3 Hidden Problems You May Have With Your Horse – Jay O’Jay

jay o'jay

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jay O’Jay, the celebrated Canadian horseman. He has just launched his Horsemanship Program and Cowboy Challenge in South Langley, British Columbia at Reign Ridge Stables. Continue reading “3 Hidden Problems You May Have With Your Horse – Jay O’Jay”

High Point Equestrian Centre Hosts Jay O Jay Horsemanship Clinic

If you have been hoping to see Jay O’Jay in action in Langley, where better than at the new and impressive High Point Equestrian Centre just south of Campbell Valley Park.  He is giving a Horsemanship Clinic on Saturday and Sunday, November 5th and 6th 2011 and it runs from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm each day.  The exact address is  658 200th St, Langley, BC.

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Horse Council BC Equine Education Conference 2012 – Speaker Dr. Andrew McLean

horse council bcThe Horse Council BC will be hosting the second annual Equine Education Conference from January 21 – 22, 2012 at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel.  I was most pleased to see that Dr. Andrew McLean will be a speaker.  He has developed and manages the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, the most internationally recognised horse training and behaviour modification centre in Australia.

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Horsing Around Langley

The Township of Langley 2010 BC Summer Games were a great success.  The Langley Arts Council was delighted to receive a $20,000 grant, which will be used to fund a unique art project celebrating that success and Langley’s status as Horse Capital of BC.

This is a Public Art Project entitled “Horsing Around Langley”.   The Langley Arts Council will collaborate with the Langley Horse Federation for this community project and Carla Robin, well known local horse person has been appointed as project coordinator.
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Joy Richardson: Afternoon Tea with a Spirited Horse Woman

Joy Richardson has made many contributions to the horse community in Langley.  One of the best known is  the Spirit of the Horse Garden in Campbell Valley Park.  She was the driving force in cooperation with the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the Township of Langley, Horse Council BC and the Langley Horse Federation.
Continue reading “Joy Richardson: Afternoon Tea with a Spirited Horse Woman”

Never spur a willing horse

That phrase, Never spur a willing horse, has been around for centuries.  It came to mind on hearing a talk by Jay O Jay, the celebrated Canadian horseman, which he gave to the Aldergrove Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of B.C. His talk on The Judicious Use of Spurs was given to a packed house.  He covered the following topics:

  1. Should I be using spurs?
  2. The function of spurs
  3. Shanks and rowels
  4. Understanding your horse’s mental & physical limitations
  5. Blaming the horse
  6. Developing a quiet effective leg
  7. Reinforcing your leg cue with spurs
  8. Remember success with your horse starts with you

His views are very much in line with an article by Martin Black, entitled To Spur Or Not To Spur.

Spurs should not be used as the primary signal.  First, if we are asking the horse to move off one leg, we can start by putting some life in that leg. Then, if the horse does not respond to the leg or legs, reinforcement can come with the spur.

There should be enough respect, or even intimidation, caused by the spurs that we rarely need to use them. When the horse gets too comfortable with or desensitized to the spur, we can have numerous problems. Besides the obvious problem that the horse ignores the request made with the spur, he can also get resentful to the point of switching his tail, or even kicking or bucking.

Both Jay O Jay and Martin Black would certainly go along with that phrase, Never spur a willing horse.  However it struck me that Spur is a word that has picked up a whole series of negative associations in relation to horses. It is interesting to consider why.

The word ‘Spur’

Checking the dictionary for the word spur, you will find the following meanings.  As a noun, it means an incitement or stimulus.  As a verb, it can mean to incite or prompt or it can mean to accelerate.  These all show the same idea as you find in the phrase ‘to spur on someone to do something faster’.

The word spur also comes up as the name for a variety of physical objects as you will find in Wikipedia.  Sometimes they can be instruments of aggression as apparently are found on roosters and pheasants and on the back legs of male platypuses.  The most common usage is the equipment worn by riders of horses.

The History of Horse Spurs

Spurs have been used by riders of horses since the 4th century BC.    Of course since riders of horses were often those with more power and wealth, spurs were often used as symbols of authority and/or superiority.  Indeed knights of old were allowed to wear silver spurs rather than gilt spurs to confirm their knighthood: they had won their spurs.

That notion of superiority and aggression still attaches to the word ‘spurs’.  That is why you will find some sports teams use this as part of their name.  Perhaps the most famous in the UK is the soccer team, Tottenham Hotspurs, most often shortened to the Spurs.  In the US, you also have a basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs.

Spurs and Horses as seen by the man in the street

It always seems to be the case that bad news travels farther and faster than good news. Many people in thinking of horsemen and spurs may remember pictures of riders flailing their spurred heels into their horses sides to force the horses to go as fast as possible. The spurs seem to be almost weapons of coercion to force the horse to do as the rider wishes.

