31 thoughts on “Horse Yoga 101

  1. I’ll be the first to admit that I may pop a quick peck on the nose of my guys on a regular basis but what the hell is he doing? I was expecting an “R” rating blurb when he went in for the nose. Creepy in a crossing the line, bordering on lustful kind of way!!! Could’ve been a scene in Magic Mike. Ewww.

      • I do that myself but my lips don’t brush up and down against my horses’ lips in a passionate way. I think that kind of zen moment can be achieved without that human type contact, with hands gently touching the forehead and down across the eye. I find this settles and softens the best of them.

  2. I translated the narrator for you – this seems to be a clip from a documentary of some kind. The translation might not be exact but it gives a general idea. 😛

    “The “doma india” (indian taming) is a technique used to train the horse without resorting to punishment. The Pampa indian, a great interpreter of Nature’s signs, developed this advanced practice as a sensitive, and body language-based, communication with the horse. The ones responsible for the establishment of this link are called “whisperers”.

    Watch as the tamer, avoiding pain, earns the animal’s trust and persuades it to perform the activities it will be assigned to in the future. He never hits the horse, because he treats the animal with endless patience; taming it, he doesn’t force it, until the animal, now gentle, surrenders to him. José Hernandez confessed his surprise, in the national poem Martin Fierro, about this way of taming the horse. As impressive as it is real, at the end of the doma we notice that the horse is more gentle, establishing with his trainer a close connection, based on trust and absence of violence.

    I leave with another snapshot, that I will forever keep.”

    • I couldn’t have translated it but I could have predicted that’s more or less what it would have said. It’s no different to the “natural horsemanship” crap that comes out of anywhere in the world.

      Personally speaking though I’d rather train my horse to do something when it’s upright…. altogether much more useful and fun IMO.

      And believe me over the years I have also pratted about and got my horse to lie down and laid on top of it but that’s just messing about and in the category of “weird and pointless”.

      • However, if one could teach their horse this weird and pointless exercise, then one would be a better horseman than most. 🙂 So, at the very least, this shows that the person can actually catch their horse, lead it etc… *eg*

  3. Our local groundwork guru had his horse lie flat, rolled him up in a tarp and sat on his head at the last clinic. That seems kinda boring now!

  4. What I’ve enjoyed about my fairly entry-level tries at trick training over the past year are precisely that they are wierd and pointless, and also that you can’t do them unless the horse is a full, willing participant. By wierd and pointless, I mean they aren’t being done to any particular training agenda or system or sequence, or with any set goal, unlike what I do in the saddle or with formal in-hand work. More just improvisation. We play around a little bit in the stall or the turnout, I see something the Paint Mare is already kind of offering, and then figure out how to put it on cue (clicker & treat based but I’m not really following their sequence, either). It’s been an eye-opener for how fast a horse can learn when it is happy to do the thing (and when there are treats involved).

    It’s pointless in that there’s no improvement in how the horse goes under saddle, despite everything the natural horsemanship people claim about the benefits of groundwork. I still have to sort out our riding problems while riding. But it is slowly changing how I think about everything I ask the horse to do, and how to make her as happily compliant under saddle.

    The Paint Mare can lie down, sometimes go flat (only on one side), stand on a circus box, walk a teeter-totter, throw a towel back at me, “smile” on cue, paw, paw and walk (not quite Spanish walk), stand and then come when I whistle, and circle at liberty walk/trot on a small circle around me. Though nobody else at my barn does this, it doesn’t seem all that spectacular to me, and it certainly doesn’t seem magical. It just requires careful observation and repetition. I do think some horses have more aptitude and interest in this kind of thing, and more interest in what people are asking, generally. Or maybe just more interest in treats!

    The thing about tricks is that they *are* tricks; you get the horse to do something for its own motivation and then you make it look like something else to the audience. For instance, one thing I do notice about the man in Horse Yoga is that he is not relaxing, not for a second; he is always poised and ready to get out of the way if that horse decides to stand up. Yes, he trusts his horse, but not entirely, nor should he.

    • You have hit the nail on the head. Horses are not dumb, and there are some that will enjoy doing tricks, and some that will start to think that you are dumb. The horse I have now would never like doing tricks. He’s all business out on the trail, but he’s never liked doing anything that is not connected to that. (Of course I am not talking about trainers who can train a horse to like, I am talking about a trainer of my abilities.) Training a horse to lay down would have been logical in the wild west, if you were being chased by bad guys you could hide in the chaparral. Training a horse to get wrapped in a tarp while you sit on his head would make the horse to immune to his surroundings. I need a horse that is a horse, and depend on that horse’s natural instincts to keep me safe on the trail.

  5. I think our local ground-work guru wants horses to trust you when you tell them to do something odd or dumb, trust that you aren’t going to let them get hurt or scared, and you have to be very careful not to ever let that happen in your training. And that will pay off presumably when you do have something sticky on the trail. It’s not that they shut down, but when there is a problem they take their cue from you, and if you tell them to relax, they will. The horse he was working with was hot under saddle. But I think there are lots of ways to get to that mutual trust, and miles of trail riding can do it without specific training. My old pony would go through just about anything for me on the trails but she never let me or anyone see her lying down in her stall. She would be clattering to her feet as you walked in the door.

