Equine Rushing - Part one
by Bonnie Hilton ( Horse Training Article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine).
As a society, we seem to be rushing. To get the job done or the product produced in the shortest amount of time, and at limited cost, has become a national motto. Unfortunately, in the past decade, I can see where this mind-set has further permeated the horse world. I was thinking that I should produce a sign, to be posted at the entrances of the different facilities I work at. The sign would read, No Rushing Once Past This Point . How I would get the public to stop, read, comprehend and comply is another question.
Rushing was a fence term I learned in my early jumping days. I rushed everything put in front of me and, of course, many of the horses I rode, learned to do the same. The crash I took in England in 1971 was indicative of the, rider who was inclined to come forward on her fork as the examiners remarked on my certificate that same year. Through all the years retraining older equines from different disciplines, the word rushing has come to have a much broader definition.
Jane Thelwall s book from the late 80s, The Less-Than-Perfect Horse has a section on rushing and although the focus is on jumping, the wisdom given under the treatment section is applicable for all disciplines. With the older horse who has become accustomed to rushing at his fences, the rider must return almost to stage one of the blueprint: the horse has to re-learn the basics of his flat work so that these can be put into practice over fences. Blueprint refers to six stages of training that Thelwall explains and the first has to do with calmness and the second with free forward movement. This is what we work for in the initial training of a young horse and what we have to go back to, when confronting any rushing problems with an older equine.
Rushing can be considered as the opposite of failed forward and I have been dealing with an equine from the cold category with a rushing problem. Under saddle the horse is definitely moving, but that movement is too swift or hasty to be balanced. Stumbling was an early issue that had to be dealt with. The forward movement was combined with in hand behavior that could be considered reckless or even violent at times on the longe. These may seem to be more human adjectives than equine, but I challenge you to think about how you would describe the problem you have or seen exhibited by another equine. I can give some examples. A rushing horse has been called a puller, a borer, it is inclined to spooking, jigging, running away, bolting or exhibiting any other horrific nervous, neurotic behavior or combination there of. Often I am told in evaluation that the horse can t be longed, that all it does is rush around to the point of being out of control and falling. There usually have been bitting and mouth issues. There are numerous books available that talk about these problems and possible corrections but I want to look at the root of the problem.
In The Horse s Mind by Lucy Rees, under the chapter about neurosis and nervous breakdown is information that is thought provoking and disturbing for anyone who doesn t have the stomach for the techniques used by Pavlov and others. If you read some other case studies of equines brought back from lunacy or you meet someone, like I have on several occasions, who has spent years reclaiming an equine labeled ruined or untrainable by others, you may come away from the meeting with some wisdom about this dynamic problem.
When I encounter rushing, in any of its manifestations, I look past the equine. I already know that there are big gaping holes in the horse s foundation. Is it going to be possible to fill these holes, to rebuild a foundation or actually change it? As Thelwall noted, can we return to the blueprint, the original idea of what we wanted? Therefore, I would like to start this discussion into the rushing issue, with a look at the owner, who I will assume for this article is the primary handler in all aspects of work.
In the 80s I attended a clinic being conducted by the sports therapist Mr. Jack Meagher who brought deep massage from the human venue to equines in this country. At this clinic he worked on an acquaintance s horse and was seemingly frustrated since the horse was a bunch of nerves and it was obvious that what he was trying to do was not going to be of much value to this equine. I didn t realize then, but I know now, that Mr. Meagher should have been working on the owner, not the horse. You see, the owner was a bunch of nerves, moving fast, talking fast, to the point of having trouble breathing sometimes, absent minded and inconsistent. This is how this person handled their horse for years and being a sensitive equine by birth, I feel it responded (actually became trained) to the human neurosis by becoming neurotic themselves. The owner was always rushing, the equine always reacting and when problems developed between them, they were explosive. I worked with this pair, but failed miserably in my applications because I didn t break the cycle where I needed to focus, on the owner. As a caution to young instructors and trainers, don t be rushed by the rushing client who is trying to experience or achieve it all in the shortest amount of time. The horse doesn t understand and even a seasoned, supposedly well trained equine will react.
I know mature equines who have exhibited some nerves, which I have attributed to being rushed and confused about what is now being expected from them with new owners. The mental confusion can be compounded by physical confusion, when the body is not developed for the performance being asked for. The equine mentioned earlier, from the cold category with a rushing problem, developed the issues because of rushed ground handling and demands under saddle by a new owner. The horse was not fit and the horse was mentally a lighter shade of green than originally thought! This equine was being forced outside of its comfort zone both mentally and physically into a running type of performance, which is not forward and not safe. During initial evaluations I watched the owner handle and ride and I didn t know from one minute to the next what they were doing. The horse didn t either!
Isn t there a quote that, chaos begets chaos ? So as an instructor, who is also a trainer, how do you work with rushing? Before I embark on some positive approaches, I need to discuss the big negative. Last year I met an owner who I had to give the trainer s dreaded ultimate ultimatum to. Sell the horse, cut your losses and move on. I could write a book, another case study of what had transpired in their lives before I met them. The original intent and direction had been correct, but got lost with flight and fight
conditioning, when the mental and physical training that had been pursued for both the owner and the equine backfired. The combination was now dangerous and the owner had been hurt prior to my contact. This horse is another reason why I won t call warm blood the correct term for the mixture between what some people consider the hot and cold categories. If the training goes wrong, you don t develop grounded, and dangerous behavior develops, what do you have? The big young horse needed a different owner and the owner, who had only been riding for several years, needed a mental and physical brake job! (I should explain that the youngster was sold, with complete honestly as to all that had transpired in its short life, to a person seasoned and wise to recognize an equine diamond in need of several years of slow polish. I had started the physical restructuring of the body prior to the sale and I hope that given enough time, the equine mind will follow a new path of performance retraining.)
