At liberty with the two black ones. I am aware of the verdigris, by the way.

Thanks to Facebook and social media we can easily share the trivialities of our lives with just one or two clicks. So it comes we scroll over a ton of pictures and video snippets each day, for some we click the like-button, some we even share and others leave us wondering. Or make us grin. The latter are the topic of today's post. Those pictures and videos that somehow show that the human who made them public missed some vital details

My personal all-time favorite are the pseudo-harmony-horsey-pictures. The human wants to show how close he is to his horse, how strong the bond is they share. He huddles up against the horse's neck and smiles happily into the camera. At second glance you will notice that the horse's lower neck is strained - because the horse stares alarmed and tense right out of the picture and has no attention at all for his owner's display of affection.

If I get it right, pictures are set up like this on purpose. The photographer's assistants make some noise around the horse to make him prick his ears and stand with some tension (which supposedly looks better than a sleepy, relaxed horse). In my eyes, this somehow collides with the original intention of the shot: I mean, you want to illustrate harmony, even unity. But that is not what comes across if human and horse focus in completely different things

But it becomes even worse. Not only do some horses gape distractedly out of the picture. Some are so stimulated by the environment that the white shows in their eyes. Looking at this sort of a picture, I am almost afraid the human cuddling with the fearful horse will be run or pushed over by it any second. 

The black one in the background decided to leave the party. So I played
with the other one who was quite happy about it. All pictures: Marko

This scenario also exists in the world of horse videos. The trainer usually wants to show something and talks to the audience. In the meantime, his bored horse is looking for distraction. It nudges the trainer, pushes him with his head or nibbles on his sleeve. The human is fully concentrated on the knowledge he wants to convey, and the horse is systematically undermining his competence. As he is demonstrating that he has not learned to just stand still next to the human and wait (if you want a better example, watch this video of Warwick Schiller's). Which altogether shows quite plainly how important it is to focus on the horse and the moment. Also it emphasizes the value of defending one's personal space and not letting the horse crowd us all the time (and not crowd the horse neither of course). 

Maybe I am a callous and heartless person. But I don't necessarily have to wrap myself in the horse's neck or get a hold of his head to persuade people that I am close to my horse. I mean, I like the muzzle of a horse. It's warm and soft. But I think that our horses would be pleased if we just from time to time refrained from touching them and keep our hands off them. If we have the need to cuddle - well there are some fellow humans out there happy to be our victims. A horse is a horse. Not necessarily a pet. 

If you look at my blog, you'll hardly find pictures showing me and horses. Most of the time my project horse is the only model. The first reason why: I am simply unphotogenic. Plus: I don't want to have to discuss about the pictures (which can be hard to avoid these days). Plus: Usually the horse is more than enough to illustrate the point I want to make

PS: Looking for pictures to illustrate this article I found that the ones my boyfriend took while I was working at liberty with the two black ones were perfect. Not just one or two but almost everyone. The horses are attentive on almost every shot. I now have the theory that another horse makes work more interesting for the first horse. 

PPS: I like the pictures as the horses' focus corresponds with mine - which is actually what I wanted to transmit. Other aspects of the pictures are less optimal, of course. Exposure, background and contrast could need some fixing. 
I reward too often. I reward when I shouldn't. I reward behavior that doesn't deserve it (anymore). How, some may ask. You cannot reward often enough! Reward fuels motivation, without reward no learning!

Wrong (at least in my opinion).
To understand the most important lessons, horses need no reward.

I don't know about the situation in UK and the US, but here in Germany, people currently knock themselves out with rewarding and praising their horses. They damn negative reinforcement and promote positive reinforcement (unaware that negative does not mean bad in this context but simply taking something away).
Well, that's going to far, let's get back to why I think reward is overrated

First Example: I am in the arena with a very insecure mare (the readers of my newsletter will already know her). 
She thinks her last hour has come: The barn manager has watered the sand and the fencing is full of (horse eating) water spots. Her head is in the air, her eyes are wide, tail up, back hollow. She would love to run as she is a very reactive horse. But she cannot as running would bring her closer to the scary spots. So we start working her emotions

Approach and retreat, I let her explore her thresholds. If she can't stand it any longer, if she's too close to the spots and the pressure becomes too big, we withdraw again and bring some distance between us and the spots. Within half an hour the mare is relaxing more and more, at the end she's cool. I praised her verbally quite a lot, but that was not for her. It was for me, because I needed to express my joy over her development. For the mare my rewards didn't matter. She didn't want to please me or solve a puzzle the human presented her. For her, her life was at stake. Reward was of no importance. What really meant something to her was safety, calmness, relaxation - not exuberant praising or cuddling on my part. 

reward, release, respect, beingwithorses blog
To reward effectively, we need to know
 where our horse is at.  Photo: Marko
Second Example:  I am again in the arena, this time with a rather dominant mare. She doesn't obey. I want her to back up, she pushes into my space. I want more room, she tries to crowd me. We discuss
This is no motivation issue. It's about respect. Again, reward from me, for yielding a few steps and giving me some air, does not interest the mare. I am not in the position to praise. I am not important enough, I don't have enough influence (yet). She doesn't want to please me. She wants to show me who's in charge.
Imagine you have a big discussion with a friend, but in the end you manage to agree at least partially. Then your friend says: "Well done that you finally accept my point of view." How would you feel about that? 
You cannot reward somebody if you are at eye level. There is a decent between the one rewarding and the one rewarded. As long as the mare doesn't accept me as higher in the hierarchy, she cannot take reward from me seriously. She needs to take me seriously first. I don't gain respect through reward.  

