Hors-Training-art - 8/12/10
"SCA Equestrian Training Tips" by Lady Lyonet Lamoureux.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
This article is part of a series of articles originally written for "The Avantgarde", the newsletter for the Principality of Avacal in the Kingdom of An Tir.
All the rules quoted here are based on the "An Tir Book of the Horse", which is the handbook of equestrian rules for the Kingdom of An Tir. Much of it is common in other kingdoms, but you should check your local rules and regulations before starting any equestrian activities.
SCA Equestrian Training Tips
by Lady Lyonet Lamoureux
Those of you who have been working seriously with horses for many years will likely not learn anything from this article. This info is targeted at the weekend horseback rider, the self taught owner, and the inexperienced. It may surprise you to know that there are many horse owners/riders that do not actually know how or what to teach a horse. Many buy horses already trained and have little or no need to advance their skills. Many are self taught and have gleaned their skills through hours of riding rental horses on trails.
There is nothing wrong with that. You can have a perfectly fulfilling equestrian experience never taking a formal class. Personally, I support the idea that a good horseman is one that is continually learning their craft and applying it to their four legged friends in an effort to raise the bar on the horse/rider experience.
Having said this, you should know that I, myself, am not an accredited teacher, nor have I taken hours and hours of formal classes. I learned much like the people I describe above, but was gifted with a wide variety of opportunities and with talented horseman along the way who provided a wealth of information.
There are as many ways to train horses as there are horses to be trained, and certainly far too many methods to list here, so I won't even try. Do some research and find a method that suits both you and your horse. No one method is right or wrong. Try a little of everything, your results will tell you what works.
At first, work with your horse in a relatively small area with few distractions. Try not to repeat the same pattern over and over. Horses are creatures of habit and you may find that you horse has learned the pattern, and you are not in fact controlling him through your course. Repetition is key. A horse may finally make the connection between cue and action requested on his 478th try, but once he does, he knows it solid. Work on the slower speeds first, and then when you get the exact reaction to your cue EVERY TIME, only then should you try a faster gait. Once you have taught him your cue at all speeds, then move to a higher traffic area.
Here are some things to consider when training begins:
1. Don't assume your horse knows anything. There may be holes in his training that may lead to problems later. Run through the basics at least once, including halter and groundwork. If you encounter problems, then you know where to start,
2. Always try to end your session on a high note. If you are working for an hour and your horse finally gets something, work a little longer to make sure it wasn't a fluke and then stop. If he's not enjoying himself, then he'll stop listening. If he stops listening, he stops learning,
3. Horses are prey animals. To them, even a warm fluffy towel can be a horse-eating monster. If scared, they run,
4. Common Sense and Persistence pay off.
In my opinion, the ideal warhorse should be sane and athletic. Strength is not an issue unless you plan to load him with 200 lbs of barding, but he should be able to carry you and gear comfortably. He should be bold, should take in new things casually and should have a slightly competitive streak. You don't want a psychotic racehorse that takes every opportunity to gallop, but having a little gas in the tank when you say 'go' will improve your score on timed events. It will also help in the long run if your horse is well socialized with people and other horses.
It is critically important that you can control your horse at all times and at all speeds. Finding a straight path, kicking your heels and galloping off feeling the wind in your hair, albeit is great fun, does not mean you have control. The games you will ride in require that you can control your mount at a particular gait for an extended period. The gaits are Walk, Trot and Hand Gallop.
The Walk is pretty clear, but even a walking horse can be out of control if it is not taught to respect commands. The horse must be responsive, turn on cue, and stop immediately. Trail horses tend to get lazy at the walk. If they start to drag their feet, or grab for that juicy piece of grass, try changing direction, immediately begin a tight circle or some other drastic change. Keep them thinking and you will keep them learning.
The Trot is a quicker gait that can be rather rough to ride depending on your horse. Most have two trot speeds; first is a fast, ground covering stride and second is a slower and more economical stride. In my experience, many people usually allow their horse to perform the first enjoying the speed it provides, while not knowing how to get the horse to perform the second. The trot you are looking for is rather easy to sit and maintain.
I have found that what works best for me is to put your horse to the trot and gently pull back on the reins, not as severely as you would for a stop cue. If he slows up enough that he is about to begin walking, give a gentle 'go' cue, while keeping the bit pressure so that he does not forge ahead into the speed trot. Use varying degrees of 'stop' and 'go' cues to adjust your horses speed just like a volume control knob. Horses respond to pressures, so as soon as he has the gait you want, release the opposing 'go' and 'stop' pressures. It won't take him long to find the speed you want.
