Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clarity


I consider clarity to be an essential quality of a horseman. Without clarity, I’m expecting my horse to guess what I want. It’s unfair to her, increases the likelihood of conflict, and decreases the chance I’ll get the results I’m after. On the other hand, when I communicate with absolute clarity, the sky is the limit. Most horses are very willing creatures when they know what we want.

Clarity is not so difficult to achieve, really. It’s a matter of developing a good habit. Sports psychologists tell us that creating a vivid mental picture of a successful outcome increases the chance that it will occur, whether the outcome is making a free throw or sidepassing your horse.  The more vivid the picture, the better this works.

Note that creating this vivid mental picture occurs before the performance. This means that taking a moment and focusing my brain on exactly what I’m about to ask my horse to do can pay big dividends.

Why does this work? To be honest, I don’t know. I think it’s entirely possible that under the right conditions, there can be a telepathic connection between a horse and a human. Maybe it’s just that when we have such a clear sense of what we want, our body language projects that. We know how well horses read body language.

Let’s go back to the sidepassing as an example. Before asking my horse to do this, I conjure up a very detailed picture in my mind. I see more than one lateral pair of legs crossing in front of the other. I see the left legs crossing over the right. I see the hairs on the legs, the texture of the hooves, the grains of sand on the arena floor. This is a lot of mental energy focused on one picture. Maybe my horse picks that up.

The other good thing about clarity through mental imagery is that it makes it easier to recognize a try and reward it. And as we all know, it is the reward that produces a learning effect.

For me, clarity is another part of the journey. It’s a way of aligning thought, action, and expectation. I’ll continue working on it and report how it goes. I know my horse appreciates the effort.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Forage is First

If you’ve been following my TV show this season, you’ve seen Dr. Judy Reynolds of ADM Alliance Nutrition offer specific feeding recommendations for a wide range of horses. All recommendations have the same form: Feed your horse lots of forage and tweak as needed. But what does this mean, exactly? First, forage can be living grass and other plants in a pasture or it can be the same thing cut and baled to become hay. In hay form, the forage first feeding philosophy favors grass hay because of its exceptionally high fiber content, although alfalfa hay can be supplemented in moderate amounts.

Now, what about the tweaking part? This always reflects the reality of the particular horse’s situation. What is his current body condition? How old is he? How does he live? How is he used?  He may just need a daily dose of vitamins and minerals not present in adequate quantities in the forage part of the diet. But he may also need more energy than he can get from the forage.  How these varying needs are met – the products and byproducts combined to produce the desired effect – is where the state of the art in equine nutrition lives today. The most important development in recent times is the move away from cereal grains such as corn, oats, and barley, once staples in equine feeds. Recently I sat down with Dr. Reynolds to explore exactly why she designed the ADM feeds as she did. This episode has received great response. Enjoy!