08.–10.02.2025 #spogahorse

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Horsemanship: The opposite of well-made is well meant

A fair and fruitful side-by-side of man and horse requires a proper dialogue. Successful communication between the two creatures (the horse – a herd/prey animal – on the one hand and the human predator/hunter on the other) is the basis for a trustful relationship, without which horse-friendly handling and fine riding is not possible. Especially in the last decades this awareness has prevailed: The market for on and off-line courses, equipment and temporary hiring opportunities with appropriate trainers for horsemanship and groundwork has grown enormously.

Andrea Jänisch and Michael Dold are horse professionals who train alone or also together with horse owners (in workshops) on an improved communication with the animal. They use all horsemanship techniques for their work, with the aim of a better understanding between horse and human.

spoga horse: To begin with, let's sort out the terminology: What are the differences between horsemanship, groundwork, free work, liberty dressage and circus lessons?

AJ: Horsemanship is actually a term for general horsemanship and horse handling, but it has become very person- and technique-oriented. People immediately associate certain familiar names with it - and a certain education of the horse that is focused to working horsemanship. For me, classical ground exercises mean working the horse in hand gymnastically with the reins over the neck. And in free work and liberty dressage, the horse is free and I communicate only with my body language. That makes it specifically interesting, as the horse has to be able to read what I'm saying with my body – and vice versa....

MD: Yes, I think many of these areas intertwine, also the terms are often interpreted differently. For me, horsemanship means working with the horse in a certain way, no matter if I am on the ground or in the saddle. Groundwork also includes horsemanship. Free work also refers to a part of ground work, just free and without a rope. There is also free work in horsemanship training. I would put free training more in the direction of circus lessons. This is also 'work on the ground', but has more the character of training and is less a natural communication and locomotion. However, that doesn't mean it can't be just as important for some horses - and the gymnasticizing effect should not be neglected, even though I can achieve that with other techniques just as much.

spoga horse: What does groundwork have to do with animal welfare?

AJ: Very much, because it is important for horses to develop a good level of communication with the human with whom they have so much to do. Both human and horse should learn to communicate better so that the horse knows his way around and finds his place in the relationship with the human to his satisfaction.

MD: That's right, groundwork teaches the horse to trust humans and how to move as safely as possible in our world. It all starts with ground work. The foal ABC is ground work, as well as leading, loading, presenting to the farrier is groundwork; taking away certain fears from the horse is something I can best start from the ground. Getting used to saddle and rider starts with groundwork. Last but not least, ground work serves not only the mental but also the physical development and thus it is the basic prerequisite for the animal's well-being.

spoga horse: Has the market grown in recent years and if so, why?

MD: Definitely. Horse owners have less and less previous education before they buy their first horse. The horse has evolved from a sport animal to a status symbol to a pet. These days, many more people can afford a horse - and that's where the problems start.

AJ: I also notice from the requests that the need for free work in particular has become very great. Due to today's job descriptions, people's activities have become very far removed from physical communication, and many want to compensate for this deficit. That's where the horse is an interesting partner to relearn things that have been forgotten. And it is very satisfying when you realize that the communication works and you can talk to the horse in this way.

spoga horse: But why is groundwork not an integral part of rider training, even for beginners?

AJ: I can't say why. I would teach every beginner at least the basics of communication with the horse and explain the horse's natural behavior. If someone is still a physically awkward beginner rider, it's important to at least be able to read what the horse is going to do next and act properly on it. It's incomprehensible that beginners don't get a good base of leadership exercises, rules and control options to use on the horse on the ground first.

MD: But often you can't put all the blame on the schools – it starts with parents, who don't see the need for such basic training for their riding kids. I've often heard the argument 'I'm paying for my child to ride, not to lead the horse'. And then, of course, there are the role models from the high sport: Where would you ever see those athletes exercising groundwork? In the end, there is probably not enough time for that. Proper groundwork can also take a little longer.

spoga horse: What are the most common mistakes and problems in dealing with the horse?

