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snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 03:08 AM
http://www.eurodressage.com/equestrian/2009/10/29/daily-turnout-prevents-dressage-horses-injury




Although this is an article dealing with turn out and other physical issues, I was struck by one comment in particular....


Murray compared the brain of a horse to that of a cat. "They are not good at thinking but very good at coordinating their limbs."


It got me thinking about event horses, modern technical XC courses, and the differences of opinion some of us have when it comes to either setting up horses to fences or those who believe horses should think for themselves.

I, personally, am of the belief that we have an obligation to place the horse in the best possible spot for jumping...that means dictating pace, stride, and point of take off. If this vet is correct in her assumption, then would it not make sense for us to do some of the "thinking" for our horses where difficult combinations of jumps is concerned. It would seem that it would be the horse's job to coordinate its feet whilst it might be prudent for us, as riders, to actually think for them where pace, stride, balance, and take off are concerned. After all, it is not in the horse's interest/nature to jump technical combinations of jumps.

Thoughts.....

PAF
Jan. 6, 2012, 04:42 AM
Very interesting comparison. If true, might that support the argument that today's technical courses are too much to expect of a horse? It would seem that if it is true - the rider must think for the horse and the horse must listen carefully to the rider and react immediately to their instructions. If not, a recipe for disaster?

Perhaps that is what is really going on behind many of the accidents over the last years - not the change from Long Format to Short per se and the perception that the horses are less fit because of the change, but the trend to use more and more technical fences to separate the "men from the boys" and the failure of fast and accurate enough communication between horse and rider.

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 05:38 AM
I have lost count at the number of times where horses fall, run out or in the case of show jumping...pull rails, where the rider has remarked that they had waited too long to make "an adjustment" before a related distance. Surely the "thinking" horse would have summed up the question and made the adjustment themselves.

I guess my question is... are we mistaking the horse's inherent ability/desire to stay on it's feet to actual "thinking"? We ask horses to jump and certainly combination/cluster fences when it would appear that they would rather avoid such questions. Perhaps...without us thinking for them (length of stride, pace, point of take off) they would not attempt to jump. Are we then, in effect, mistaking a horse's self preservation instincts for actual understanding of the question/effort in front of them...if we subscribe to the "point and kick theory".

We all have heard some trainers say that it the horse's job to figure out where to put it's feet but maybe we are asking too much of them to do just that where combination fences are involved.

bornfreenowexpensive
Jan. 6, 2012, 06:58 AM
I think that there is a significant difference in training a young horse....and what you do at the higher more complex levels.

Even Jimmy would agree that when you are at a higher level...you as a partner need to do your job and put your horse in the best position for your horse to succeed by setting them up well.

The issue comes when from the very start....a rider is always placing a horse to the perfect distance in all of its training that the horse doesn't have the skills or confidence to coordinate their foot work when the rider makes a mistake and doesn't put them in the perfect spot....or more...even when the rider does, the question requires quick adjustments.

I always thought that teaching the horse their foot work at low and confident building fences was NOT really about teaching them how to solve all questions. The rider is still the only one who has walked the combination and knows that the striding is short or long etc. The rider does have a job too. But the training in creating a "thinking" horse is to get their coordination sharper and quicker.....not to make the rider just a passenager who doesn't have a job other than to sit and steer.

Jealoushe
Jan. 6, 2012, 09:09 AM
I have lost count at the number of times where horses fall, run out or in the case of show jumping...pull rails, where the rider has remarked that they had waited too long to make "an adjustment" before a related distance. Surely the "thinking" horse would have summed up the question and made the adjustment themselves.

I guess my question is... are we mistaking the horse's inherent ability/desire to stay on it's feet to actual "thinking"? We ask horses to jump and certainly combination/cluster fences when it would appear that they would rather avoid such questions. Perhaps...without us thinking for them (length of stride, pace, point of take off) they would not attempt to jump. Are we then, in effect, mistaking a horse's self preservation instincts for actual understanding of the question/effort in front of them...if we subscribe to the "point and kick theory".

We all have heard some trainers say that it the horse's job to figure out where to put it's feet but maybe we are asking too much of them to do just that where combination fences are involved.

