Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hidden Structures of the Equine Skull

All about the guttural pouch and the hyoid apparatus

You are probably wondering what in the world these two parts are. These interesting structures play a very important role in protecting the sensitive structures of the skull, and in supporting the structures of the skull and neck.

The guttural pouch

There are 2 guttural pouches in the horse, each placed on either side at the back of the skull. These pouches are air-filled extensions of the auditory tubes. They act as a puffy cushion, protecting the sensitive structures of the head from harsh contact with the bony structures of the skull and hyoid apparatus.

The hyoid apparatus

The hyoid apparatus consists of the two hyoid bones that are fused together to form one solid bony structure. It is suspended from the base of the skull (from the styloid processes of the temporal bone) by ligaments and is suspended in the soft tissue of the neck between the mandible and the larynx. The pharynx passes between the two arms of the hyoid bone. The hyoid apparatus functions to provide attachment points for the muscles and ligaments of the tongue, pharynx, neck and sternum.

Interestingly the hyoid bone/s derived from a gill arch in jawless primitive fish. Through evolution of jaws the hyo-mandibular gill arches evolved into the hyoid bones. It is thanks to the hyoid apparatus that a frog can fire its tongue to capture it's prey. Humans too have a hyoid. Unlike the horse's ours is horse- shoe shaped. You can feel the hyoid connections to your sternum by placing your finger at the notch in the base of your neck, opening your jaw and wiggling your tongue.

The hyoid is a very important structure to consider when riding the horse. As mentioned the tongue attaches to the hyoid. The hyoid is capable of very little movement (equivalent to that of teeth) and is fixed in relation with the base of the skull. Thus, if the horse's head is strongly repositioned for exaggerated flexions, such as the rollkur, it will result in the tongue being drawn up. This has a negative effect, because it hinders the mouth and inhibits the horse from having total relaxation in the mouth. It also decreases the available space in the “throat” area (as a secondary effect to extreme flexion), making breathing very difficult. Another reason why the hyoid has to be considered is, because the six muscles of the sternum attaches to it (as mentioned). These muscles form the underline of the horse and greatly affect the mobility of the forehand of the horse.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Approach and Retreat

Isn't it just annoying when you want your horse to walk past a scary object and your horse completely freaks out? Or what about when you want your horse to cross a stream and he digs his feet in, refusing to move? How do you deal with this?

You might try to smack your horse, thinking he is misbehaving. You'd use your aids more strongly, hoping your horse will give in and just move along. Unfortunately, horses are by nature skittish about unfamiliar objects. They are merely prey animals trying to survive. To us the object might be nothing (a bin, a plastics bag, a little stream, a butterfly!), but to the horse it might look like some monster out to get him. It is this fear response that allows the horse to survive in its natural habitat,however, in the “humansville” it can get them into trouble. So what should you do?

Since, we are the horse's leader in “humansville” it is our responsibility to prepare the horse for what he will have to face in “humansville”. You would have to get the horse to trust you, knowing you'd never ask anything of him that will harm him. Now... there is a good way and a “bad” way to go about this...

The “bad” way is not necessarily bad, but does not suite all horses. This method will involve you forcing your horse to accept the scary object/s without acknowledging the horse's mental and emotional state. You would just take your horse straight up to the object and hope for the best. Now some horses might be brave enough to get close enough to the object to get a better look, but most horses will put up a fight.

The good way is to get your horse familiar with the object/s that is more natural for the horse. In nature horse's hardly ever walk straight up to a scary object to investigate it. They would approach it in a zig zag pattern, rather than straight, and move a little bit at a time. Once they are convinced the object is harmless, they might get close enough to touch it with their noses and eventually maybe their feet. So, to get your horse familiar with an object you just have to emulate this...

Start off by walking your horse past the object (not to it) while keeping a safe distance away from it. How far you want to be away from the object depends on the horse. You will want to be as far away from it as the horse feels comfortable. You then walk past the object (with you positioned between the object and your horse), pretending it is not even there. If your horse chooses to stop and have a look... allow it! Watch your horse for signs off worry (flaring nostrils, tense muscles etc). If your horse looks worried move further away from the object. Once your horse is okay with being that distance away from the object, you can get a bit closer (but only as far as your horse will allow). Again you just walk past it until your horse is comfortable. By to and away from the object will actually help build up your horse's confidence. The more you retreat, the more confident your horse will get. The more confident your horse is, the closer he will be able to get to the scary object. Eventually your horse will be able to get right up to the object without trying to bolt off.

Approach and retreat... that us all you have to do! And it works. What makes this method so valuable, is that you end up enforcing your bond with your horse. Your horse will respect you more, because you didn't punish him for being scared or forced him to jump off the cliff. At the end your horse will be emotionally and mentally fitter. Most important of all... you preserved his confidence.

Approach and retreat can be used for anything from getting the horse used to being saddled, to having his ears touched to crossing a river! How long it will take the horse to get used to the object will depend on the horse. Some horses may only need 4 hours where others may need 2 weeks. However, don't be tempted to rush things. Take the time it takes and it will take less time. It is all worth it in the end for both you and your horse :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just a friendly hello and some news...

Hey everyon!

I finally got my hands on a computer with interent connection. I haven't forgotten my blog and have been writing up a few as I got the time. Here is what I have lined up once I get back home:

1. Approach and Retreat- how to use it to build confidence
2. "Unknown" structures of the equine head- I did some reading on the guttural pouch and hyoid structure. Very interesting.
3. Bits- choosing one and how to use it correctly.
4. Natural Horsemanship- my views on the topic

I don't really have the time to write a very ectiting blog right this moment, but I thought I would mention something on selling horses. I am currently advertising my pony for sale. Now, I love this pony to bits and really want her to go a good home.

