Welcome to the Cardinal Points Farm blog !

Dear friends and fellow animal lovers, here it is ... a blog to discuss training.

My specialty is horse training and dressage, but I’ve applied to my horses many invaluable lessons from other animal trainers. Together we can create a greater awareness of the unlimited potential for greatness that your animals (and you) possess, once you acknowledge that many animal species are intelligent and capable of reasoning and communication.

So let’s get started ! Let's share insights, lesson plans, techniques, videos, pics, stories ... what have you.


Sian Min The
Cardinal Points Farm

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Don’t take it so personally! How to conquer fear

So one day your horse dumps you after a buck or a spook; or you have a big welt on your arm where his foot hit you while you were crawling under his belly trying to spray him for flies.

Most likely you were in some pain or discomfort after these happenings, and most likely you felt a torrent of colorful language rising to your lips. As well as the desire to “whup his a—“ ... so to speak.

Truly, people do have this tendency to attribute mishaps to some “thing” that must be “out to get them”. This society’s bent to sue is a symptom of that. I do believe that a good part of the fear of horses, or of riding horses, stems from a deep suspicion that the animal has it in for you. Particularly so, if serious injury or worse is the consequence. Then your verbiage changes to “dangerous unpredictable animal”, or something similar.

Isn’t this a somewhat egocentric view of our role in the universe? Why does it always have to be about US? Sometimes it’s just an accident in the purest sense of the word. It's not the horse's fault (it may actually be our own carelessness). The proverbial “s—t” just happens. I firmly believe that we humans do not rank that highly in importance for an animal to spend his precious feeding hours contemplating ways to hurt us.

In my younger days I, too, experienced a fear of horses. It was not easy to conquer but I did. There were a few things I had to do for this. I learned to get to know, understand and communicate with the horse. I accepted the horse for what it is: an intelligent, expressive prey animal, with very strong survival instincts. I also acquired the physical skills and fitness necessary to minimize the likelihood of accidents. And, I wear safety gear.

So, due diligence has been done. Now riding horses is no more frightening to me than driving on the Houston freeways at rush hour.

To spook, or not to spook

Day after day your horse happily grazes, totally unconcerned, within a few feet of a flapping tarp. He yawns and dozes off on one side of a pasture fence, while chickens are noisily squabbling on the the other side. Totally unflappable, you think happily – a seasoned trail horse.

So you saddle him up one day for a hack. A short while into your ride, you notice a flapping tarp. And you feel it: his gait no longer swings, and his ears are pricked. Just as you notice this transformation, he violently shies away from the tarp, and you’re desperately hanging on to stay with your mount.

Later, when your ride is about to take you past a hen house, your horse stops dead in his tracks. The chickens, who are peacefully pecking about their yard, seem to come across to your horse as vicious (horse)meat-eating dinosaur descendants. Actually, the only way you make it past the poultry is to dismount and lead your horse in hand.

What the ... ????

This is a phenomenon that baffles the most seasoned horsepeople. It used to intrigue me, too. Until I realized that, to horses (and if you think about it, humans also), the context in which a stimulus is presented must determine how it is perceived.

Some horses are more sensitive to it than others. I have a horse who will perceive the same object differently depending on where it is, whether it's upside-down, or whether I’m holding it in my hand, etc. It’s not inconceivable then, that your presence on his back could change the context of a perceived object.

If you have experienced spooks on multiple occasions under similar situations, it is also likely that you have become “sensitized” to these situations: you may anticipate your horse’s spooking, and will therefore tense up. The horse can feel this. Unless you're one of those yogi who can control all subconscious reactions, this is likely to always be the case - I know I'm that way. From the horse’s perspective, your alarmed posture confirms his suspicions: the upcoming situation must be nasty indeed.

Such situations may be hair-raising, but they’re also valuable trainng opportunities – both for you and your horse. I deal with potentially scary situations using the SATS technique of Name & Explain, and Conditioned Relaxation. In a nutshell, my horses are trained in SATS, and I can literally name objects and situations for them. I can also ask the horse to physically relax, and bridge him when he does.

So, for example, as soon as I realize he has noticed the flapping tarp I might name it “tarp”, then ask him to be “easy”. It may take several cycles during one encounter with the tarp, or even several encounters, for the horse to master the relaxation and be comfortable with the presence of the tarp. Yes, it works, but it does require that the horse and rider be trained in SATS.

Ok, so that’s for the horse. I have to work on my body's reactions, too. Meditation, anyone ?

One more thing I want to add: don't worry about being too specific when you name something you think he's reacting to. Why? Because you can't be sure what exactly he's reacting to. Is it the entire tarp? The cobweb six feet up? A shiny object under the tarp ? One of my horses is so into the naming of things that I risk losing credibility if he realizes I'm naming the wrong thing !

You're ready to own a horse when ...

... you have the time and ability to care for, train and ride it yourself, OR can pay a professional trainer to do this for you. Otherwise, the horse will end up as a (very expensive) lawn ornament; or worse, parked in a stall like a prisoner serving a sentence.
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