Could be true...maybe why some horses are more clever and careful than others? A more natural ability to see a spot and get their legs out of the way?...Some horses can do this amazingly no matter who the rider...and some horses can have the BEST riders and still not get over the jumps properly.

frugalannie
Jan. 6, 2012, 10:59 AM
Another aspect to this might be the horse's ability to see the jump, process the physical demands of the jump and then remember the details long enough to get over the obstacle. Jimmy Wofford draws pictures of the horse's actual visual "screen" and says that it only extends down about 15 degrees from its eye. And we all know that horses can't see what's at the end of their noses. In sequence, they have to see the jump a couple of strides out, accurately assess the height and width so that they can produce the correct amount of physical effort to clear it and then remember it long enough to accomplish same.

When jumps come in close succession as in combinations, are we overwhelming the horse's ability to do this sequence?

Great topic, Snoopy!

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:11 AM
Another aspect to this might be the horse's ability to see the jump, process the physical demands of the jump and then remember the details long enough to get over the obstacle. Jimmy Wofford draws pictures of the horse's actual visual "screen" and says that it only extends down about 15 degrees from its eye. And we all know that horses can't see what's at the end of their noses. In sequence, they have to see the jump a couple of strides out, accurately assess the height and width so that they can produce the correct amount of physical effort to clear it and then remember it long enough to accomplish same.

When jumps come in close succession as in combinations, are we overwhelming the horse's ability to do this sequence?

Great topic, Snoopy!



Great post!

JER
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:25 AM
snoopy, I posted a variation on this theme last month, about mental effort and physiological fatigue.

food for XC thought: mental effort increases physical fatigue... (http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?t=333825)

Whether it's conscious decision-making or 'reaction', a horse has to make a lot of physiologically significant decisions on course. Many studies have shown that decision-making leads to fatigue; there's no reason why this wouldn't apply to horses as well as humans. Our resources are limited.

A good rider might conserve his horse's resources by putting him in the right place most of the time. Some horses might be more resource-rich than others. Some horses might have a more dangerous 'fail' mechanism than others -- like not lifting their legs quite high enough or by not getting off the ground at all.

Like frugalannie says, I think you can overwhelm a horse. Just look at Burghley or Badminton, you'll always see a few who are past their limit -- and often this does not end well.

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:30 AM
I will check out your link. Many of my posts have indicated that I believe that horses are mentally tired from the increased clusters of fences on modern course design.

This could also show itself in "schooling" fences. Some have a tendency to over school...that means that we jump the same combination over and over "until the horse gets it right", but perhaps "getting it right" is just basically luck and what we want the horse to produce. We then go on to think that the horse "understands" the question.

It seems that there are a lot of accidents in the schooling process....could it be that our horses do not really "understand" or that we are exhausting them mentally and beyond their capabilities as a "thinking" creature....or BOTH.

JER
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:33 AM
snoopy, I'd agree with you on the combinations, especially with no let up in between combos.

bornfreenowexpensive
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:48 AM
I will check out your link. Many of my posts have indicated that I believe that horses are mentally tired from the increased clusters of fences on modern course design.

This could also show itself in "schooling" fences. Some have a tendency to over school...that means that we jump the same combination over and over "until the horse gets it right", but perhaps "getting it right" is just basically luck and what we want the horse to produce. We then go on to think that the horse "understands" the question.

It seems that there are a lot of accidents in the schooling process....could it be that our horses do not really "understand" or that we are exhausting them mentally and beyond their capabilities as a "thinking" creature....or BOTH.


I would agree with this....but I would also say that the riders can also get mentally tired on those courses too.

That is the element where good course design is so important.....and the difficulty of designing a test for the elite level. How to make the test difficult enough but at the same time not so difficult that the result of a mistake is a fall or worse.

And where a rider's horsemanship needs to be sharp...to know when either they or their horse is too tired (mentally OR physically) to safely continue.

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 11:54 AM
I would agree with this....but I would also say that the riders can also get mentally tired on those courses too.

That is the element where good course design is so important.....and the difficulty of designing a test for the elite level. How to make the test difficult enough but at the same time not so difficult that the result of a mistake is a fall or worse.

And where a rider's horsemanship needs to be sharp...to know when either they or their horse is too tired (mentally OR physically) to safely continue.


