Saturday, May 31, 2008

Summer Eczema / Sweet Itch in Icelandic Horses

At this time of the year, some Icelandic Horses show varying signs of sweet itch / summer eczema, which can be mild or severe. The severe cases can be horrific for the horse.

There are several ways to try to forestall SE (summer eczema); some are in the discussions on the IceHorses discussion group:

[] Summer Eczema Discussion

[] Information

[] Fly Control

[] SE Season


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Icelandic Horses Tolting Thru Fire?!?!


How about if we concentrate on working on natural gaits and teaching good trail skills instead?

This is a perfect breed to excell at trail trials.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Goal is Naturally Gaited Icelandic Horses

To breed naturally gaited horses, we need to get rid of all of the mechanical aids that are used to make the horse gait.

More about mechanical aids:

Let's start with breeding the boots out of the breed. If the Icelandic Horse cannot move or gait without "protective" boots, let's take that horse out of the gene pool. Let's not allow for boots to be used in breeding evaluations, competitions, or other shows.

If a horse is wearing boots, it has one of two meanings, or perhaps both:

[] The horse is so poorly conformed that he may cut his own leg when moving,

[] The horse's legs are being weighted to enhance gait.

Let's get to natural gaits with the Icelandic Horse!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Icelandic Horse Dental Exam

This video shows Andi, Icelandic Horse, getting a dental exam; video by Susan.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Training Ideas for Icelandic Horses

Here are a few training ideas for Icelandic Horses:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Training Icelandic Horse Stallion

Here are a couple of pictures of Yvonne, of Australia, training an Icelandic Horse stallion, Galdur.

Yvonne's website.

For more information about training Icelandic Horses with natural horsemanship, see the Icelandic Horse Connection.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Blurry Line between Aids and Cues


By Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

As a horse works its way up the training tree, its handler needs to stay aware of the difference between an aid and a cue or signal. A lot of people mythunderstand the difference because the line between an aid and a cue gets blurry sometimes.

An "aid" is a pressure that helps a horse feel the shape you want him to take or the direction you want him to go or the amount of energy you want him to put into the deal. When we start a baby green horse in training, we first develop a feeling of rhythm and relaxation that helps him feel safe around us, then we start creating corridors of pressures around him that help him feel what it is we would like him to do. When he figures out the correct way to respond when he feels those pressures, the pressures go away. The key thing about these pressures or aids is that you can modify them.

Once the horse understands what you want him to do, you can use signals—or call them "cues"—that tell the horse what you want him to do. Signals cannot be modified. They are like switches. They either are "on" or "off," "do" or "do not do" something. The horse develops an association between the cue and the performance of a certain movement at a certain speed in a certain rhythm, etc. Professional trainers use aids to develop a horse, then they put cues on him so that an amateur can ride the horse in the show pen and come out grinning with a ribbon.

Some people try to train a horse by giving him a cue and then finding some way to make him do what they want until the horse finally associates the cue with that activity. For example, they might want to train a baby horse to walk alongside them on a loose lead. So they make a big show of stepping forward with their foot or they shake the lead rope and hope the horse will follow along. Those are signals.

Someone else might stand alongside that baby horse with a long whip in their outside hand and make a little motion with the whip to catch the horse's eye and create a feeling that he wants to move. If that doesn't work, the handler can modify the motion, making it a little bigger or faster or even touching the horse's hindquarters with the whip to create a feeling in the horse that he wants to move. The handler may lean forward just a bit. Or he may move slightly behind the secondary line of influence that runs through the horse's shoulders, perpendicular to his spine, to create a feeling in the horse that he wants to move forward. Those are aids. When the horse moves, the handler moves along with him in the same direction at the same pace.

As the horse begins to understand what the handler wants, he picks up on things the handler does like moving a foot or squeezing with the legs or using the seat and makes an association between a particular corridor of aids and the desired behavior. Now the line between aids and signals begins to blur a little. The fact remains, however, that a corridor of aids can be modified and enforced. A signal or cue is just a "do this" button that cannot be modified or enforced.

When new students start our training classes, they usually mythunderstand the difference between aids and signals. When they step off back home and their trained horse steps off with them, they think that the act of stepping off is causing the horse to follow them. So they try to show their project horse how to follow them by stepping off. When they find that this signal that their trained horse understands perfectly is meaningless to the baby green horse, they start learning how to use aids to cause the horse to feel like moving.

When people use cues long enough, they can forget that a cue does not cause the horse to do anything. A cue is just an on/off switch for a specific behavior initially developed using a corridor of aids. In the case of the amateur rider with a professional trainer, they may never have learned the corridor of aids in the first place.

