Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Curse of Hands - notes on riding

Photo from www.care2.com

Photo from www.horseforum.com

I've been away from the blog loop for a while - very busy with a new venture, and with spending some thoughtful time trying to figure out more about Bruno. My riding trainer has been away at shows, so that leaves me time to experiment on my own.
I was moved and inspired to try a different approach in my riding by a movie I recently watched. It's called "Buck", and is about a cowboy-type "horse whisperer" from the States. He actually worked with Robert Redford on the film "The Horse Whisperer".  Buck Brannaman is an amazing man, who overcame his early years of physical abuse by his father to become a gentle and sensitive and knowledgeable horse trainer. Two things really struck me in the movie. One was a horse that had been so very badly spoiled that it had become a killer. There was a scene where the horse actually lunged at a man in the training pen with him, bit his face to the bone, and then jumped on him to finish him off. Unfortunately, the horse will have to be euthanized. The other thing that stuck in my mind was a comment Buck made ... "Control the feet, and you control the horse."
We humans are all so very hand-oriented. If we want something done, we use our hands. This most definitely does not work with horses. They don't like someone on their back constantly pulling and jabbing at their mouths. Believe me, it is SO difficult to resist the almost automatic reaction to fix something the horse is doing with your hands. But I have spent the past couple of weeks making a very conscious effort to NOT use my hands. I am using leg aides only to steer and encourage his forward movement. It was awkward at first for both of us, but gradually Bruno has been responding beautifully. And I know he appreciates it. He is always happy to see me, welcoming me with a whinny or nicker, and he is keen to go for a ride, eagerly accepting the bridle. I have seen some videos of people riding without bridles or with just string in the horse's mouth. I can only aspire to reach that level of intimate communication with a horse sometime in the future.
The photos at the top of the page are of a technique called rollkur or hyper-flexion.  Unfortunately the method has become popular in the dressage world. You can see that the horse's head is so tightly cranked in that it can hardly breathe. I most vehemently do NOT consider this an art form in riding!
I must add, I love my riding instructor. She is always positive, and is definitely on the horses' side. She brings me back to earth in my riding. I tend to disappear off into the clouds. It's the artist in me! :)

Thank you for dropping by. and, as always, your comments are welcome.  


  1. Oh Kathryn! I am so glad you are making this breakthrough in your riding. Glad that elusive lightbulb has gone on for you! Sounds like you are making remarkable headway!! HORRAY! Post a video soon! Hugs, Sandy & Rita P.S. We love BUCK. .. and still have nightmares about that stallion!

  2. I know nothing about horses or riding, but I was moved by your post, Kathryn. Very interesting read! And so good that you made progress!

  3. I would so love to see you and Bruno working together, you really should post a video if you can. :) I love Buck, that movie moved me to tears, I really wish that all people involved with horses would watch it to see that there is a much better way than pure force. The top photos sicken me, there's been a few videos going around about Tennessee Walking Horses and a practice that some trainers use called 'soring' just to get them to pick up their feet higher for their 'trademark' gait. It's disgusting, and so, so sad. It is good to hear that you and your trainer are on the right side( I knew you were before of course), all we can do is help where we can to try and get this cruelty stopped. *hugs*

  4. Si, desde luego deberían hacer con la persona culpable, lo que el ha hecho con el pobre caballo.

  5. Hi Kat
    We love what you wrote here and we understand where you coming from.

  6. Dear Kathryn:) I believe every animal would be happy to have an owner as you. Please do me a favor and never treat Bruno as the horse on the first photo. I know you won't. It makes me sad to see things like this. I suggest they do the same with the owner of this horse!. I loved your story and I know you and Bruno are a great copple. Thanks for sharing:) From another big animal lover.

  7. It is so sad and still bewilders me that so called " trainers " can resort to such drastic measures to force submission phisically , rather than take the time to let the horse connect mentally with what you are askining . Those photos remind me of so many forced cruel methods that go on in all disciplines of riding and training, and sadly in the show world ... still .
    A true connection with your horse while training does not come from , force it comes from asking and letting your horse understand what is being asked of him so he can trust the outcome and rely on a mutual respect with his trainer and rider.
    Than you for sharing and making people more aware.

  8. ugh, can't stand thinking of animals being mistreated, no matter what the "training' requires.
    Loved your description of how you are managing Bruno without tugging on his mouth. Very interesting methods.