Which leads to me another question....multiple rides at horse trials for riders. Some ride upwards of 6-8 horses in one horse trial. If we have to "think for our horses" to a certain extent, are we not keeping up our end of the bargain. This could also be said for the rider who has many horses to ride in training.

bornfreenowexpensive
Jan. 6, 2012, 12:17 PM
Which leads to me another question....multiple rides at horse trials for riders. Some ride upwards of 6-8 horses in one horse trial. If we have to "think for our horses" to a certain extent, are we not keeping up our end of the bargain. This could also be said for the rider who has many horses to ride in training.


I agree with you.

It is a professional issue....that is faced in lots of industries. I, as a lawyer, have to know my limits and know when to say "no". I have too much on my plate already.

In the horse industry...the consequence of not knowing your limits (or your horse) can be more damaging than in my industry (where I'm just looking at malpractice as opposed to a serious injury to myself or my horse).

Learning your limits is critical...and it is very hard to teach/learn. Especially when it is your way of making a living.

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 12:18 PM
When we school/train dressage we as riders are "influencing" our horses through our aids to produce what we want from them. Should we not then be doing that "thinking" for our horses where jumping is concerned....as perhaps they are not capable to think to the degree that we are taught to believe....e.g. letting them figure it out for themselves should they not really have the mental capacity to do so. As I have always said....are we asking too much of our horses in the modern sport????


Could we be mistaking "reaction" for "understanding"????

frugalannie
Jan. 6, 2012, 01:20 PM
Snoops, JER and BFNE, you're really crystalizing this/ these concepts in my mind.

My next question is how to to prove that what is being described happens in some reproducible (and, one hopes, nonlethal) way so that the limits of what "the horse" can do can be identified? I suppose one answer is by trial and error, which is essentially what we're doing now. When courses get too dangerous (in the sense that too many horses fail and some catastrophically), we readjust course design. This is my interpretation of the changes made in course design over the last few years. But can we define the tipping point for a representative population of horses without carnage?

Of course, upper level horses are only representative of their own ilk, having been selected out from the larger group already because of their ability.

JER
Jan. 6, 2012, 01:43 PM
My next question is how to to prove that what is being described happens in some reproducible (and, one hopes, nonlethal) way so that the limits of what "the horse" can do can be identified? I suppose one answer is by trial and error, which is essentially what we're doing now.

I think the ability to adjust to and to 'read' situations going forward is one of the things that distinguishes a top event horse. It's also something that indicates where a horse maxes out. He might do okay at CCI*** but CCI**** is an overload, even though he is well capable of clearing the jumps.

Some riders are better at discerning these limits in their horses and then not pushing their horses beyond their capabilities. Other riders are more likely to give it a go anyway, on the chance they might get around.

But really, this is where riders and their coaches/mentors/loved ones/owners need to be brutally honest with each other and themselves about their horses.

I'll also say that horses that do well in the dressage, especially as young horses, are more compliant types who might not thrive after a point in the more independent-thinking world of XC. I feel bad for these horses (there are some well-known examples) because they're just not cut out for the job, even though they have the ability.

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 01:45 PM
I think the ability to adjust to and to 'read' situations going forward is one of the things that distinguishes a top event horse. It's also something that indicates where a horse maxes out. He might do okay at CCI*** but CCI**** is an overload, even though he is well capable of clearing the jumps.

Some riders are better at discerning these limits in their horses and then not pushing their horses beyond their capabilities. Other riders are more likely to give it a go anyway, on the chance they might get around.

But really, this is where riders and their coaches/mentors/loved ones/owners need to be brutally honest with each other and themselves about their horses.

I'll also say that horses that do well in the dressage, especially as young horses, are more compliant types who might not thrive after a point in the more independent-thinking world of XC. I feel bad for these horses (there are some well-known examples) because they're just not cut out for the job, even though they have the ability.



Yes ma'am!:yes:

netg
Jan. 6, 2012, 02:21 PM
I'll also say that horses that do well in the dressage, especially as young horses, are more compliant types who might not thrive after a point in the more independent-thinking world of XC. I feel bad for these horses (there are some well-known examples) because they're just not cut out for the job, even though they have the ability.

You just described my horse. Physically, he has more talent for eventing. But he was starting to school upper level x-country and totally able to get over it... and lacked any kind of decisiveness and self-motivation as far as it went. He was looked at as an upper level prospect for eventing by several people who felt he didn't take initiative.

On the other hand, now that he's just doing dressage, he's VERY happy. Loves being told what to do. He does sometimes lock on and try to jump the 4' arena fence, though. I just appreciate his increased impulsion and turn him away, hoping he doesn't get too mad at my not letting him jump it.