Well, I recently got an email from a lady who is interested and want to come and have a look at her. She sounded very friendly etc. I was really hoping this lady would be the one to buy her, because she lives in town so I can easily go visit Joy if I wish.

I messaged a good friend of mine asking if she knew this lady. I was sure I heard of her before because her surname sounded very familiar. My friend got back to me and told me that I shouldn sell my pony to her. She was going to buy one of my friend's horses but didn't really have the money and she doesnt feed her horses at all.

Lesson learned! Make sure you have a fair idea of who you are selling your horse/pony to. You never know if they will end up in a home where they will get neglected or abused. I am so happy I asked my friend when I did. I would never have forgiven myself if I sold my pony to a bad home. To be honest, I would rather give my pony away for free to a VERy good home, than sell her to someone and have her be neglected.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I just thought I would let everyone know that it might be a while before I post again. I will be away and don't know if I will have access to the internet. However, I will try my best to post again as soon as possible.

Happy Holidays to everyone!!!

Until my next blog ...

It all starts with a bond...

Although, it might be important to be successful at shows (or with whatever it is that you do with your horse), you will never be able to reach the top if you don't have a solid relationship with your horse.

Your horse has to be able to trust you, and you him.

Respect is also important and it goes both ways. The horse must respect you as its leader. You in turn must respect the horse (it is a live breathing animal with emotions and feelings). Trust and respect goes hand in hand with one another. Which one you have to earn first, depends on the horse. With some horses, usually the more skitish types, you have to earn trust before you can get the respect. With other horses, usually the more dominant types, you have to earn respect before you can get their trust.

The stronger the bond with your horse, the more successful you and your horse will be. More importantly, the horse himself will feel more at ease.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Riding Aids

Having worked with my pony today, I was reminded of something my instructor taught me about the riding aids...

The riding aids are meant to be applied softly and accurately (in the right place, so to speak) in order for them to have the desired affect. If a horse can feel and respond to a fly sitting on its back then it is more than capable of feeling the aids, even the most subtle ones. In modern riding today, however, many riders use the aids too harshly, resulting in the horse becoming numb to the aids. They then either sell the horse (because it is unresponsive/lazy) or they start to use spurs and whips.

There is nothing I hate more than to watch dressage riders flapping their legs against their horse's sides. With a classical seat the legs shouldn't be moving around at all. They are supposed to lie still against the horse's side, wrapped around the sides like a wet cloth. Only the thighs, knees and upper calves should be in contact with the horse. The rest of the leg just lies where they naturally fall. When the rider should choose to apply the leg aid, he should just gently squeeze with the parts of the leg that is in contact with the horse. The heel should not be used as the leg aid. The heel is only meant to absorb the rider's weight, helping him to be balanced on the horse. It is only with more collected work that the heels might be used in the leg aid. Yet, I see so many riders (even top dressage riders) pulling their heels up to apply leg aids. And what a ghastly sight it is!!!

The hands should be used softly when rein aids are applied. Pulling a horse in the mouth does more harm than good. When riding turns and circles, pulling the reins will most likely have the horse fall in on the inside shoulder. When wanting to apply rein aids you should just have to squeeze the rein like sponge to get the desired affect. But this squeezing mustn't be a continuous pressure... my instructor taught me that I should squeeze and let go, squeeze and let go until the horse does what was asked. If you squeeze and hold you end up turning the squeeze into a pull. Horses by nature push into pressure. So if you just pull on the reins, the horse will just ignore it. And it hurts the horse because you are pulling against their sensitive gums. I had this with my pony. If I just pull my left rein she would just pull against it and try to move to the right. You could be pulling the bit right through her mouth and she'd still fight the pulling. But when I just squeezed my reins a little bit at a time (supporting with my legs aids) she would move in the desired direction. My instructor explained that squeezing works, because there is nothing for the horse to lean against. And it is as if you are asking the horse to do something instead of demanding it. If you had to chose, wouldn't you rather have someone ask you to do something than yell at you to?

Ultimately, aids are meant to be invisible. This is what every GOOD rider should aim for. It takes time and patience to learn this, but there is no better lesson (regarding riding) to learn than this. How we use our aids forms the basis of our riding. Without the aids we can't hope to communicate to the horse what we want it to do. It is a language that should be understood and mastered properly by all riders.

I found Sylvia Loch's 'The Classical Seat' a very good read. She explains all aspects of the seat as well as the aids of riding. A must read for any rider wanting to perfect their riding skills.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How young is too young?

Something that has been on my mind lately is the subject of young kids riding. Now, I know how much fun it was riding when I was a kid, but looking at it now as a grown up I am starting to wonder... when do we draw the line?

It is one thing to sit on a horse now and ride around, but when you are little you aren't as strong and balanced as you are now. And how do you teach a young rider with little muscle development how to use their aids? Do they even understand? Do they even want to know? Is it just all fun and games?

I am not saying that kids should be banned from riding... that would not be fare at all. What I want to know is where do we draw the line to protect the welfare of the pony/horse? Will we be able to draw the line at all?

When a rider goes around leaning on the horse's mouth people will start getting worried. But what if we see a kid riding like that? Do we just turn a blind eye? Will we go to the parent and show our concern? I would hope so. The pony/horse is after all the one that has to cart the kid around. If we don't look after him, how can we ask him to look after our child?