get information across. They are easy to read and quite popular at the moment. So I thought I join the crowd. Here we go

11 facts you don't know about me (yet)

1. I have a deep affection for bumble bees and I am redesigning my parents' garden to the needs of the bumble bee
2. I love animals that feature round, furry and rather thick (like a bumble bee and like my project horse)
3. I can't stand people and political parties who tell me what to do and what to believe in
4. I love mars bar ice-cream
5. I am an editor and I worked for a regional newspaper
6. If I had a choice of what to be, I couldn't make my mind up between artist and cowboy 
7. I have an degree in arts history from the renowned university of Heidelberg
8. I love hats - you'll find my wearing my stetson at the barn and some straw summer hat in town
9. I am interested in so many things that have nothing in common at all (if you have any suggestions on how to combine art history and horses, and make money with it, let me know) that I sometimes loose my focus
10. After years of searching and experimenting I have found the recipe for the most delicious chocolate muffins on earth (and beyond)
11. I built and customized a wooden shelf for our bathroom.

If you want to join, go ahead and reveal your secrets :) !

list post
Prettiest horse on earth. Photo: Marko

When I am riding and my horse doesn't understand me, I often wonder what I need to do to help him. I've become aware recently that it is not the horse that needs to listen but it's me who needs to communicate more precisely. I was practicing the rectangle Buck Brannaman teaches (it's a counterclockwise move that includes backing up, stepping sideways, coming forward and stepping sideways again to come out exactly where one started). 

The only thing that worked was the forward. I was sitting on the horse, frustrated, when my eyes caught his ears. They were aiming in my direction, both of them. Revealing a fully concentrated horse willing to execute whatever order he would receive from back there in the saddle. I had been about to pull on the reins and reinforce my aids with the crop in order to assert myself (which is a pretty common sentence in German riding lessons by the way) but I suppressed what was an unfair punishing impulse. 

If you encounter the situation that your horse does not react on the first subtle cue, have a look at his ears before you start reinforcing. If they aim at you you know that your horse is listening - and you don't have to up the phases of you aid but try to communicate what you want in a different way. Just amplifying the first cue that hasn't worked would be a match for asking for something politely in vain and than screaming your orders. He who doesn't understand what you mean in normal volume will neither get you no matter how much and how loud you repeat it. 

In the post to come I will give you some ideas what we riders can to do differentiate our aids and show you some pitfalls where we tend to be in our horses' way. 

Additionally I will list some of the prerequisites, that I find very important, so you can apply this method of changing your aids instead of reinforcing them. Because there are times when you would rather want to reinforce. And I want to separate the options as clearly as possible.