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Confidence and Communication for the Trail Ride

This time of year equine enthusiasts are excited to take advantage of the good weather and to enjoy the amazing scenery while riding in nature. One of the many emotional draws towards the freedom of riding is to escape the stresses and realities of jobs, family and daily responsibilities... Because of this draw, folks tend to approach riding trails as a time for relaxation, which in turn can cause them to unintentionally offer passive, after-the-fact communication with their horse.

“Passenger” style riding can appear successful during uneventful circumstances. The “wait-and-see” approach also is used in a variety of scenarios when the rider realizes the horse might be concerned with something. Folks quickly realize that their lack of communication and inability to influence their horse’s behavior under stress causes them to feel at the “mercy” of how ever their horse chooses to respond to a situation.

Between inconsistent terrains, unexpected wildlife encounters, herd behavior among multiple horses on a ride, there is a lot for both the human and horse to mentally process. As much effort and energy goes towards logistics in finding new riding trails and planning adventures with friends, the reality is the least amount of time is often spent on what I consider the most important part of the equation- preparing the horse for a quality, “uneventful” ride by building a solid foundation.

Preparing for riding out is not a matter of desensitizing a horse or practicing riding past scary objects multiple times. The old “wet saddle blankets” theory I agree with to a certain degree; if there is quality conversation during those long trail rides, they add to a horse’s education and build his confidence. If instead each ride is making the horse feel more concerned, the increased frequency/length of ride will only add to the horse’s “spookiness” or reactivity.

A horse’s natural defense is to run when unsure, but if he offers this response, there is usually a “fight” with the rider, teaching the horse that every time he feels fear, he gets critiqued. What if instead we taught the horse the unnatural response that when he is unsure, to physically pause, and mentally check in with the rider, and to willingly hear the rider's instructions as to how to handle/navigate the situation?

This approach is not an easy answer, nor a quick fix, and counters the idea that the primary focus of trail riding is social hour for the human. Tolerating mediocre proficiency in the basics such as steering, brakes, and using a gas pedal that often “sticks,” is not polite nor supportive to the horse, and will add to any insecurity he may have. Rather than feeling like we survived an unexpected moment, if we have effective tools to communicate, we can use it to build our horse’s confidence, decreasing the chance of injury and increasing the horse’s curiosity every time something new occurs out on the trail.

The ideal response to an aid is a soft and immediate “try” from the horse. Often a rider’s aid is received as a critical attempt at blocking a horse’s thought or focus, and creates defensiveness in the horse. His mental stress is reflected in excessive physical movement and dramatic behaviors.

While in a safe environment perhaps take a moment and assess the current effectiveness of your aids and communication with your horse. On a “boring” day, what is the willingness in which your horse participates? Does he present himself to be caught (or run away), is there lightness on the lead rope (or dragging- indicators as to how he’ll respond to rein pressure), is he mentally and physically quiet while groomed and tacked up (or wiggly, pawing, fussing, chewing, fidgeting), can he stand when mounted (without being contained by the reins), is there sensitivity (or hypersensitivity) towards the rider’s seat and leg, is there mental willingness to hear the rider’s opinions during a ride, does he try something once and then just quit if asked again?

What if our standard was happy horses don’t exaggerate an obstacle like jumping six feet over the six inch stream, don’t jig when asked to adapt their energy level to the slower horse in the group, don’t paw if left tied unattended for a few moments, are able to stand still quietly, can ride at the front, middle or rear of the group, are willing to leave the group and ride off by themselves, or anything else we might need to ask of them for the sake of practical and safety purposes?

By supplementing trail rides with short, incremental, quality conversations, the horse could begin to recognize how to mentally and physically “stay” with their rider, without feeling contained. Tasks or obstacles can be a tool for teaching a horse to think through a scenario, but presenting one isn’t about the physical accomplishment of the task, rather the quality of the conversation that occurs to complete the task with slow, intentional, relaxed movement. If the horse rushes through the task, even though he may have complied with what was asked of him, it made him defensive, and then task would no longer be a tool. Slowing down the anticipation that caused the rushing, presenting a task in pieces, allowing the horse the time to think, search and try to address the task with quality, builds the confidence he’ll need for the trail.

Sometimes in order to achieve the most quality, we have to slow down and perhaps fill some “holes” in our partnership with the horse. Rather than feeling like riding out translates into chaos and hoping to survive the ride moments, the more specific and intentional we are in what we ask of our horse, the timing of how we ask it, and the sensitivity in how we use our aids to communicate, will influence our horse’s physical behaviors and mental attitude towards us while experiencing the real world.

Rebuilding reasonableness in dangerous horses



Do you have a "spooky/overreactive/hypersensitive/dramatic/flamboyant/neurotic/destructive" horse? You might want read my following thoughts I shared with a client after her older horse arrived for an assessment:

We had a good first week. The major underlining issue is that your horse is fearful, which creates dramatic and defensive behavior.