What is a mental and physical brake job? I view it as one of the positive approaches to retraining the owner, and thereby the horse. (As you will learn later on, don t assume you can retrain the horse without the owner!) You come into their high speed world and stop them in their tracks. You explain that what is going on is not safe, not training, not productive, not lasting and usually not fun and ask if they are willing to change and in the process help their equine. The obvious problem is that some people will not accept it. I have heard the arguments, there must be a quicker way or how about a different bit ? Sound familiar? If you can t get the owner to stop the rushing, the equine, who you may be having success with yourself, is only going to keep reacting to their handling. By handling, I mean all aspects, from the ground to under saddle or in h also hurt my reputation for a short while in that my tact was lacking and the owner was affronted by my honest assessment of their problems with their equine.
If the equine is already dangerous, you know that retraining is going to take months and that time, coupled with the expense, may be an issue of contention. Suggest for this client to approach another trainer or instructor. In my opinion, you don t need to waste your valuable time trying to deal with dangerous rushing issues, if the primary handler is not willing to commit to retraining. If there is a miracle worker down the street, so be it.
If the owner is willing to work with you, where do you start? The first thing that comes to mind, and makes me laugh, is whoa! Can you develop whoa in your human student? How will their equine react? Before I go any further in this general discussion about rushing issues, I need to mention housing, feeding and supplementation. I don t want to get off on a tangent, but what is an equine organic diet? What would be a natural diet? We could really get lost off subject if we explored the issue of the natural environment as well. Does your horse need all this stuff you are feeding it and what possible side effects could some of this stuff have? Is there really something like equine hyperactivity due to dietary imbalance? Why are you feeding what you are feeding and what would happen if you didn t feed it? What are the alternatives
How much are you really working your horse? Please take an honest look at what your horse really needs. Do you have any idea as to what muscle cells require for energy production versus fat cells? Do any of us care that we are duped by smart marketing techniques into thinking that our horses (dogs and cats as well) need all this very expensive stuff in order to survive? I like the idea of natural when I can produce it but I cautiously look at organic now, because organic has become far too trendy. Natural means as close to nature as possible. How would you define natural for the horse; fresh water, grass, ample room to exercise and basic shelter from the elements? When the horse starts to work we automatically think we need to give them grain. Why? Is the grass no longer available? What is wrong with really good quality hay and fresh water, ample turn out and basic shelter from the elements? Most horses that are in light work, to even moderate work, don t need excessive concentrates.
For some absurd reason I have individuals I talk with here in New England who think every winter they need to increase the concentrates, find new supplements that their horse must need, when they aren t even riding, have their horses in at least one heavy blanket if not two in a heated barn with limited turn out. Over the years I have taken some of these equines, with supposed rushing issues, into training. They were put out, put to work, taken off all the stuff and when, totally in my opinion, the haze in their minds started to clear and their body was in more of a natural metabolic balance, as well as physical balance, the behavior hanged. The rushing issues ceased and I was a miracle worker. We all know better!
Rushing issues may also develop due to the fact that we often just assume and expect too much from the unacclimated equine and we put it into stressful situations where rushing behavior is manifested. Here again, what shade of green are your working with? Where and how is your equine worked? Maybe I should ask, what do you expect now from the equine, as to what was actually the initial training? What has been the exposure training if any? How much at home, on the road, alone, in company, indoor, in ring and out in the open is the horse worked?
If a horse is housed and worked alone, you can expect it to get excited and maybe strong under saddle when in company. I have mentioned this in the past, where as a trainer I have made this mistake and had a difficult time with my well-trained mount, that acted like an equine lunatic, when it got in the ring with other equines. If an equine has always been with others, the converse may happen when they work solo. They may well manifest behavior that is not typical of them. I don t expect owners to become horse psychologists, but as trainers and instructors we need to get back to some common sense horsemanship and teach it. Some keen equines will change behavior at a competition or when placed in company and an experienced handler/rider has been taught techniques to deal with it. Warmup routines are changed and sometimes equipment is changed to deal with some strong attitudes. I teach the use of different bits and alternative equipment to students who are undertaking eventing and cross country work. Some well behaved equines will change behavior drastically when brought out of an enclosed/contained area to be worked in the open and an experienced handler/rider doesn t rush the process. Agoraphobic behavior is common and it takes time and consistent patient handling to get through it.
Some older equines will always be nervous and difficult and we have to face that reality, others can be acclimated to change. I have heard the stories about a gelding boarding at a facility I frequent. Stories of rushing issues and nerves that are hard to believe when you see him now being ridden all over the place and being the calm, cool, character that is the equine of choice, to lead other
apprehensive owners and equines out into field and trail. His transformation took months of work that the owner committed to in order to go from ring to trail. He is a good example of the benefits of cross training.
The topic of rushing is continued in part two.
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