The problem is that, over time, the horse's response to a cue or signal can get dull. When that happens, it becomes meaningless and there is no way to enforce it. Repeating and repeating and repeating the signal just makes the horse duller and the handler or rider frustrated.

Pavlov figured this out years ago when he did his classic studies on conditioned responses in dogs. He wanted to use a response that the dog could not directly control itself so he used the production of saliva because he could easily produce it with food. So first, he rang a bell every time he fed the dogs and then he found the dogs would salivate when he rang the bell even though there was no food around. He did all kinds of graphs about how much saliva each dog produced when there was food and when there was not. He found each dog had a different learning curve for associating the bell with food. And when he continued the basic experiment and stopped presenting food each time he rang the bell, he found that each dog also had a learning curve for realizing the bell no longer had any meaning so the dog stopped salivating on cue.

The lesson here is that we must constantly support a signal or cue if you want the horse to keep the association between that signal and a particular behavior. When we are training, we have a sequence of learning going on:

•First, we show the horse a corridor of aids that helps him feel the shape, direction, etc., that we want.
•Then we apply that corridor of aids to ask the horse if he understands what we want.
•Once the horse understands, we can use that corridor of aids to tell it to do what we want.

At this last point in the training sequence, the horse will now respond to that corridor of aids as though it were a cue. And here is where a lot of the mythunderstanding about aids versus cues comes in. When the horse does not respond when they tell him what to do, the first thing they think about is enforcement. However, you cannot enforce a true cue like Pavlov's bell. And true enforcement does not mean punishment.

If the "cue" is an association the horse has made between a particular corridor of aids and the behavior you want, you can remind the horse what that association means by going back to the applying or showing phases of the training sequence and support the horse. When you go back to the corridor of aids the horse understands to enforce what you have told him to do, you can enforce those pressures methodically without creating any disruption. You cannot enforce a behavior with a signal.

When the line between an aid and a signal gets blurry, remember that you want to be doing more than flipping on/off switches. You want to be a presence that the horse is aware of. You want to be able to modify the horse's "feel" of your presence by the way you modify each of the parts of any corridor of aids. What true horsemen know, what the "whisperers" know, is that you have to be completely aware of everything you are doing. You pay attention to what you do and to how the horse reacts to what you did. Then you analyze the situation from the horse's perspective, modify your corridor of pressures and show, ask, or tell the horse again. With each repetition, you refine the communication a little more.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ground Parallel Coffin Bone

From the Equine Soundness Newsletter:

The argument about the ground parallel coffin bone is endless. Some say it needs to be 3-5° elevated in the back, others do not pay attention to the issue at all. For our school it is the backbone of our hoof care efforts.

At Equine Soundness we teach the necessity of the ground parallel coffin bone.

Here is why:

1.) The outer edge of the coffin bone is very sharp. Any deviation from ground parallel would pinch the circumflex artery that surrounds the edge of the coffin bone and nourishes the sole corium.

2.) If the coffin bone is not ground parallel, there are unphysiological forces on the entire hoof structure which lead over time to a dysfunction of the hoof.

3.) The meridian end points, also known as ting points, are on the coronet band. Any deviation from the correct form leads to improper stimulation of the meridian end points and therefore impacts the function of the major organs.

4.) An unbalanced coffin bone impairs hoof mechanism. Hoof mechanism is important to assist with the blood being pumped up the leg, as there are no muscles in the lower
leg to help with the blood pumping.


This information is valid for any breed as well as Icelandic Horses (aka cheval islandais, islandhast, islandskehest, islandpferde, ijslands paard, islanninhevonen, islenskihesturinn, islandisches pferd, hestur, islandpony, icelandic pony).

Sign up for the Equine Soundness Newsletter:

Equine Soundness Newsletter

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Gerd Heuschmann, Tug of War

Describing the basic anatomy and physiology of the horse, this book by an experienced veterinarian identifies widely-used incorrect training methods—especially in dressage—that can undermine a horse's health and well-being. Starting with the question Who is responsible for this? the book looks at breeders, breed associations, instructors, judges, riders, spectators, and the governing bodies of horse sports. The hyperflexion issue, the discussion shows, is that training affects horses both for good and for ill, and riders should reject any methods that cause pain or fail to respect the mental habits and physiological needs of their animals.

Specifically for Icelandic Horses, if you want to know the difference between a leg mover and a back mover, this is the book for you.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Charm, Icelandic Horse, As a Foal

This is Charm, palomino Icelandic Horse, who is four years old now, as a baby.