The carrot beats the stick…

by Linda Chamberlain

It is a shameful fact that if you go to a horse show you will see more sticks, spurs and strong bits…than you will carrots.

In fact, I can’t remember if I have ever seen a competitor pull a carrot from the pocket of their smart riding jacket to reward their horse while they are still in the ring.

This is why you need to meet Luca Moneta; you need to follow his career, his Facebook page and, if you feel the urge, to cheer him on. He is a top, international show jumper from Italy. This is him winning at Olympia in the Puissance in 2013 scaling a wall more than seven feet in height.

 Jumping seven feet!

Jumping seven feet!

It’s very sad that he is so different in the equestrian world – personally, I would like him to be even more different but more of that later…!

And the carrot is the key to all this.

You might ask yourself, ‘So what! The man dishes out some treats.’

That treat is the tip of the iceberg, the tiny bit that the public sees and loves…and approves. It underpins the training he gives his horses and reflects the lifestyle they enjoy.

Luca works by reward, by taking stress out of the equation. Many of his horses come to him with difficult behaviour and a troubled history. He plays Parrelli and ball games with them, he builds up their trust. Rewarding and encouraging all the way. If he’s working them over jumps his hand might reach for his pocket after just a few obstacles. There’s a downside of course. One of his top horses has been known to whinny for a treat before the end of a round which must be a bit inconvenient!

Luca on Neptune

Luca on Jesus

Luca on ConneryLuca on Ciccio

He told me: ‘I always try to work my horses through the emotional training. The objective is to face stressful situations through play and, thanks to high levels of energy, arrive at the “stress point”, help them find a solution and learn to relax.

‘I think training with positive reinforcement in the horse creates the urge to try to do the right thing, which is called “positive effect”. The horse, instead of refusing an order, seeks solutions first to receive the reward, and then becomes more collaborative, more enthusiastic and intelligent.’

Riding in the woods to relax before an event

Riding in the woods to          relax before an event

The lifestyle for Luca’s team must also help produce a more relaxed athlete. So many show jumpers are stabled for long periods and their owners are too fearful to allow them turnout with other horses. That regime is not for Luca. His young horses are mainly barefoot and many of his top horses are bare behind and so he has less worry over kicks and injury. He gives them plenty of turn out in small herds; he wants them to be horses.

Luca's horse

He regards shoes as a ‘necessary evil’ and I get the sense that he wishes there was another way.

‘I had and I often have barefoot horses. I find however that shoeing is a choice that has its strengths and weaknesses. I think, for the horses, it is nice to go to the grass in the group, and if the horses are barefoot behind it gives me less concern when they are together. Also if they have a good nail I tend to keep them barefoot, and so when I have periods when I can afford it, I keep them barefoot to allow the nail to bulk up without iron. I find this logical, considering that three year old horses trot on the stones without shoes without any problems whereas older horses who lose a shoe have hurt their foot and can no longer walk. And this precisely because continuing to protect them, the feet are weakened.

‘My young horses who have never had their feet weakened by shoeing get along very well with the bare foot, in fact I think it’s useful to these horses to shoe them as late as possible.’

I don’t think it will be long before this top rider discovers they don’t need to be shod at all…(scroll down to see one of my favourite horses Troy being barefoot and bold on very slippery ground in an earlier post).

Luca began riding at a young age. His brother was an endurance rider and put his sibling in the saddle, wanting his help. ‘I have made it my passion, my dream and my work,’ he says.

I asked him about the highlight of his career but he says that ‘when you are in contact with a horse it is always a wonderful moment for me.’

Time for a carrot - training without a bridle

Time for a carrot – training without a bridle

Fortunately for his horses, carrot production in Italy has increased and is able to meet Luca’s enormous demands!

But I wanted to know what he would do for the horse if I could make him il presidente for a day.

‘Surely, I wish that it were forbidden to slaughter any horse that has had a sporting career. Riders should provide for a provision to create a fund to guarantee a future for their horses. You might think to tie the passport of any competition horse to a “card accumulation” that allows to set aside over the years what is necessary to allow a sort of retirement; to enjoy a well-earned rest at the end of his career. We should guarantee our fellow horses a wonderful life even when they cannot give.’

He deserves to be elected with such a manifesto.

And finally, just a photo I found on his Facebook page – not all Luca’s horses are sports horses and not all riders are human…It’s a winner, isn’t it?

Sun and sunny - lessons

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ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 36 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘I work nights & this book made me miss sleep (which is sacred to me) – I could not put it down! I loved the combination of historical fact & romance novel & it is so well written. I’m going to buy the hard copy now – it deserves a place on my bookshelf & will be read again. 10 gold stars Ms Chamberlain!’

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