Horsin’ Around 12-14-09
Fort Collins, Colo.
Often times we think of our four-legged friends as being large with little sensitivity. This idea is very wrong because horses are very sensitive with their mouth, feet, flanks, neck and shoulders. A horse’s skin is also highly sensitive – in fact this is the largest sense organ of all. It tells them whether something is hot, cold, hard or soft. Humans are most sensitive about their mouth, feet, and hands. When working with your horse, keep this in mind. We don’t like someone jerking on our mouth, walking on rocks and thorns, or pulling on our hands.
I know I am being accused of spoiling my horses but I like to give my horses hard cookies when they have been good during shoeing. I am also very careful about placing a bit in their mouth. With the right hand, I like to lift the bridle from the top up and with the left hand on the bit, gently placing it at the horse’s lips to let him know what I am doing. Then, using the thumb of my left hand I slide it into his mouth between his front teeth and back teeth (there is a gap in the teeth) work my thumb around on his gum until he opens his mouth and accepts the bit. I have seen people just slam a bit into a horses mouth causing them to jerk their head up and eventually making a horse hard to bridle.
There are as many bits out there as there are horses and I like to use the gentlest one my horse will respond to. There are times when I have gone to a severe bit but there is no bit that will equal a good leg cue. I like to be as gentle on a horse’s mouth as possible. Because a horse’s mouth is so sensitive bitting and light hands on the reins, should be done with care, there is no replacement for leg and body cues. All horses have fine hairs on the upper lip, some horses learn to check an electric fence daily by touching the fence with these hairs to see if it is charged. I have had the tank heater short out and my horses will not drink. I check the tank regularly by sticking my finger in it, if it shocks me then it is changed.
Using a whip is not good idea. Yes I know most barrel racers use a bat. I think it is better than a whip because it is flat and makes more noise than pain. A whip on the shoulders causes the muscle to tighten and shorten the stride. Using a whip on the flanks or ribs can cause a horse to move away from it to the side. Many horses hump up and slow down under heavy use of a whip when they are running.
Probably the most pain applied to many horses is an ill-fitting saddle. The backs of all horses are not the same and there are as many saddle trees as there are horseshoes – take time to make sure the saddle fits the horse’s back. Most horses love to be groomed with mild grooming equipment.
Remember, voice, hands, and legs best accomplish communication between rider and horse. The horse more easily understands voice cues for starting and stopping. Reining cues are more are more complex for both rider and horse. Leg cues are needed for complex maneuvers such as rollbacks. But most of all … have fun.
The information in this educational article is based on information from the textbook, “Horses: A Practical and Scientific Approach” by Melvin Bradley.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.
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