What horses REALLY want for Christmas…

The Free Spirit Ponies

There are lots of posts on Facebook at the moment telling us all the things our horses ‘want’ for Christmas, most of these being some kind of advertising for a new product, rug, gadget or piece of equipment.

While I completely understand the thinking behind these posts, they really should be titled something more like “What you really want for your horse and for you for Christmas” or along those lines anyway!

So, it got me thinking…..

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously our horses really have no interest or awareness of ‘Christmas’ and all that that means to most people. They may notice you bring extra carrots, have a strange thing on top of your head that may or may not need to played with or run away from or seem a little more excited than usual but ‘Christmas’….no, means nothing.

Secondly, and this is something that’s worth thinking about……do…

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The Lucky 2%

Great article by Kim Hallin.

my unbridled life

I believe horses have the potential to save humanity from itself. 

Photo Shoot3I couldn’t be more serious when I say this. Here’s why:

I believe the greatest challenge facing humanity today is that we have become disassociated from our own natural instincts and the world around us. We have forgotten how to develop empathy and self control, how to behave authentically, how to trust, how to set effective boundaries, how to listen, how to respect one another and ourselves, how to be vulnerable without feeling defensive, how to stay present in the moment even during extreme situations, how to be strong without being aggressive, how to communicate effectively, how to be compassionate and accepting while still holding ourselves and others accountable, how to collaborate and share strengths, how to embody our intentions, how to accept/embrace change without fear and how to develop charisma, bravery, poise, focus, endurance and conviction.

Wild ShokiHorses are…

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Herd Animal Horse


This landed on my desk top today from Academia liberti (http://academialiberti.de/):
“One of the equine species essential needs is to be with a herd 24 hours a day.
The horse is a herd animal. His brain has different capabilities which a brain of the solitary animal doesn’t have. Only in a horse living in a herd, his cerebral cortex works properly, giving correct orders for the functioning of subordinated brain centers. Only such horse is psychologically balanced and sound. We know that physical health is impossible without psychological balance.
Respecting all the natural needs of your horse, you give him freedom of life.”

When I read this, it sounds very logic to me. But would it have sounded the same way 30 years ago when I was deeply into conventional horse keeping? Maybe. Maybe not. What I am trying to get really what drives us as humans. We are steeped in our belief systems and it is really hard to break out of them. Is it wrong to keep horses in cages (nicer word is box stall, but that is only a dressing up of the same deal. For the horse it still is a cage)? Is it wrong to keep horses in solitary confinement? Today I have to answer a resounding “yes” to both of these questions.

Today I know better. And I hope that this knowledge will transpire to other horse lovers and horse owners as well. Because when you love an animal, you have to keep your ego in check and do what is right for the animal to the best of your knowledge, every day. And then you have to expand on your knowledge and do better tomorrow. For the love of the horse.


The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

I do not really believe in hell, but the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” does ring true when I think of many of the wonderful horses in this world. I myself come from a background of very strict horsemanship. When horse performance was proceeding contrary to the likes of our instructors we were not taken off the horse and someone explained how to arrive at a better result with less force. No, we were told that if the horse does not perform well, it is the riders fault. So we put on more force instead of better skills. And that is what we taught the children as well.

Later I was leading a vaulting team, and I honestly thought we were doing very well teaching children the values of horsemanship. Yes, we made them care for the horse before and after vaulting, we told them to be careful and pat the horse a lot. But we also made the horse canter when she was tired and when she didn’t cooperate, we made the side reins tighter. What did that teach the children? It certainly did not teach them to respect the animal.

How many riding schools are there teaching children? And what do they teach when the horse does not do what the rider wants? The same thing we got taught as young riders: Use more force.

Today there was a picture on Facebook. The caption on the picture read: “All bonds are built on trust. Without it, you have nothing.” And then the horse has a chain over his nose. That is a violation of trust as far as I know it.


As a young rider I was so proud when I finally graduated to ride in a double bridle. I was told that this was only for riders with educated hands and it was a tool to refine the aids. Today I have to say: Are you kidding me? When you refine your aids you learn to sit still, have ultimate body control and ride with your mind, not with more metal and bigger levers.

Well, you may say: “But in upper level dressage I have to compete in a double bridle.” Really? You have to compete? Who makes you? Why don’t you compete in something where you don’t have to make an animal suffer for your lofty goals?

I “earned” my spurs the same way I earned the double bridle privilege. After years of riding without stirrups. After groveling and making sure that I always had my heels down. This privilege cost countless horses an enormous amount of pain. The same pain that was caused with extra long whips and draw reins. I was so proud that a well-meaning riding instructor had actually taught me how to use draw reins.

