Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dale Rudin's Unnatural Horsemanship

Horses are a Gift

Dale Rudin’s Unnatural Horsemanship
iVIEW columnist Gina McKnight 
As seen in trueCOWBOYmagazine November/December 2015 issue
No duplication without permission from trueCOWBOYmagazine

Dale Rudin has been in love with horses since her dad took her on her first pony ride.  She’s been competing, teaching, training, and learning ever since. Originally from Southern California, Dale now lives in Tennessee.  She is a Certified Horsemanship Association riding instructor and the CHA Representative for her state.  She shares her insight and training techniques with her local students and readers nationwide in Horse Illustrated magazine and on the equine website Dale also conducts clinics and horsemanship workshops, and will help you find the right horse if you’re shopping. She is personable, positive, and the founder of Unnatural Horsemanship®: A Mindful Approach to the Horse-Human Relationship. Dale’s training methods embrace the horse’s natural instincts with a common sense approach.

Dale believes, “Whether you are new to horses or an experienced horse person, you influence your horse's body and mind every time you handle or ride him.  It’s our responsibility to have a beneficial impact. I’ve been training and teaching people about horses for over 30 years.  My favorite part of my day is showing people how to have a wonderful and safe relationship with their horse and how to help their horse do his or her job with confidence and comfort.”

Recently, I talked with Dale about her horse history, the horses she stables, and her training methods. An enjoyable conversation, I highly recommend you to take a look at Dale’s methods and her keen horse-sense.

Welcome Dale!

Gina: Dale, it’s so nice to meet you! We are thrilled to have you as a guest in iVIEW! Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. I am curious about your horse history and when you first knew that you wanted to be an equestrian. When was your first encounter with a horse?

Dale: Good morning! My first horse encounter would be the pony ride in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. My dad took me; the strap-them-to-the-saddle and go-around-in-a-circle kind of thing. I was probably three years old. From that day forward, whenever there were pony rides, man, I had to be on that pony!

Gina: You have an amazing horse background and a lot of experience with horses. When and how did you become a horse trainer?

Dale: It really started when I was young and being coached by other trainers.  I owned my second horse, Weasel, and was riding at a show barn. The lessons consisted of riding on the rail. I was told to walk, jog, and lope around the rail. If my horse's head went up, I was told to bump it back down.  If he sped up, I was told to pull him to a stop.  That was the basic lesson structure – punish him for doing something “wrong.”  I didn’t know what “wrong” meant and neither did he.  I was told to buy a bumper bit. After a period of time, Weasel was getting a terrible sore from it. He was a sweet horse, but he got to the point where he was so miserable he didn’t even want to come out of his lonely metal stall. He started bucking at shows.  He had no life.  He was only brought out to be lunged, ridden, or put on the hot walker. I hated it. I began reading a lot; learning what I could from available magazines. I wanted to stop hurting my horse, so I bought him a snaffle.  My trainer ridiculed me for that and ignored me for the rest of the day. 

Then I started riding my horse off the rail. Another trainer was kind enough to come over and show me how to bend him. That was the moment when I began looking at riding from a different perspective. I asked myself, “Why does being ridden have to be miserable for my horse?” I decided it didn’t have to be and I would figure out how to make it better. I loved my horse and bad things were being done to him while I was being told it was okay.  For example they made me block his tail.  That was horrible enough, but it was done while he was in a trailer and he never wanted to get into a trailer again. I ended up leaving the trainer and taking him away. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to retrain my horse and make him happy. It took me three years to figure it out.  I made him comfortable, strong, and taught him self-carriage.  I showed him again against the trainers who had trained me, and I beat them. It was really great. It wasn’t that he was a spectacular horse; he was just in a place where he was capable of doing his job really well.  He was so responsive that all I had to do was kiss quietly to him to get his attention or reengage his hind end. The judges would never see me doing anything. I never touched the reins.  He and I got to the point where we could ride at the walk, trot, and lope with just a lead around his neck.  Then I realized what riding was supposed to be about. I am still striving to make it easier for the horse; really make it a mutual partnership, where the horse is participating and horse and rider are a real team.  The lightest touch.  Two-way communication. Not “do this or I’m going to beat the crap out of you.”

Gina: As you became more experienced, people saw your success and asked you to train their horses?

Dale: Yes. People would ask me to help them with their horses. I worked with some horses that had terrible issues.  I learned a lot from them.  Sadly it’s the unhappy horses I learn from the most.

Gina: Natural Horsemanship has been the go-to for many years now. When I read your Unnatural Horsemanship® program, I became curious as to the difference. What is the difference?

Dale: I’ll make it really simple. There’s no such thing as “natural horsemanship.” Horsemanship is not natural. All that’s natural for horses is to be out in the wilderness fending for themselves. People aren’t part of it. Beginning from that premise and perspective, I know we are interfering with the horses by putting them in stalls and pasture with one kind of grass.  We are manipulating their feet, putting weight on their back, and putting things in their mouths. I’m not saying that this is bad or wrong; I’m saying let’s do those things in a way that doesn’t create stress or discomfort.  I call what I do Unnatural Horsemanship® because I strive to mitigate the potentially negative impact on a horse’s natural state.  Additionally, but no less important, my program enhances the horse’s physical and emotional well-being.  To me that’s a recipe for success whether you’re working with your horse on the ground, riding competitively, or riding for pleasure.  Are you with me so far?