    Though I don’t think our ground-work guru (who really does do a good clinic) approves of how I am training the Paint Mare because I am inviting her to do things she already enjoys, rather than subtly exerting mastery over her. His idea of how to get her to lie flat when she was already lying sternally (is that the word?) was to pull her over on her side with the leadrope. He got a big panicked bronco reaction, she scrambled to her feet, he let the rope drop, and walked away saying “do that 4 or 5 times.” The next day I went back to coaxing her with treats and she lay flat and relaxed, as if to say “just ask me nicely and see how well I behave.”

    Anyhow, I got onto this last year when some local clicker trainers used her for a demonstration horse, and she took to it really fast. I have no idea how you would train a normal horse 🙂

    I think I’ll skip actually sitting on her head. But if I could train her to sleep on a tarp it would certainly keep her cleaner in the paddock!

  6. Keeping in mind that my experience is more with having a horse for a long while, not with lots of different horses, like a trainer. Maybe it is the type of horse I have been drawn to, but my horses would not appreciate me doing something dumb. I know that you are just making a comment, and perhaps I am taking it out of context, but trail riding is pretty straight forward and easy for most horses to understand. If we come across something, it is usually something that the horse can understand doing, like if a tree has fallen down, we have to climb up a bank and down to get around it. If we come to a stream, we have to cross it, etc. If we came across a mountain lion, I would want my horse to react to my fear, and get out of there fast, not going crazy, but moving fast. I am afraid that if a horse was so desensitized, he might not react promptly.

  7. Let me put it this way. My horse is supposed to be a working trail horse. My dog is a watchdog. My cat is a hunter. My animals are workers. A cat that does not hunt is found another home. My dog praised for barking. My horse is my second pair of eyes and ears on the trail. If I lived in the old west and had a need for it, I would train my horse to lie down. I don’t want my horse to depend on me to tell him where to place his feet on the trail. I would not insult my horse by putting a tarp on him and sitting on his head. Paintmare’s horse seems to enjoy the “tricks” that she has taught her owner in order to get treats. That’s fine. I’m just saying that you can go to far in desensitizing a prey animal and take away some of the natural horse sense that I want my horse to have.

    • I ask again, it what way is teaching *tricks* a desensitizing exercise? It’s not like the horse is being asked to stand still while a mountain lion rips it apart.

      I owned a Rottweiler whose main reason for being purchased was for protection. I was going to be alone at my farm a lot of the time, in the middle of nowhere and there had recently been a bunch of attacks on cows and horses in the area – pitchforked, shot and the like.

      He had extensive obedience training and then was Schutzhund trained. All the training *sensitized* him to danger and threat, and in the end I had to back him off because he got too good at his job.

      On the other side of things, he loved playing with children, ponying them around, having his ears pulled, being mauled with hugs and kisses. Yes, a dog trained to attack loved to be roughhoused by children and do tricks for them.

      You seem to think that an animal, like a dog, like a cat, like a horse, isn’t smart enough to a) do a job, and then b) ‘have fun’.

      I assure you, that’s not true. I assure you training isn’t desensitizing (and shouldn’t be desensitizing – though many think it is and approach it that way), even *trick* training.

      Trained properly a Dressage horse is actually ‘sensitized’ to the aids. There’d not be a thing wrong with that horse also being able to perform some kind of a ‘trick*. Doesn’t make that horse any less capable of doing its job.

      Your thought process of what animals are capable of is rather narrow-minded. While you may see no purpose in a horse being able to do more than just a single task, they are quite capable of more.

    • So, to be clear, unless your animals are providing a service to you, they have no place in your life? Really? How sad to think that only a cat that kills rodents is worthy of being fed and cared for. I have 4 useless cats that occasionally catch a critter and are making me happy right now just by curling up near the fireplace and enjoying the warmth. They’re certainly not on payroll and neither are my horses. You’re missing out on another level or two of what makes these creatures tick – and it’s more human than you will ever, apparently, know.

      • Friends, I am not going to back down on my comments. If my cat did not hunt, I would have to have poison on my property. If my dog did not bark I would not feel so safe, as my husband is out of town for business, often for weeks at a time. I have been lucky with my horses, but if I had one that turned out to be barn or buddy sour, that horse would find another home. Your 4 cats sounds lovely, I could not afford 4 cats. I have one horse, one dog, one cat, and my husband has a cat and I am at my limit. Pensioneers are always cared for. My old horse is going through something right now and it looks like I will be spending a lot of money to try to make him comfortable. It has been years since I was able to ride hard; for me, when my horse gets old and mellow and we know each other so well the shortened, slower rides are wonderful. I still say that wrapping a horse in a tarp and sitting on his head is desensitizing. As for my horse being able to do a single task, let me see. He comes when called. He ground ties. He hops in the trailer. And for many years he has “chugged” (that’s what I called the pace he would set himself) down the trail.