How ever he initially learned added with whatever the human experiences afterwards were, has taught him to be "contained" no matter how worried he is, until the moment he cannot "handle" what is being asked and becomes super chaotic in his fleeing movement.

Basically he can never let down and relax due to the anticipation of what might be asked of him next, and is so consumed with being on high alert, that he literally cannot see or acknowledge the world around him. The moment he finally does notice things, it all is too overwhelming and he wants to flee from it.

The cresty, over bent kink in his neck, his dramatic sewing machine like steps, his constant excessive movement- like taking an extra four steps in order to be able to stop and not fall over, his overreaction/hypersensitivity to spatial pressure/physical pressure of the lead rope, etc. are all signs of his stress and are his coping mechanisms. But he's not coping very well.

So the conversation between him and I has been to physically slow down, so that he can literally start to think, then move. The real goal is that he can finally let down and relax and just be present, happily waiting for what I might ask.

It is near impossible for him to look where he is going before he offers movement; this often comes from conditioning a horse to stare at the human all the time. But when we ride, we can't have a horse who is always trying to turn around and stare at us. For him to initially roll both eyeballs towards where he was about to move was mind blowing.

For him to first think, then move perhaps two or three steps and halt, was also very difficult. He offers 0-60 in his reactions all the time. None of his behaviors are out of resistance or defiance, it solely is based on fear.

He could not rationalize that the constant containment or flee wasn't working. So I broke everything that I asked of him into very, very, very small pieces. First look and think, then move with a specific energy, then halt and mentally check in with me. Breathe, chew, relax, sigh.

My goal has been that he can stay mentally present, breathe at a normal rate, let the constant worry peaks above his eyes down, relax his jaw and lips which he holds in a constant tightness due to stress, and lengthen his neck into a "normal" position. None of this is actually about his physical appearance, but rather the physical posturing tells you what the emotions and mental status is. We're aiming for boring.

Whether I worked him loose or on the lead, we needed to change how he felt about pressure- his response in getting taller in his posture and to hyperventilate was not making him feel better. He has now started to learn how to gently soften to pressure- this is a hugely important concept- if he's that defensive towards a lead rope, what happens when you go to sit on him or use reins?

Just touching him, moving around him, he was on guard. Showing him that just because I moved, didn't mean he had to. He acts if he's been reprimanded multiple times for getting something wrong, or just a whole lot of "driving" with pressure has totally overwhelmed him mentally. So we're doing a "re-boot."

Pressure needs to be seen as a positive support and a tool, otherwise it is an ineffective aid. He also has to believe my aids the first time I ask, rather than do nothing at all or overreacting. I noticed as I walked by his side with my hand touch him where your lower leg would lie if you were sitting on him, he got super swishy with his tail- more defensiveness. If he was that bothered by my hand lightly touching him, I can only imagine how he feels about real leg pressure.

Each day is happier, less defensiveness and less flamboyant. He is realizing every time he tries, all pressure goes away, and he feels better.

This encourages him to keep trying, and "meet me" in the middle.
Experimenting with familiar things like lining up with the mounting block- just to see how he felt, he must have grown a foot taller. It isn't about the block, but rather the trigger the block creates, about the potential upcoming ride. So every time he shows concern- we have to divert from whatever we're doing, and address him until he can LET IT GO. Which is very hard for him. But helping him though bothersome scenarios, rather than critiquing him, builds his confidence to try.

He's very sweet and really does want to feel better, and let down, he just couldn't help change his own behaviors.

Making the "training" last

I thought I'd share a blurb from recent correspondence with a client. She brought me a horse that was new to her and supposedly had years of riding out in the open, in the mountains, packing animals out, doing everything. After a few unexpected, overreactive, traumatic events at her place, the horse became defensive and dangerous. And so I received him a few weeks ago. There are many factors that go into mentally, emotionally and physically rehabilitating a horse.

Here is a small piece that I think is incredibly important in the transition from me working with a horse to sending one home and the effort being able to show through for the owners and make life better for the horse. Enjoy!

My belief is not that the individual person will affect the horse’s ability to maintain what he has learned, rather it is the quality of the conversation offered by anyone handling the horse, that either supports or “undoes” any training learned here. Obviously if you were violent towards him he’d remember, but more so, in his case, he just wants to know that someone knows what is going on, and will support him.

