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Generally, we humanize horses too much when dealing with them. Giving bread and sugar at the wrong moment is not to be recommended (see equine nutrition for further details on this topic). By careful observation of the horse as we handle him we learn about his mental state and when to praise him. We must observe his eyes, ears, general expression, tail movements, sweating, neighing, snorting and the way he moves, just like a professional punter looking for the best horse during the horse betting process. But what do these mean individually?


The horse’s temperament and character can be determined from his eyes. A quiet, clear and kind eye indicates a friendly character. Horses with small eyes and a mistrustful look often have difficult temperaments. It is said that a horse with a lot of white in the eye has a lot of energy and can sometimes be difficult.

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Training with cavalletti and with it the ‘light seat’, was developed in about 1930 in Italy. (To be precise a single raised pole is called a ‘cavalletto’, but this term has never been used in Germany. [Since this correct singular form is also unfamiliar to most English speakers, the German convention has been retained – ed.]). Graf Rothkirch, the commander of the German cavalry in Paderborn at this time, trained for a while in Pinerolo and Tor di Quinto at the Italian cavalry school. He soon realized the training possibilities for horse and rider of using both cavalletti and the light seat in basic schooling.

In the style of the Italian school, groups of riders used four cavalletti to help loosen up every day in walk and trot for about 10-15 minutes. Eight to ten young horses, at one or two horse’s lengths apart, were ridden quietly in rising trot over the cavalletti. The distance between the second and third cavalletti was doubled to allow for the different length of stride of each horse. Loosening the horses’ backs in this way was very beneficial and the benefits became particularly noticeable in later jumping and cross-country training.

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Establishing a contact can be viewed as a progressive process:

Riding with a contact between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth without flexion at the poll, for example with young horses when first sitting in the saddle (for safety reasons).
Riding on long reins; the longest, lightest contact between the rider’ hands and the horse’s mouth where the horse flexes through the poll. This is important in medium walk and also at the beginning o the ridden session if the horse has over-developed muscles on the underside of the neck or problems in the poll.
Riding on the bit (where the reins are shorter by 7-8 cm than when riding on long reins), which alters the outline of the neck to that required when riding collected walk, trot and canter. (The horse must be able to do this in a snaffle before being introduced to a double bridle later in his training.)

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A good breeder establishes the basis of trust by rearing and handling young horses correctly, which prepares then for subsequent work with a rider. Education begins as a foal. The first days and weeks set the foundations for later development of a trustful working partnership between man and horse, not by hours of aimless playing around with foals, but by winning their trust. This begins with them becoming accustomed to the stable. Foals are naturally inquisitive and after a while will investigate contact with people, but they are braver more quickly if one crouches down to their level and waits until the foal comes to you. This acceptance of human contact is developed by keeping low and stroking the foal at first, progressing to holding him with the left arm under the neck and lightly passing the right arm around the hindquarters. Through this he learns that existence in the world is not entirely a matter of being free. His inborn urge for freedom must be slowly but surely brought under control.

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