RMM Newsletter - Month of April

We’re very excited about our May Light Hands Horsemanship™ www.lighthandshorsemanship.com  (LHH) clinic, now in its fourth year.  Join us May 20-23 at Intrepid Farms, in Central California’s wine country.  This year’s theme is “Equine Learning: From Birth to Maturity,” and will feature clinics by myself, Eitan, Jack Brainard, Lester Buckley, Jon Ensign, and special guest/2009 Road To The Horse winner, Richard Winters.  The weekend includes a special Santa Maria-style barbecue (my favorite) by renowned Los Olivos Grocery, and campfire entertainment.

Light Hands Horsemanship™ is proud to have Spalding Labs and Spalding Fly Predators as our sponsor once again. We’d like to thank Tom Spalding for his continued support and sponsorship. For more information on fly predators for your summer fly control needs, go to www.spalding-labs.com.

Debby and I continue to be thrilled with the enthusiastic response to the newsletters.  We always welcome your comments and suggestions at newsletter@robertmmiller.com.   And don’t forget our new cartoon site, www.rmmcartoons.com; if you have an idea for a cartoon, send it to cartoons@robertmmiller.com.

Sign up for LHH now www.lighthandshorsemanship.com.  Reservations are limited, so don’t miss out!

For additional details, call 1-530-346-2715.

LHH is considering a 2011 event in Pennsylvania.  Anyone interested in attending, please contact Debbie Beth-Halachmy at eitan@foothill.net.


I’m not opposed to horse shows.  They were created, as were other domestic animal shows, for the “improvement of the breed.” Unfortunately, our greatest human failings-greed and ego-have corrupted all kinds of animal events.  Horse shows are just an example, because I can assure you that equally unethical and inhumane practices exist in competitions involving other species.

The goal of winning or making money makes greed the primary problem in the industry.  Ego is also involved, because to win strokes self-esteem, and heightens competitive spirit. The result of this is that we see, in all disciplines of horsemanship, terrible abuses which physically and/or mentally damage the horse. Here are just a few examples:

In dressage, the practice of rollkur (extreme over-flexion of the head and neck, and severe contact with the bit) is banned by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI).

“Examples of rollkur.”
photos by Horses for LIFE magazine

The FEI just established distinction between rollkur and posture not achieved by force and aggressive hand-set, and has banned rollkur.  It has also been condemned in the book, Tug of War, and DVD, “If Horses Could Speak,” by German veterinarian and horseman, Gerd Heuschmann. 

Western pleasure classes have, for many years, been corrupted by the “peanut rollers.” Horses are shown with freakish and artificial gaits, and the head is carried ridiculously low. Excessive weight is borne by the forelegs, which contributes to eventual unsoundness.  But- these practices profit the trainers.  Western reining and cutting are wonderful events, but the futurities, which once existed only in racing, now cripple thousands of horses.  The futurities, designed for three-year-olds, necessitate hard training of two-year-old colts whose bodies are rarely up to the task.  Millions of dollars go for joint treatments and medications to suppress inflammation and pain.

The most dramatic example of cruelty is the “big lick” in Tennessee Walking Horse classes, wherein grotesque and unnatural gaits are obtained by cruel and harmful methods. These include outlandish horseshoeing methods and the infliction of pain to the feet, although the practice of soring has been long-banned.

The responsibility for these industry abuses is shared by:

  • The associations that allow them.
  • By the trainers who use them.
  • By the judges who approve of them.
  • By the owners who are either indifferent, or willing to ignore them.

Unfortunately, what is acceptable at horse shows becomes a goal for casual riders, even if they don’t compete. “Lightness” does not come naturally to us. We are a predatory, tool-using species, so it is natural for us to use items such as whips, spurs, and bits, and to use them coercively and forcefully, like weapons.  Thus, the use of excessive force is innate in us as a species, and what is often seen in horse shows is regarded as a model to emulate.

It is for these reasons a “Revolution in Horsemanship” began in the last quarter of the 20th century, and is gradually sweeping the world.  It inspired me, and my co-author Rick Lamb to produce a 2005 book with that title, which explains the history of this revolution.  In 2007, I wrote a sequel, Natural Horsemanship Explained, which explains how lightness works, and why it is more humane.  That’s why the subtitle of this book is “From Heart to Hands.” LHH is also a more effective form of horsemanship.

LHH is an ancient practice, but it’s not prevalent.  Most riders throughout the world, in all disciplines, still use strong-arm force on the reins, inflicting agony upon the horse’s mouth.  That is, and should not, be the purpose of a bit.  If horses can be taught to turn, stop, and back up in a hackamore or halter, the only legitimate reason for a bit is to signal to the horse via its very sensitive mouth.