Much of what was said about the Trot also applies to the Hand Gallop. It is a slower, more controlled and efficient version of the gallop. Some may call it a lope or a canter, but whatever the term it is far more stable than the Full Gallop. I teach my horses to Hand Gallop in the same as the controlled Trot above.
Have any of you ever gone riding after a few weeks off and end up sore the next day? You are not alone. Your horse is too.
After a long time in a field, especially after the winter months, your horse will also be sore when he goes back to work. Start with some lunging for a warm up or light riding mostly at a walk for the first few times back. Slowly increase the time spent working and increase your speeds gradually. How often you ride will determine how much warm up your horse needs.
During conditioning it's a good idea to give your horse a light rub down afterwards. Brushing with the short bristle soft brush and using firm strokes will give him a massage that will reduce muscle pain the next day. I apply some liniment after a workout. If the weather is nice, I'll to add an ounce or two of Tuttle's Elixir to some warm water and shower him by soaking up water in a sponge, placing it against an upper area of the horse (neck, back, shoulder, hip) and squeezing the water out. Make sure to get the legs and joints.
If your horse is barefoot, inspect his feet before putting him away. Look for chips, cracks or other blemishes. Try a topical dressing to improve the flex in the hoof wall if your horse develops a problem.
On the subject of conditioning, don't forget yourself. Always stretch before and after a training session. On days you are not riding, you should practice with your weapons. A lance may not seem like much when you craft it, but carrying it around and holding it steady for minutes at a time is harder than you'd think. Your hands, arms and shoulders will thank you for it later.
Just because Trigger has been a riding horse for years does not mean he is ready for the SCA. The most important thing you can do to get your horse ready is to sack him out. Sacking out means desensitizing your horse to his surroundings. Here's how I do it:
Step 1: Look around your home, office, school, stable, etc. Gather a collection of items that will scare your horse to varying degrees. Find things that will assault his vision and hearing. For example: plastic bags, shiny pots and pans, large feathers or fronds, clicking pen, whistle, bells, bed sheets, rope, clippers, etc.
Step 2: Put your horse in a relatively small area. DO NOT USE HIS STALL TO SACK OUT! The intention is to present him with scary things. You do not want him to associate scary with his home. A round pen is ideal, but a sectioned off arena or paddock would serve. Do not tie him, let him roam freely.
Step 3: Bring in the 'horse eating monsters' you have assembled and sort them from least scary to most.
Step 4: Take the least scary item and calmly approach your horse with it. If he takes one look at you and runs away, then let him. Go back to your pile and wait for him to settle down and approach again. Repeat over and over until you get all the way to him. Carefully rub the item against him starting at the shoulder and eventually covering his whole body. Be mindful of your safety at all times. Always allow him to move away if he wants to. You want him to allow himself to be touched with the item by choice. If he is tied or restricted in movement, he will not make the choice, but will take the opportunity to run as soon as it presents itself. If he does move away, go backwards until he stops, then begin again.
Once he accepts your item, walk away and get the next one. If you are using an item that makes noise, then be certain to make the noise while adjusting him to it. You want him to be aware that it's not going to hurt him, even if it is now making a scary noise. For items such as rope, run it long his legs and apply light pressure there occasionally. That way, if he should happen to get entangled later on, he will more likely stand quietly waiting for help, rather than try to rip the ropes off himself.
Don't expect to go through the pile in one session. It's possible, even likely, that you will, but don't expect it. If you do, you may start to feel anxiety if your horse is not progressing as quickly as you'd hoped. Your horse will sense your anxiety and it will only make matters worse. In this exercise, your horse is the boss and he will decide how long this will take.
After the sacking out, your horse should be ready to have you carry weapons. Begin with a basic riding crop or just a stick. Horses find these to be minor and accept them easily. Play with it while you ride. Let your horse get used to seeing you holding it and swinging at every angle. Once his ears stop swiveling about, then look at carrying a sword. He will eventually accept that as well.
Once he accepts the larger weapons, then try banners, flags and other stuff. It won't take him long to accept the tools of our trade.
Most horses will make the shift to warhorse fairly easily. There will be exceptions, however. If you encounter serious problems, talk to a professional trainer, or other experienced horseman.
SCA mailing lists are a good resource. Most of the members understand your exact situation and may have a solution. The An Tir Equestrian Yahoo Group has been around for some time and has an archive of posts that may hold your solution. The Avacal Equestrian Yahoo Group is new, but growing. Post your challenge and solutions to help future horsemen solve their problems. The more we all work together the easier it will be for each of us.
Have fun! Be safe!
Copyright 2008 by Lya Lamoureux. <lyalamoureux at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.