Gina: Yes. Without our interference, horses would be free to roam and graze all day. If I enrolled in one of your workshops, what would I garner from the experience?

Dale: A different perspective. My workshops cover a wide variety of topics. I want to teach people how choices they make can help or hurt their horses; nutrition, hoof care, the importance of balance. When we get on their backs or ask them to lunge, or lead them, it can throw off their balance. Imbalance creates tension and interferes with natural and comfortable movement. Workshops are about first learning what’s natural for the horse, how to safeguard that, and then build upon it.  My teaching and training process is really about improving a horse’s life.  When we do that, the goals we want to reach come easily, almost effortlessly, because the horse has what he needs to do what we ask of him.  Whether its western pleasure, jumping, dressage, etc., why not develop the skills the horse needs to do it well and in a way that will benefit them?  Then it’s a win for everyone.  I want my horses to enjoy going to work.  I think training can and should enrich their lives.  I have had horses do a leg yield for the first time and I feel them get excited like, “Holy Cow! I just went forward and sideways at the same time!” How cool is that?  Horses are the most magnificent creatures. They let us get on their back!  I don’t want it to be because they have been beaten into submission and don’t have a choice. I want it to be because they glory in it – “Somebody gets on me and we go do things; we do cool things!” It brings me such joy to have that kind of experience with a horse and to bring that experience to the horse.

Gina: Many trainers believe they are “horse whisperers” and that they are magically intuitive to a horse. Do you consider yourself a horse whisperer?

Dale: No. I don’t understand the term. Like the phrase “natural horsemanship” it’s just a term that people have latched onto to make something magical. There’s nothing magical about it. I’ve recently become a passionate student of equine behavior. Are you familiar with the term flooding?

Gina: Flooding. No, I can’t say I am familiar with the term. As a rider, I rely on experts like you for training. I’ve not heard that term in relationship to a horse.

Dale:  Flooding is relentlessly exposing an animal to frightening stimuli until his brain eventually shuts down.  There is so much hard science now that validates what I have been for doing for years.  The research confirms that introducing a horse to a new experience over time while minimizing stress, and reinforcing desired behavior, works better than punishment.  What a lot of people are seeing as far as “natural horsemanship” is flooding. Flooding is “I am going to smack this horse with this bag and he’s going to freak out for while then all of sudden he’s just going to get quiet. The horse is now said to be accepting the bag.” Well, he’s not.  When a horse has no escape and he’s.  It’s a self-preservation mechanism and the process is highly stressful.  People are starting horses in a day too; that’s not me. I don’t think a young horse is physically or mentally capable of handling that kind of intense stimulation.

I was just working with a mare showing signs of the flooding process - when things got stressful for her (and it didn’t take much), she would close her eyes and become very still.  As a result she was explosive because she concealed her emotional state.  She would suddenly tense up and then overreact. Flooding makes a horse look passive, but the horse is only learning that he’s helpless. They just give up, like playing possum. My experience is that it results in a horse becoming very distrustful, withdrawn, and anxious.

Gina: From a horse owner's perspective, we should all be cautious about acquiring horses that have been flooded! I certainly prefer your method of engaging the horse and taking time to train and build a relationship. Tell us about your own horses. What horses do you stable and what breeds do you prefer?

Dale: I own two quarter horses – Zena (Warrior Princess) and Rayna. Zena I’ve had for a few years. Where we live right now we don’t have a riding facility. We are in the process of buying a farm here in middle Tennessee. We’ve been renting, so we haven’t even put up the round pen. My horses have been on vacation! I tend to own Quarter Horses, but I work with all breeds. It doesn’t matter what the breed is or what the horses do because the horse is either balanced, relaxed and comfortable or they are not.

Gina: Zena and Rayna - two mares!

Dale: I love mares.  My mare Zena was had a previous who hired somebody to start her.  She was flooded.  I was at the same farm and saw what she went through.  She lost about 200 pounds in a week. I saw her being tied up and smacked in the head with a bag and other things. You should see a picture of her when she was going through that. She was crazy thin and so stressed.

I was able to remove her from this situation. I turned her out and let her be a horse.  It took six months before she would let me touch her. Slowly she let me get close to her again. It wasn’t because I worked with her a lot; I just left her alone and let her call the shots.  She finally decided I was safe.  She’s such a lovely and confident mare.  I hate that she went through that but she’s fine now.  My other mare Rayna came with issues too.  She’s 15.  I don’t know what happened to her, but when we first got her she felt threatened.  She was reactive and defended herself by biting and sometimes kicking.  I use positive praise and reinforcement training with her.  It works great, especially with horses that have been traumatized.  She’s much happier now; less guarded, and enjoys it when we give her attention. 