The reason so few of the prominent Natural Horsemanship clinicians participate in horse show events is because they deplore the “heavy hands horsemanship” much of this industry encourages.  With our LHH clinics, we hope to facilitate a gentler, kinder, more effective means of communicating with our horses.


Have a question for Dr. Miller?
Send it to questions@robertmmiller.com.  We apologize that due to volume, we can’t guarantee Dr. Miller can respond to all emails, but we are building a more comprehensive FAQ page on our website to address your needs. All questions may be edited for clarity and space.

Q.  Is LHH an English or Western horsemanship clinic?  I’m confused.

A.  LHH applies to all breeds and disciplines.  Eitan is a classical European horseman who has gone Western, and originated cowboy dressage, now a horse show event. Lester Buckley is a Texas cowboy and former cutting horse champion who now lives in Hawaii and Germany, and is an F.E.I.-licensed dressage instructor in Europe.  John Ensign is a Montana horseman, clinician, and colt-starter.  Richard Winters is a top Californian clinician and reiner, as is the legendary Jack Brainard of Texas.  I’m a veterinarian and equine behaviorist.  Together, our diverse backgrounds present a multi-faceted symposium each May, in Santa Ynez, California.

This month: Light Hands Horsemanship clinics; "What is Light Hands?,"
An interview with clinician, trainer, and 2009 Road To The Horse winner, Richard Winters.

This year, Light Hands Horsemanship™ welcomes this acclaimed clinician, trainer, and owner of Richard Winters Horsemanship at The Thacher School (www.thacher.org). Richard is also the 2009 winner of Road To The Horse (an award designated for a colt-starting competition).  It’s an honor to have someone as accomplished as Richard be a part of the weekend.  We caught up with him to find out a bit more about what “lightness” means to him.

Q.  What made you decide to participate in the 2010 Light Hands clinics?

A.  I just knew that if people like Dr. Miller, Eitan, Rick Lamb, and the other clinicians were involved, it would be incredible. My wife Cheryl and I have wanted to attend for three years, but we’ve always had scheduling conflicts.  When I saw a DVD from a previous year, what struck me was the camaraderie between clinicians.  None of the clinics are doubled up, so you don’t miss anything- it has the feel of building, and establishing, a family.  It’s smaller, more intimate, and for the serious horseman and true students of horsemanship.  There’s a difference between horseback riding and horsemanship.

Q.  Meaning..?

A.  Horseback riding is just not falling off!  Horsemanship is for the individual willing to invest in themselves, so they can learn what their horse already knows.  Anyone can become a horseman, but you’ve got to put in the time.  Horses by nature want to get along with us, but they’re horses- they can’t understand us.  Therefore, we need to come to their level.

Q.  How did you get involved with horses?

A.  I’ve worked with them for over 30 years, but I didn’t grow up with them. I thought about working with them from an early age, so starting in grade school, I began riding my bike out to local stables, and began working as a “stable brat.” In high school, I began working with my mentor (as well as Pat Parelli’s): the late Troy Henry, of Clovis, California.

Q.  What does “lightness” mean to you?

A.  It’s a very subjective term, depending upon a person’s agenda and discipline. For me, it’s about engaging my horse in a conversation; the psychology of horsemanship. At Light Hands, I’ll be teaching a colt-starting clinic that focuses on how light hands begins on the ground, the first time you put a saddle on him. It progresses with each step- the first time you climb on his back, the first time you ask him to make a turn, etc. It’s all a part of that conversation you need to have going with your horse. 
For more information, go to www.wintersranch.com.


Mark Your Calendars!

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s lectures?
Spring and Summer Schedule:

  • May 20-23:  Dr. Miller’s Light Hands Horsemanship clinic will be held in Santa Ynez, CA.   For details, go to www.lighthandshorsemanship.com.

  • July 31-August 4:  AVMA Convention, Symposium on the Art & Science of Handling Horses. Click Here for details.

  • August 20-22:  This annual event on the Big Island features workshops, presentations and exhibitions from the nation’s leading clinicians and equine industry experts.
    For info., go to www.hawaiihorseexpo.com, or call organizer
    Nancy Jones at (808) 887-2301.

For information on appearances and other dates and locations in 2010, Click Here

Coming in our June newsletter:

Summer horse care, trail riding safety and protecting your horse from heatstroke; clinician Richard Winters gives us his account of this year’s Light Hands Horsemanship clinic.

Interested in booking Dr. Miller for a lecture, demonstration, or book signing?
Contact info@robertmmiller.com.

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