          • OK OK! Maybe I am using desensitized in the wrong way. What my horse does he sees the “point” in doing it.

        • No dog, no husband, no wife (to be clear). 4 spoiled cats that allowed moles to infiltrate my lawn last summer. They eat, shed, complain, cuddle and purr. One had a scallop with me last night though he hasn’t done a useful thing in years. Three rules in their lives: off the table, off the counters, in the house at night. I earned belly rubbing rights, they have a home for life. There will be no poison that these useless creatures could accidentally find.

          I find this Yoga post to be over the top, heading into sensuality and made me squirm to watch it. That said, the communication is superb – the trust is superb. I’m afraid that you’re going to find most of us blogging here want MORE with our horses than what we have today..and more again tomorrow. I have miles to go to have the best possible relationship I can with my horses and I’m looking forward to that journey.

          • But cats are an entirely different category of animal. I don’t even have the table or counter rule in my house – unless we have guests that are adverse to it, but even then I’ll usually let the cat do it to irk them – because that’s how I roll. 🙂

            Dogs, however, stay out of doors 99% of the time and never, ever go on the furniture, EVER!

  8. Interestingly, the Paint Mare is a good trail horse; she’s extremely alert, sees things miles off, pays a lot of attention to changes in the water levels in the ditches and new branches on the ground, but almost never spooks, because she has seen things and thought about them long before they come near enough to worry about (or before I see them). However, I want something different from her in the ring than I do on the trail. Watching everyone that goes by in the park when we are schooling in the ring is distracting, so we need to be able to switch between modes. Getting her to focus on me under saddle in the ring is a challenge, but when I accomplish it, it doesn’t end up taking away from her wide-angle alertness and self-sufficiency on the trail afterwards.

    So I think you can ask different things in different contexts, because you are asking for different kinds of attention (just like a watch dog can sit and shake hands, as well as bark). The trick training is just an extreme form of that. She needs to know there are treats and preferably a clicker around, and then she is completely glued onto me and what I’m doing. I’d say it totally sensitizes her to what I am asking. She isn’t shut down at all but hyper-alert, and she is obeying completely because she thinks it’s fun. I didn’t teach her to lie down by making her bow or lifting a foot or pulling her off-balance, or doing anything that would make her shut down or in which I’d be winning some game of dominance. it just wouldn’t work with this horse.

    Tonight we were working on lying flat, on duration (holding the pose) and on keeping her mouth still before she got a treat, no making faces or nipping for the treats. If you were ten feet away watching she would look asleep (that’s why it’s a trick) but in actual fact she was totally focussed and thinking, trying to figure out what question I was asking. It is true that when we’re doing trick work, or ground work or liberty work, she is so glued on that she ignores what else is going on in the ring, but I’d never ask her to lie down if I didn’t know the venue was safe and comfortable. Yes, I need to get that kind of focus under saddle!

    And yes, I agree that the horse definitely thinks she is teaching me to give her treats! This is not anything that I ever particularly wanted to do, or thought possible, and I would never have gone this direction if she hadn’t been so clearly delighted by the whole thing. She is only my second ever long-term horse, and I have no idea how I would do any of this with any other horse.

    • Just to clarify, I do not think that your tricks are desensitizing your horse, in fact, since she seems to enjoy it so much it’s probably better for her to do them. I am commenting on some issues I find in your guru’s training, when you say that he may not like the way you are training your horse the tricks,that just raises a red flag.

      • Ah yes. I wondered if anyone would pick up on the fact that Local Groundwork Guru said “never scare your horse, being with you should be his comfort zone,” and then he tried to haul the (vastly insulted) Paint Mare flat onto her side by hauling her over with the rope and tried to hold her down through her panic until it started to escalate, then walked away. They both avoided each other the next day of the clinic, btw. My impression of Groundwork Guru is that he is generally 100 % correct when dealing with goofy beginner owners, problem horses, basic saftey issues, bomb-proofing, about 85 % correct overall, but not always right in his estimation of what’s happening when people move on to complementary forms of training that he doesn’t fully understand. I learned a lot the first time I took his clinic, less this second but still useful. I think with clinicians in particular, who don’t know you or your horse at all, you need to be quietly but actively evaluating everything, not getting offended or argumentative, but alert to the moments when they do make wrong assumptions. So I choose to continue acting on his larger principle, of making your horse safe and comfortable with you, rather than following his practical suggestions, when they conflict! He may have thought that the Paint Mare was just a dopey old thing because she lay down so quietly and quickly for me, and I don’t know anything obviously, so of course he could show me the next step and just pull her over. Or he may have assumed that she was trained to lie down by being unbalanced and asked to kneel, and that she would put up with being hauled around. On the other hand, I don’t think his horses are desensitized at all, they are hot and responsive under saddle, and his trick training is much more accomplished and versatile than mine overall 🙂

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