That brings us back to the title of this post, Never spur a willing horse.  Using the spurs in an apparently cruel way is not only abhorrent to others but will not bring out the best in the horse.  There is a much better way to use spurs that will ensure the horse is willing.

The Best Use of  Spurs


A rider only has certain points of possible contact with the horse when riding. Horses are incredibly sensitive and will detect almost imperceptible movements of the rider’s body.

A skilled rider can use such tiny cues  to communicate with the horse where he or she would like the horse to go or at what pace.  The legs should be very ‘quiet’ so that viewers may be unaware that a signal has been given to the horse.

One problem is that to an extent the human foot is the wrong shape for communicating with the horse.  The spur is an artificial aid, which extends the heel backwards.  This gives an additional way of communicating with the horse.

It is not a question of applying a great deal of pressure or a series of rapid jabs.  Just the lightest touch will tell the horse what the rider has in mind.

A willing horse enjoys going as fast as it can when the opportunity arises.  It does not need to be spurred on to do so.  The spurs just like the other ways the rider communicates with the horse (reins, seat in the saddle and legs) require only imperceptible movements for the horse to respond.

When the rider and the horse are in close communication, they will appear to move as one.  As Jay O Jay often says, “It is the mind that we communicate with, it is the mind that we train and most importantly, it is the mind that controls the horse’s feet.” The spurs are only one small part of that total communication process.

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Working With Your Horse – Part 3: Communicating With That Other Brain

This is the third in a series of articles on Working With Your Horse.  The others were entitled:

In the second article, we explained that a simple way of understanding how a horse thinks is to consider that it has both a logical brain and an other brain.  The other brain handles all the sensory perceptions.  That exactly parallels what happens with we humans where we have both a logical brain and an other brain handling sensory perceptions.  The big difference is that in horses the other brain is much more active in directing the horse’s actions and reactions.  That is because horses are prey animals and must be constantly on the alert to be ready to flee at the first sign of a potential threat.

In working with your horse, you cannot ignore this other brain of your horse.  It will pick up on the very smallest indication you may give by your body language.  Equally if you are very perceptive, you may spot small movements in some part of the horse that will signal what they are thinking about or what they are concerned about.

However there is another factor that comes into play in the relationship between horse and rider.  If you read a book like Connecting with Horses: The Life Lessons We Can Learn From Horses or the videos produced by Martin Clunes. you might feel that the connection you develop with your horse will be one of mutual respect and camaraderie.

That has a measure of truth, but it really distorts reality.  The natural grouping for a horse is the herd.  Within the herd, it’s not just a great life of pleasurable companionship.  In any herd, there is a natural hierarchy – a pecking order.  Usually the lead mare will exercise complete authority over the others.  Only when she has finished drinking is any other horse, usually the next in the pecking order, allowed to approach the water.  The leader of the herd is constantly confirming its superiority.  When the time comes to flee from danger, it is she who will lead that flight.  If any horse is to be caught by the threat, it will not be the lead mare.  The strongest survive to continue to lead the herd.  Weaker horses may fall by the wayside and in some cases die.  This tough process may seem cruel to a compassionate soul, but it is the reality that most horses believe applies to them.

The human rider does not escape this herd mentality.  The horse may well wish to establish that it is the boss. Only if the human rider insists that the horse respects the rider’s  ‘space’ will both have an acceptable way of interacting.  When the horse trusts the rider, then it can be ready to accept that the rider is the leader.  These words are easily written but very hard to apply.  Every horse is unique.  Depending on their upbringing and the other horses and humans that have come into their ‘herd’ from time to time, they may appear to react in highly unpredictable ways.

Each trainer develops his or her own way of ensuring that their horse sees them as a leader.  In fact there is a wide divergence of views among trainers on what is acceptable in establishing that leadership position.  Horsemen (and horsewomen) in general are often soft-spoken people who quietly work to achieve their task of developing trust in their horses.  Taking up the cudgels and confronting someone with whom you disagree is very far from their nature.  However that is beginning to change.

Only two months ago, a video appeared on YouTube showing Pat Parelli appearing to abuse a stallion, “Catwalk”, at the Festival of the Horse Natural Horsemanship Demonstration.  This so incensed another high-profile trainer, Chris Irwin, that he went public with his condemnation of what was shown in that video.  Pat Parelli has since then responded to the criticisms of his behavior in the Catwalk Video but still seems to feel that what was done was the only way.

Provided you have the skill and experience to be able to communicate with the horse’s other brain through correctly reading the body language and sending the right signals, harsh methods are unnecessary and in fact counter-productive.  There are a number of fine trainers who demonstrate that:  just watch John Lyons or Doug Mills in action to see how it is done.

Here in Langley BC we now have the opportunity to see a very experienced horseman who is certainly in the same league.  Jay O Jay thrills audiences with what he can accomplish even with very young horses.  It’s a fine example of what the Langley Horse Federation Workshop  is encouraging to make the public more aware of just how much horses can enrich our lives.