Why do I tell all this now? Because it is time that we change something. I did love horses. I did everything to make them “better”. I bedded them in deep, clean straw, cleaned their stalls, fed them three times a day, groomed them before and after riding, cleaned all of their tack after every ride, pulled on blankets and took off blankets.  And I never realized that the stall was just a prison for them, my own personal Alcatraz. And even more important that we pass these values on to the next generation.

I still love horses. My pastures are inhabited by horses. They do not get ridden. They get fed, cared for and left alone. I often stand in the middle of the pasture and am marveling at their serenity, their intelligence and their kindness. This is enough for me. Two of my charges are former FEI level dressage horses. They are papered, registered Warmbloods with stunning gaits and conformation. I took them on because I knew I could fulfill a promise to them: They would never have to carry a rider again, never would iron hurt their mouth again. It makes me every day happy that I am able to keep that promise.


When will they ever learn?

A couple days ago I re-posted a short clip of the famous dressage rider Anky van Gruynsven “schooling” her horse in a most abusive manner on my Facebook page “Equine Soundness”.

One of my friends – Grace Lambert – offered the following comment to this clip and the state of horse training in general, that I wanted to share with you here, as I could not have said it any better. Thank you for your wisdom and kindness Grace.

Grace Lambert:

One could offer all kinds of thoughts on viewing this clip, from the fact that Anky isn’t wearing a helmet to her horse’s obvious discomfort. I don’t often comment on stuff like this anymore–opinions are just opinions… is not one just as good as another? 

But… is there a deeper, underlying truth in this case that goes beyond opinion? How can those who think this IS abuse effectively reach out to those who do not think it is abuse? How can they teach others how to BE with a horse without asking–no, demanding–that the horse contort his body to avoid pain and discomfort’? Sadly, for the horse there is nothing ‘right’ nor ‘pleasing’ about what he’s being asked to do in these sessions. Everything he does in training and in the show ring is in an effort to find relief from the pressure being placed upon some portion of his body. All a horse seeks in the company of humans is comfort and security. 

The world gives praise to the final outcome of the training depicted in this video, while the horse continues to suffer because he has no choice. Those who think this in not abuse are unconsciously attached to the ways in which they have been taught. They know not what they do–and therefore deny that what they do is abusive. They are not YET open to the heart-wrenching reality that is before their very eyes. 

But I have no doubt that some WILL open, and see. And when they move beyond humiliation they will be deeply humbled–and humble. And then perhaps they will teach others what they have learned.


Pain I


Horses fight through flight. They are prey animals hunted by predators. The horse who shows pain or fatigue will be someone’s next meal. Horses are hardwired for survival by hiding pain. Unfortunately we as humans are not very good at taking this very fact into consideration. 

When a horse does not want to go over a jump, we just force him to comply with our wishes, often by not so subtle means. Or does it really matter if he does not want to slide into a halt in a reining competition? What choice does he have? The repercussions are far more severe than the pain of the slide. 

I often hear that a horse is just stubborn or un-cooperative. I am wondering if the handler ever considers that this horse may be in pain? He will move around short strided long before we realize that he actually is in pain, and the hard landing of a long stride is actually too much for him. He can’t tell us, and we are all too often not willing to listen.


You love your horse? Just think about all the things that may inflict pain on him and he may not show it in a most obvious way, because that is just not the way he “clicks”. 

And another thing that we often forget: he does not have a sound for pain. He suffers in silence. 

No, it is not enough to hug him and ask for forgiveness. Every time you interact with him, you must consider his very being as an equal on this planet. That is the only way you will do him justice.



Hoof Capsules

In an earlier blog I had mentioned how important it is to recognize the fact that the hoof capsule has to grow along the coffin bone. Therefore one can (with some practice) envision the coffin bone inside the hoof capsule to some extent.



This is a pretty correct bone that should result in a pretty correct hoof capsule.




Whereas this one has received a lot of pressure over time from the bottom and will for sure result in a short hoof capsule that has a tendency to flare on the front. In a radiograph the tip would show as a “ski tip”. This kind of horse will always be prone to be sore, if not being sore all the time. There is not much a hoof care professional can do here. Keep the trim in such a fashion that the horse is sore as little as possible. This can not be reversed. No matter how you trim, you will not be able to rebuild bone where it is missing, as you cannot create tension with your trim in the area where it is needed.


And this bone also would result in some deformation on the frontal portion of the hoof capsule as well as a lower profile.