The Arabian horse is one of the most recognizable and the oldest horse breeds. Ancient paintings featuring Arabian horses date back to the 2,000 B.C. These horses originate from the Middle East (the territory of modern Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq.) By both war and trade, Arabian horses spread around the world. The most remarkable features of these horses have always been their endurance, intelligence, alertness and willingness to please. Bedouins and other nomadic tribes depend on these horses as the quickest means of transportation in the desert.
Camels can replace Arabian horses in carrying weights, but they are very slow.Horses could not survive in the desert without humans. They never tried to escape and were always ready to please. Close association with humans and harsh living conditions of the desert made Arabian horses very devoted to the owner. Nomads kept their best horses in their tents close to the family. Up to nowadays, all Arabian horses possess a naturally good disposition. These horses form close bonds with the rider, which makes learning easier, if the rider is consistent and experienced. Intelligence and sensitivity of the Arabian horse can also make it difficult to train.
Such horses lose trust in a poor rider, and refuse to obey. Inept or abusive training practices do nothing but harm to this breed.The Arabian horse of today looks much like its ancient ancestors, because the purity of the breed was carefully preserved. The Moslems considered these horses to be the gift of Allah and never crossbred them with other breeds.
However, Arabian stallions and mares were often used to improve other breeds. Many modern breeds were developed from the Arabian horse.For many centuries, the ancestry of Arabian horses was tracked through an oral tradition. Pedigrees were traced through the female line. Bedouins valued mares as war and breeding horses, and did not believe in stallions. Only the best stallions were kept for breeding; the majority was sold. The sub-types within the breed were developed by Bedouins for various purposes. They preserve their original names up to nowadays: the Keheilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. The first written pedigrees of the Arabian horse date to 1330 A.D.
Just the other day I was reading my Dressage Today magazine. One of the training articles had a very good quote by a dressage trainer regarding his thoughts on the training process. He said that horses do things because it feels like the right thing to do and that horses don’t logically make decisions based on opinions but simply if it feels good or bad. In this instance he was talking about dressage training but I realized that his comment is universal and works for all types of training whether it be solving small issues or advanced things like tempi changes. This idea follows ‘Natural Horsemanship’ system of training theories as you may read in books such as “True Horsemanship Through Feel.
“This article discusses two of the most common mistakes I see people making that can either undo their horse’s training or keep their horse from learning tasks we try to teach them. Training can be easy or it can be hard and if we do not make our horses feel like they are doing what we ask, the process can get very long and drawn out.
Two topics I’ve chosen for this session are standing while mounting and standing for bridling. The two scenarios are: “My horse used to do these things well but doesn’t anymore.”, or “I can’t seem to teach my horse how to do these things.” The causes of both issues are usually the same.
Standing While Mounting
Let’s start with mounting. Again I will state that if you don’t make your horse feel good about this he is not going to want you to get on. For example: you are short and your horse is tall – you go to put your foot in the stirrup and as you’re heaving yourself up there you toe that poor horse right in the rib with your boot. He already knows that if he gets a nudge in the ribs he is supposed to go so he does so you get mad. Now he’s confused and all the feel good feelings are gone. He can’t understand why you just reprimanded him for doing what he was supposed to do! Interestingly this scenario can advance to other problems.
After a lot of repetition he may even decide that he will stand and tolerate you getting on with a toe in his ribs but then he no longer moves forward when you nudge him because you got mad at him the previous ten times he did that. As you can see these are small but significant issues to your horse and since your horse learns through feel and repetition such considerations become important. For this example I simply suggest that you use a stool to get on your horse if you can’t gracefully get on without one. Also remember to use your left hand to hold the reins while at the same time grabbing a handful of mane. Never mount your horse by using the saddle horn as you already are using your right hand to grab the back of the cantle to get up there. If you have too much weight on the horse’s saddle (which equals weight on his spine), it will not make him feel good. Consequently, over time, he will develop a sore back. As well think about where your reins need to be.
Do you have a horse with a soft mouth? If he feels rein pressure will he back away from you? Or, does it help to have his nose tilted just a bit towards you in order to stand still for you to mount? These things should be considered when working on this problem. It takes patience and repetition but it will never be accomplished if we humans are in the way of the process thus causing more harm than good. Another aspect is the horse that lets you get on, but then moves off right away. This can be a patience problem, but I’ve actually noticed more often than not is caused by what I call the “hunt and poke” problem.
Hunt and poke is where the rider uses the toe of their boot to try and catch the stirrup to put their foot in. Think about this for a moment – your calf tightens on the horse as you reach with your foot and if your stirrups are stiff you point your toe towards the horse while using his belly to brace the stirrup as you shove your toe in.By that point the horse then thinks you want it to go – but the rider isn’t thinking that at that moment and pretty soon the rider is mad, the horse is confused and they’re both back to ‘square one’.If the rider can’t carefully pick up the off stirrup without toeing or nudging the horse, the solution is to simply reach down and put the stirrup on your foot. It’s harder to fix these rider caused problems once they become well established. In essence, by using hunt and poke you train your horse NOT to stand still for mounting. With young horses, if you do things right from the start they will learn faster, frustrate fewer times and remember their lessons better.
Standing and Bridling
Bridling problems are usually caused by people as well. There are horses that simply don’t want their mouths and ears touched by people. I’ll address this briefly as it is a separate issue but comparatively rare. Ear and mouth sensitive horses simply have an instinctual reaction based on herd behavior. In their natural environment they have to protect their ears and mouths from other horses and predators. More about this later.For the most part I’m talking about horses that have already developed a problem because of their people. One of the biggest causes of such problems is rider clumsiness. They can’t get the bridle over the ears without folding the ears at odd angles or leaving them folded back too long, making the horse feel uncomfortable.
The horse’s natural reaction to that is to not allow it to happen the next time. The other bridling issue is during unbridling, when people hit their horse’s teeth with the bit. Hearing the clanking of a bit on teeth is like nails on a chalkboard! Both of these things will cause your horse to evade bridling and unbridling as he remembers that it is not a feel good experience. Solutions: Give yourself a bit more room to work by making your bridle a hole or two bigger so that as you slip the bridle over the horse’s ears you do not fold them in the wrong direction or leave them crunched in an uncomfortable position. The best way to approach this is to hold the bridle in your left hand.
Place your right hand over the poll of the horse and hand the bridle off to the right hand. Using your left hand guide the bit into the mouth lifting the bridle with the right hand. Once in place use your left hand to fold one ear back, slide the bridle over it and then do the same with the other ear. Then, if you need to, you can tighten the bridle a hole or two. Here is a video clip to help you understand the process:
Unbridling Your Horse
Unbridling correctly is just as important as bridling. Place your left hand over the bridge of the horse’s nose to keep the horse from tossing his head, then with your right hand slide the bridle over the ears and wait for the horse to open his mouth so you can lower the bit out of it rather than just dropping it, allowing it to hit the horse’s teeth. Proper bridling and unbridling techniques can mean the difference between a well-behaved horse and one that yanks his head up or back and won’t allow you to touch his ears. If your horse is already having problems that make him almost impossible to bridle then we need to talk through that or you’ll have to wait for my next article! For now here is a picture of correct unbridling method. In future articles I’ll address other issues including picking up feet, our own emotions and how they affect our horses, saddle fit, gait, and walking home on a loose rein.Happy trails and safe riding!