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Kim Baker Horse Guru Blog

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I just read an article by a top horseman in a top horse magazine. I follow this horseman a lot, and I like his style; he's even been on my radio show once before. In his latest article I read, I actually disagreed with him on one point: accepting ear pinning while being saddled. To me that is a clear sign from the horse that he is in pain, or has experienced pain in the past, but time has not resolved the issue or there is still enough pain to warrant the ear pinning.

His point in the article was to be patient with a horse that is a "grump". This particular horse pins his ears when you walk into his stall and when you saddle him.

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The majority of people compete to win, and most winners hate to lose.  However, if you enter the competition ring often enough you don't always come out with a win.  I like to look at competition as a base line for how my horse and I are performing.  In competition you will only get 80 percent of what you and your horse can do at home.  Why is that?  There are many factors such as stress, nerves, away from home, unfamiliar surroundings, funny tasting water, and the list goes on.  By establishing a base line, now you know exactly what you and horse need work on.

What happens if you dwell on a loss? 

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In Parts 1 and 2, we discussed the horse as your employee.  We also talked about suitability to perform the job at hand, horse behavior as a result of pain, how all of it adds up to potential risk and liability for you, and how to survey your horse to find some answers.

What do the results of the survey mean to you and your horse?  The results are going to be very specific to each individual horse and situation, but we'll evaluate the following example to gain a better understanding of what the results are telling us.  Background information: 15 year old gelding used for trail riding two to three times a week.  Rider has noticed some behavior changes in the horse over the last two months.  Sample survey was completed as follows: 

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In Part 1, we discussed the horse as your employee.  We also talked about suitability to perform the job at hand, horse behavior as a result of pain, and how all of it adds up to potential risk and liability for you.

What can we do to reduce our risk and liability?  Simple.  Ask the horse how s/he feels about her/his job with an employee engagement survey.  Determine the key performance indicators (goals) for the horse in his/her job,  then develop a set of questions.  Start out with at least five and no more than ten questions, where the horse can be rated on a scale from one to five.  Work with the horse to complete the survey.

What are your key performance indicators?  What are the most important aspects of the horse's job?  These will vary based on the type of riding you do with your horse.  With these specific factors in mind you can develop specific questions to ask your horse(s). 

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When horses become upset or nervous they raise their heads.  You can teach your horse how to lower her head by creating a de-stress button on the ground and in the saddle.

First you will want to teach your horse how to give to pressure with a head drop exercise.  Stand on one side of your horse between her head and shoulders. Place one hand over the halter at the poll, and your other hand over the halter at the nose band. Apply steady downward pressure until your horse lowers her head, even if it's only half an inch. Your horse will learn the pressure goes away when she gives into the pressure by lowering her head. If she pushes back into your hands, continue to apply steady downward pressure until she relaxes the slightest bit. If your horse is really tall, try to keep your hands on your horse for as long as possible or stay with your hands raised towards her head until she relaxes and lowers her head the slightest bit. Repeat a couple of times, then do the same exercise on the other side of your horse.  Once your horse is really good with this exercise, to the point where you put your hands over the nose and poll and your horse lowers her head automatically (sometimes without even touching your horse), then you can advance the exercise to applying downward pressure from the lead rope.  Apply steady pressure until your horse lowers her head.  Repeat several times on each side of your horse.  This advanced exercise will need to be automatic as well before you can move on to the next stage.

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Have you ever considered your horse as your employee?  Perhaps this seems degrading to the horse, but your horse does perform a specific job for you and therefore it makes sense to get his/her feedback on how the job is going for him/her.  Even if you are a recreational rider, your horse is performing a job for you.

Let's look at this from the corporate perspective then apply it to the horse world.  You are the boss of a small company or a manager of a division of a large company.  You have a job opening.  You write up the job description and post to the community.  You receive applications and resumes.  You interview the candidates.  You hire the best candidate for the job.  Six months later it's time for the employee's performance review.  The employee is evaluated on certain criteria on a scale from one to five.  The employee learns what s/he is doing well and areas for improvement.  Now if you're a good employer then you also care about how satisfied your employee is in his/her job.  You provide employee satisfaction surveys to find out what you're doing right and your areas of improvement.  This allows for a great two way communication system to ensure both employer and employee are happy.  Happy and content employees make for good productivity, which makes for good profit margins.  It all comes down in the end to the almighty dollar and reducing your risk and liability.  With an unhappy employee, the employer is at greater risk and liable.

So how does all this apply to the horse world? 

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