This blog has been going around my head for weeks, months even. It needs to come out as it’s driving me nuts :)
It started as a rant about prehab (The clinical definition: Improving the functional capability pre surgery) so it is pre-rehab. There isn’t prehab to ‘working’ your horse, there is your foundations, your husbandry, your GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. Good saddle fit, good foot care, good home life, these are all things that a horse should have as a given!
Within the RWYM network we often talk about rider biomechanics, the ‘how you sit on the horse’ is the first toolkit. The exercises you then do with your horse, known as the ‘school moves’ is the second toolkit. The ground work is therefore the zero toolkit (as in Ground Zero) , your postural work, the stuff you do to prep the horse before you even sit on onboard. and don't get me wrong, ALL of this is extremely important.
But there’s something else that keeps coming up recently that I think is even more important than any of this. The foundation stones that you build those toolkits on, if you like. I have had multiple conversations this year about the basic needs of horses and I need to put something out there.
We have all heard about the 3 F’s (we have a whole blog on it) the things a horse needs just to be a happy horse, Freedom, Friends and Forage. These get bandied around a lot at the moment. How they are interpreted or written about differs but our interpretation is:
Freedom from pain, physical freedom to move their bodies,
Friends to spend time with, a herd to call their own who they can decompress and horse with (if you really want to geek out look up Lymbic resonance in herd animals), and adequate appropriate
Forage, feed that fuels the horse in its ‘job’ and doesn’t damage them in the process.
All this adds up to SPECIES APPROPRIATE LIVING
We recently had a horse move to us, he’s adorable, he’s clearly loved and his human has tried her very best. But when the best they can find in the area is still making them walk towards their horse, in his tiny, totally sterile, individual paddock sobbing as they witness him shut down daily. They know something has to give. This is in our eyes unacceptable, when the human is begging for the horse to have friends, more freedom and more forage and the yard still says no, it’s NOT acceptable.
Herd relaxation is an essential part of happy, healthy horses...
When someone comes to me and talks about a ‘difficult’ horse or some sort of behavioural issue that they feel they need to ‘train’ out I increasingly find myself thinking about how many of these ‘issues’ would melt away if this horse was heard, if they had their 3 f’s catered for. Warwick Schiller famously says horses respond to him because he works with the “being seen, being heard, feeling felt and getting gotten”. In acknowledging what the horse needs he makes them feel heard and seen, and this changes how ‘easy’ they are to train.
I believe this is so true, when a horse has its home life catered for, all the F’s ticked, they suddenly become much ‘easier’ to handle. We’ve seen it over and over again. Horses arrive to live with our guys, they have a list of ‘training issues’ and as they settle into the herd, spend time being a horse, the stress starts to leave them, mentally and physically, the ‘issues’ just melt away. There may be aspects that still require training but the horses start to feel like they are finally “getting got”.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying species appropriate living will eliminate pain or unsoundness, this must be sorted. But it will help them to be more cognitive in their interactions with humans. Make them more able to do the ‘job’ we want them to because they have much less stress on their system the other 23 hours of the day. It will also make them more opinionated, they know you are listening! We joke that then you start to hear ALL their thoughts :)
We love this part of the their journey but it can be less popular when the overriding message is not one of love towards ‘their’ human. It’s never personal but some horses have simply had enough, maybe not forever, maybe just for now, but they need TIME. They just aren’t available for ‘work’. This is hard to hear for a human, but if you truly want them to be “getting got” you have to sit with this feeling. We so also get the other ego dent, flip side of this - Our horses stop needing us, they have all they need in their home environment, they are catered for in their basal needs. This can make the humans a little sad, but here’s the GREAT bit, anything they then choose to do with you is a bonus, they want to interact, they like to come out of the herd and play a little, and that is GOLDEN!
I know there are a thousand blogs out there on how horses should live, how to train, how to listen. But there is still so much inappropriate horse husbandry, so many stressed sad horses and so many ‘problem’ horses. With still too many humans who feel the horse ‘owes them’ because as a human we pay the bills (sorry to break it to you, it’s a not a tit for tat system). There is also a lot of mainstream knowledge that needs updating. Another Warwick line - Science follows Woo, there is so much we now know.. our industry needs to catch up.
We often don’t get it right, we are always learning, mistakes are made, all the time, but when you start to get somethings right, this immensely forgiving species cut you some slack and then it’s all up from there people.
There are so MANY layers to species appropriate living, so much depth to the 3 F’s, but we as humans need to demand more from our yards, ask for better horse husbandry to make their lives that bit better so we can start to enjoy our time with them, instead of constantly worrying about them or ignorantly taking from them.
Below is our herd having a wonderful time... developing, strengthening, learning... This was about 4 years ago. A happy herd but sad pasture...
One thing we are really passionate about and invested in learning more about is how to keep horses and enhance their lives through a healthy environment without compromising THE environment. We hope to bring you guys some of our findings as we delve into soil health, grass health and consequently pony health, along with our usual musings.
Below is new pie day twonking