JER
Jan. 6, 2012, 02:49 PM
netg, you were wise and compassionate to listen to your horse.

Not everyone would do the same.

:)

snoopy
Jan. 6, 2012, 03:07 PM
You just described my horse. Physically, he has more talent for eventing. But he was starting to school upper level x-country and totally able to get over it... and lacked any kind of decisiveness and self-motivation as far as it went. He was looked at as an upper level prospect for eventing by several people who felt he didn't take initiative.

On the other hand, now that he's just doing dressage, he's VERY happy. Loves being told what to do. He does sometimes lock on and try to jump the 4' arena fence, though. I just appreciate his increased impulsion and turn him away, hoping he doesn't get too mad at my not letting him jump it.


What JER said...

Dressage horses enjoy a bit of a gallop, hacking. hill work....and GASP... even some jumping!

netg
Jan. 6, 2012, 09:20 PM
JER - I don't deserve the credit! He evented before I got him, and it was a wise trainer who figured out it wasn't what he was (mentally) born to do.


What JER said...

Dressage horses enjoy a bit of a gallop, hacking. hill work....and GASP... even some jumping!

I still try to throw in other things! He does enjoy it, it's just preferable that it's not very large and upper level x-country-like. (And I'm too wimpy to want to jump our 4' fence, especially since the neighbors' property isn't groomed for landing...I have no idea if there are critter holes there!)

asterix
Jan. 6, 2012, 10:32 PM
I think there is more subtlety here than we are acknowledging...

I have a horse that does not think for himself in SJ -- if you tell him what to do, he'll do it, but if you ask him to figure it out, he'll freeze.

I've recently decided to send him on as a foxhunter - he LOVES foxhunting...and he thinks for himself in a way that he never does in the ring. I've had 3 different experienced foxhunters hunt him and they all remark on how he figures out footing, terrain, and speed on his own. He's more responsible for his own feet out hacking too....

I think if the mental challenge suits them, they can be quite clever and take initiative. But it is not a one size fits all solution -- the foxhunting horse, for example, is a more submissive dressage horse than my more educated horse, who is not particularly submissive in dressage but MUCH more independent (to good effect) jumping....

lstevenson
Jan. 7, 2012, 01:48 AM
"They are not good at thinking, but are very good at coordinating their limbs."


Hmm.... being good at "coordinating their limbs" means to me that they are good with their "footwork". Which is really all of the "thinking" that should be necessary on the horse's part when it comes to jumping.

Since the rider is the one that walked the course, the rider is in charge of the correct line, the correct speed required for each jump or combination, and the balance of the canter/gallop. That all sets the horse up to be able to let its natural self preservation instincts take over, and do the "footwork" necessary to keep himself safe. But this only happens if the concept of the horse being in charge of its footwork was cultivated in training.

I've watched many horses free jump, and have seen the majority of horses learn very quickly how to judge their distances. Some just do it naturally, and some make one mistake and then get clever really fast. The few who "don't get it" maybe should not be upper level eventers, no matter how much talent they have in other areas.

And then there are those steeplechase horses that nearly always jump perfectly after their riders have fallen off. With no riders to mess them up, they take care of their own footwork with ease.

It seems to me that it's about instincts, not about excessive thinking. Although I believe that the top cross country horses are almost always highly intelligent.

Just my opinion, of course. ;)



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eponacowgirl
Jan. 7, 2012, 09:58 AM
I have three different horses right now, now granted, I'm a LL smurf, but here's my take.

My T horse, a perch/QH mare who is bold as brass tacks and more fun than anything to ride on XC. My saying about her when I describe her on XC is "I'll figure it out once I get in there!" she jumps in first and sorts out her feet later. I've never felt or looked unsafe, of course we're only going T, but... anyway, she's a quick thinker and very confident in her own ability to get out of trouble.

My TB gelding ran N. He is much more secure in his technical foot work as far as gymnastics go, and he's not as confident and I needed to know that he knew what to do. He assessed everything over and over and over and I had to ride him every step of the way and kick him off the ground to everything.

My last is green but very obedient. We're just jumping 2' right now and haven't worked on developing much technique yet, but he doesn't take any initiative to do anything I don't tell him specifically to do.

I would call the TB my most "thinking" horse, but not in a good way.