AJ: The opposite of well-made is well meant. People tend to excuse things that the horse does because it is still young or has not been in their possession for long - but the horse doesn’t think in those categories. The deeper thoughts and intentions hanging there with us humans mean nothing to the horse. A transparent and clear communication and the creation of a meaningful hierarchy has nothing to do with aggressive dominant behavior on the part of the human, but with the horse being able to fit into the horse/human hierarchy and finding its place. From my point of view, this is where most riders get caught up in problems....

MD: ...this is of course related to the mistaken belief of many people that if they set clear boundaries, the horse will no longer love them. And others believe they have to subordinate a horse by force in order to be able to control it.

spoga horse: Are there any differences between the typical mistakes made by recreational and sport riders?

AJ: I would say, yes and no. I think it is important with leisure and sport riders to improve communication. What I just said applies mostly to the recreational riders. Sport riders are at least riding-wise at an advanced level, but often behave very dominantly towards the horse - which doesn't mean that the communication between human and horse becomes clearer. Many horses subordinate themselves to this dominance because of their nature, but this does not necessarily lead to beautiful results. I would like to take the bridle off more often with high class riders and see what the horse does then. Does it like to stay with its rider or does it prefer to do something else, once it is free to decide? That is the reason why I have always been involved with free work: I want to see what the horse does when there's no rope and no reins.

spoga horse: What equipment do you need for the first steps?

AJ: It can be a rope halter with a lead rope, a light cavesson or sometimes just a halter and a simple rope. I am a little bit tricky with my whips, where I have a selection of them for different purposes and communication goals. Quite often I see people using the wrong whip or stick, which doesn't transport the impulse well for the horse and is much harder to understand. In the long term, my goal would be to be able to do things without a whip, but I'm not there yet - or only to a very limited extent.

spoga horse: How often should groundwork be integrated into the daily training?

MD: Actually, I am always in groundwork when dealing with the horse and must always be attentive and consistent in my actions – assuming that haltering up and leading is already a part of it, as well as the way I approach the horse and communicate with him. But as a proper training lesson: As often as it is necessary.

spoga horse: Are there horses that cannot be treated?

MD: It depends on the definition of treatable. There is something to improve in every horse. But it may well be that a problem does not disappear completely. Sometimes it can also take a very long time for something to improve significantly....

AJ: I think so too, it is mainly a question of time!

spoga horse: What have you always wanted to say on the subject?

MD: Everyone should take the time to listen to their horse. They show us when something is wrong, or if they don't understand us. We just have to look very carefully, because in the beginning the signals are often very small. Also, I believe that everything a horse does is a learned behavior that someone has taught the horse – intentionally or unintentionally. So the horse behaves in a certain way because it believes it is doing something right – not because it wants to annoy us.

AJ: I love to communicate freely with these strong, fast, magnificent animals. Free work is a great enrichment for me, for my training and for many people who enjoy playing with their horses. Free work is just playtime for me.

Our experts:

Andrea Jänisch

Andrea Jänisch www.andrea-jaenisch.de

Andrea Jänisch runs a stable in Halfing, Bavaria, and offers lessons, seminars and training in free work, working equitation and riding there and externally. Her main focus is to guide people and their horses on the way to harmony and joy with each other and to accompany them in their learning.

She has been particularly influenced in her riding life by, among others: Ursula Bruns, Sadko Solinski, Maria Günther, Kurt Capellmann, Linda Tellington-Jones, Pedro Torres, Gerd Heuschmann, Albert Brandl, Jean-François Pignon, Einar Òder Magnusson, Ute Holm and Alfonso Aguilar.

Michael Dold

Michael Dold www.pferdegut-falkenberg.de

Horse trainer Michael Dold not only corrects troubled horses, but also takes care of breaking in and training young horses. He works on composure and communication both in the arena, indoor arena, roundpen, as well as off-road and trail, if necessary with the horse trailer. Dold gives horsemanship and trail courses at his own yard in Souther Germany and also travels externally as a trainer. His book "Kein Problem - kein Horsemanship" (No Problem - No Horsemanship) has been self-published.

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