Gina: Do you like living in Tennessee? You are originally from California. The cultural differences between the two places must have been overwhelming at first.

Dale: Love it. Tennessee felt like home the minute I came to visit nine years ago. I grew up in Orange County, California. Tennessee is completely different and that’s what I love about it.

Gina: As a trainer, horse lover, and equestrian, what is your best advice for novice riders?

Dale: I have about 20 different things coming to mind! For novice riders I would say it’s supposed to be fun for everybody – horse and human. Learn all you can.  Work with somebody who is a good teacher, someone who stresses safety and teaches horsemanship. Learning about horses isn’t just about riding. It is really important to understand behavior, how to feed and care for a horse, and to understand the why behind the how. Learn how to read a horse’s expression – their ears, neck position, etc. It will help you stay safe.  The sooner you know horse is going to have a problem, the better chance you can do something to stop it before it gets out of hand.  It boils down to have a well-rounded education from the beginning and knowing the horse from top to bottom, inside and out.

Gina: If I am a new rider wanting to purchase a horse for the first time, what should I look for in a horse?

Dale: If you’re new to riding I would strongly suggest hiring an expert to help you.  If that expert was me, I would find out what your skill level is, what type of riding you want to do, and what your expectation of the horse is. I would want to see how confident you are when you’re handling and riding a horse. I would want to know if you are going to be working with a trainer or have some other support, which if you’re a new rider you should. I would educate you on evaluating a horse’s suitability, assessing personality, training, and movement.  I would be there to help you choose that horse.

Gina: You match the right horse with the right person, as well as provide beneficial clinics and workshops. Can anyone come to you for advice?

Dale: Of course!  I love helping people and their amazing horses have safe, fulfilling, and successful experiences. 

Gina: You have been around horses a long time and have seen a lot of diverse and adverse situations. As you said, horses are amazing. Do you believe horses are spiritual?

Dale: Everything that’s alive is spiritual. Are horses more spiritual than other beings? That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a more or less. It might be a unique spirituality from the perspective of the horse.

Gina:  What are your views on the wild Mustangs and the horse slaughter debate?

Dale: I know there is no perfect solution. There’s “the slaughter camp” and “the don’t slaughter camp.” I don’t think it’s that clear cut. As far as rounding up feral horses, I know that’s a pretty traumatic thing for them, but I know some of horses get adopted into good homes and have good lives. I think it’s a really difficult and complicated situation. I would love for all of the horses to have all the space and everything that they need and lead their horsey lives. I want that for all creatures, but the world at large doesn’t seem to have the same opinion.  I don’t want anything to go to slaughter either. However, it happens whether we want it to or not.  I think when it’s harder for people to deal with a horse that they don’t want any more, the horse often suffers.  I think the process needs to be made humane. Once they shut the slaughter houses down here, it got worse for the horses in many ways.  There are no regulations in Mexico.  Transport conditions are deplorable. Despite the good intentions behind the change in policy, I think ending slaughter in the U.S. was a mistake.  

Gina: What does horsemanship mean to you?

Dale: Horsemanship is about being responsible for the welfare of the horse. That’s at the forefront. It’s not about getting your horse to do A, B, or C. True horsemanship is about the betterment of the horse.  Two species coming together is a remarkable thing.  I think we need to remember that we are the ones calling all the shots though.  We need to ensure the horse is content and comfortable. Relaxation is a big thing for me. If a horse isn’t relaxed, then he’s stressed.   There must be a physical or mental issue that needs to be addressed. Whatever the problem, dealing with is our responsibility. Becoming knowledgeable so we can prevent problems is important too.  There’s a lot of blaming the horse for things. When people say this horse is stupid, or stubborn, or mean, or whatever, I think it’s always unfair to the horse. We don’t always know what’s going on with the horse. I have horses that I work with that when they’re cranky the client blames the horse. I worked with a client just last week who said, “My horse is in a bad mood today, I don’t know what her deal is, can you help me?” She was frustrated about the horse. I asked if it was a new behavior or is she like this all the time. “No, she’s not like this all the time, but, boy, she’s having a bad day.” Especially if a behavior is out of the ordinary, it’s likely something is bothering her or she needs help. So, the client brought the horse over and I could see her front feet were sore.  She had laminitis; she was hurting. Horsemanship is thinking about it from the horse’s point of view and not jumping to conclusions. 

Gina: Dale, you are a phenomenal horsewoman. Congratulations on your great success and thanks for sharing your knowledge. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dale: Yes.  Having horses is a gift. Treat that gift with respect. People say horses should respect us. I think that’s a crock. We need to respect them. Our job is communication and preparation - make sure they understand what we are asking of them and are capable of doing it.  Mutual cooperation. That’s what partnership is all about.    

Connect with Dale:

American Horse Publications Press Release
Certified Horsemanship Association facebook

An interview with trueCOWBOYmagazine iVIEW columnist Gina McKnight 
November/December 2015 issue
No duplication without permission from trueCOWBOYmagazine

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