Us humans are very focused on reward and recognition. I am convinced that both of it is of far lesser importance to horses than we tend to assume. I usually work with release to show the horse that he is on the right track. When safety and respect are no issues anymore in our relationship with the horse, we then can think about ways to motivate him. But even then, just leaving them at peace is often reward enough

What do you think about reward?

The new year is here and I start it with some practical advice. I asked my newsletter subscribers if they had any wishes and they asked for more horse training tips and advice. So here we go - the first article will be about rope halters

Working almost every day with a rope halter, I've almost forgotten how I used to struggle to get the knot right and all the questions I had about it. So my goal today is to answer all rope halter related questions. Let me know if I forgot anything important. 

Why use a rope halter?

The rope halter is a tool for communication and made to transfer impulses from the lead rope directly and precisely to the horse's head. 
One of the most important concepts in horsemanship is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. The rope halter is ideal to achieve just that: Thanks to its little weight and the loose fit it sits comfortably on the horse's head. If I put movement or pressure on the lead rope, it's directed to the halter quickly and precisely - it is not diluted which would be the case if the horse wore a web halter (that come thickly padded these days). 
Additionally, the horse most likely will not enjoy to hang their heads in the rope halter - the ropes are quite thin and don't make it a nice place to rest the head in. The halter becomes uncomfortable if the horse pulls on the rope; it makes the wrong behavior (counter pressure) hard for the horse. The right behavior (give to the pressure) is rewarded instantly: If the horse yields, the pressure on the halter disappears and it becomes comfortable right away again. 

Because of the the thin ropes the rope halter is not made for constant pressure - if we want to use it, we need to work with impulses, not steady pulling. Used the wrong way, the knot halter can easily turn into a sharp tool that does not benefit the horse. 

The knot

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog

It works like this:
1. Threat the end of the rope through the loop of the halter. Adjust the halter on the horse's head, meaning push up the nosepiece and make sure the rope sits around the horse's throat, not the horse's cheek. Pull the end of the rope through some more. 
2. Now, you pull the rope under the loop to the front in direction of the horse's head. 
3. Now bend the rope and thread it through the new loop (going over the old loop).
4. Tighten the knot.

(The rope halter is quite loose here. That's because I was taking pictures while I was doing the knot. Usually, I use both hands to do the knot so it does not slip or become loose). 

Two things you need to pay attention to
1. The knot needs to be around the loop of the halter
2. When the knot is done, the end of the rope needs to point in the direction of the horse's back, not in the direction of the eye.

These pictures show all possible knots - but only one is correct. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is not around the loop. Plus, 
the end of the rope points in direction of the horse's eye.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is not around the loop. The end of the rope points in the right direction, though.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Wrong: The knot is around the loop but still points in
the wrong direction to the horse's eye.

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
Right: The knot is around the loop and the end of the
rope points backwards, away from the horse's eye

The fit of the rope halter

The most common mistakes I notice when it comes to the fit of the rope halter

- The rope halter sits too low on the horse's nose
- The rope halter does not go around the horse's throat but sits on the cheeks. 

This is why that is wrong:
You don't want the rope halter to come too far down on the nose, because the nasal bone is very thin there. We don't want to exert any pressure on such a fragile structure. 
If the halter sits on the horse's cheek, it most likely is unbalanced. That means that more pressure than necessary is exerted on the horse's cheek, which easily rubs the coat and pinches the skin. If the halter sits farther back along the throat, you not only save the horse's skin but also you will have greater influence on the horse's head as the halter runs around the jaws which gives you more control over the head as a whole.

You want the nose piece to run under the edge of the cheek bone with one or two fingerbreaths room between themBetween the loop (where you snap or knot your lead rope) and the horse's chin you want to be able to fit the width of your hand. If the rope halter is too large, it moves too much and becomes imprecise when the impulses of the rope are delivered. If the halter is too narrow, it again will pinch the horse's face. 

I am no vet, but I guess that the believe a rope halter would stimulate some acupuncture points on the horse's head is not scientifically proven. What I find is that if you work with the lead rope, the halter does move on the horse's head quite a bit. That would mean that the acupuncture points cover quite an area - and I don't believe that. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
This is how a rope halter should look like. There is some space 
between the nose piece and the cheek bone, the throat strap is 
behind the horse's cheek, meaning the cheek piece has the
right length. There is enough room between the loop where
the rope is attached and the chin. The halter is balanced and a
nice, comfortable fit. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
The halter is too low. The nose piece is
quite down on the nasal bone, and the throat
strap pinches coat and skin at the cheek. 
The halter is unbalanced. You can tell that 
more weight is on the throat strap, whereas the
nose piece is quite loose. 

rope halter, use and fit, being with horses blog
This halter is too small for the horse. It is quite tight around the nose, 
the nose piece touches the edge of the cheek bone and 
because of the short cheek piece you cannot run the throat latch 
around the throat. 

Some thoughts on tying a horse. Here in Germany people tend to freak if someone would tie their horse in a rope halter (because it is so sharp and dangerous). Interestingly enough, no one freaks if a horse is tied in a web halter. The general advice: "Do not tie your horse in a rope halter".
As for me, I think, if my horse has not learned to be tied or has trouble with it, a web halter can be as damaging as a rope halter. I personally don't tie horses because I want them to stand still on their own without being held back by a rope. If had had to, I would use a web halter for that purpose (maybe it is superstition or tradition).

Let me know if you liked that piece. I published it in German first and it was the most successful blog post I ever wrote with several thousand clicks. If you like it, I'll think of some more basic concepts to write about.

PS: All pictures: Nadja, model: Paledo