So to address your concern for him “losing” his evolvement/re-education with me, it will maintain and will last the more you are able to offer the same type of conversation as I’ve been doing. So my goal in your visiting him is to watch how I interact with him and to see/believe the “conversation” he offers through his body language, emotions, behaviors, etc. to better understand how to interpret and recognize the initial, minor behaviors of when he shows concern, defensiveness, etc. and realizing how early you need to “be there” to help him through something, rather than waiting until he commits to a negative or fearful thought, and only reacting after the fact. The goal is the more confidence he regains here with me, the more he’ll be able to “handle” even if with a human who isn’t as aware as I am. But on the flip side, even if he looked “quiet” in the riding videos of him, many, many things have been missed. His jumpy-ness with flyspray, the water hose, stuff touching his sides, that isn’t something that just appears. I’d guess as I opened the door for him to offer his real feelings about the human experience thus far, he has a lot to purge, in order to feel better about being with people.

Today I worked loose with him in the round pen asking him to come over and present himself to have the saddle blanket put on (from both sides), the girth lie across his back, and eventually the saddle. All the while he was loose, so any time he was bothered by the pressure of the gear, he was allowed to leave, sort out his defensiveness, and then he chose to come back over and stand mentally and emotionally quiet, while I put stuff on him again. We got to where he was eventually totally relaxed. He blew and blew and blew his nose. He was the most focused, with the most amount of try I’ve seen thus far.

A lot of this rehabilitation comes from observations too. Like when I experimented with turning out his two pasture mates and leaving him in a round pen loose, on his own, while I went off and did other things. He didn’t scream, he didn’t look dramatic, but he pooped three times in 15 minutes, and was gently “busy” moving the whole time until I returned. While I was still doing other stuff he kept gumming the air like baby horses do, yawning, chewing, sighing, scratching, all signs of being bothered. But because it didn’t look dramatic, most people would have not “seen” it as him being bothered. The good news was, me showing up, made him feel better.

The three most detrimental contributors to failing human/horse partnerships

Horses are beginning to arrive for training at my summer facility. The two most common groups of horses have either had the winter off, and the owners realized they either need some refining/furthering of their education, or there are a lot of young horses that need to be started.

If you’ve spent any time reading my Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey website, or past Blog entries, you’ll realize that I’m not the “quick fix” kind of horse trainer. The two sites help separate those folks who don’t want to have to sift through information and are looking for quick and easy answers, and those who are committed to learning/participating in the journey they and their horse will be experiencing with me.

I always encourage owners to come and watch, listen as I work with the horse and explain, and I also require that they participate in sessions working with me and their horse, before sending the horse home. By asking this requirement and level of “commitment” from the owner, it sorts out potential quality clients who appreciate the journey, not just the end result, from those folks whose sole focus is the quick accomplishment of the “task.”

Anyhow, I could write a book on my perspectives with horses and how to interpret what I’m seeing, why I’m doing what I am, but in this blog I wanted to address the three main contributors that I find consistently create the most detriment to the horse and human in their partnership, irrelevant of their experience level, training, background, etc.

First, western civilization has created the illusion that the faster you do something by taking the easier route, and multi-tasking will help you achieve “better” results. The words “hurrying” and “horse” are like oil and water. The irony of course is the “slower” a quality conversation is offered to the horse, where the horse has the opportunity to learn how to learn, to think through what is being asked of him, to “try” without reprimand, to offer and sort through any level of fear/worry/insecurity and not be critiqued for it, where effective ways to communicate (not through use of devices/restrictive equipment/physically limiting tack) in the long run, the more the horse can accomplish with confidence and trust towards the rider.

The polar opposite is the popular “30 days/60 days” training method. Who came up with those numbers? People did out of convenience. Every horse is different, so how would someone know how long it will take a horse to learn what he needs to know for the rest of his life? We don’t. So because of human imposed “time limits,” we came up with “training programs.” The problem is what if the horse’s own mental, emotional and physical abilities don’t “fit” with the training program? The horse is sent home as damaged goods and considered a “bad” horse. Then what lies in store for him?

If I had to be honest I spend a LOT of time mentally and emotionally rehabilitating horses whose minds have been “blown” from other “professional” trainers. But what I do isn’t “exciting”- or fast- in fact I never “know” what I’ll do with a horse on any given day, until I show up in the pasture and see where his mind is at. 

That sort of perspective, leaves folks really uncomfortable. We’ve been taught by society that unless we have “accomplished” a goal or task, it isn’t worth our time. That our self worth/effort with the horse (and his own) is purely based on task accomplishment. This self-imposed, ego based, perspective has led to more “I should have listened to the voice in my head” moments that lead to negative outcomes for human and horse.

But if we have generations of horses and humans who have no clue of the fundamental basics and understanding in working with the horse, who are unable to communicate effectively, and unable to correctly interpret behaviors, it often becomes the blind leading the blind. And it doesn’t work. Yes, short cuts and quick fixes can make horses “manageable” for a time; but it isn’t a matter of “if” but rather “when” those quick fixes will quit working. Then it’ll take more “stuff” to “control” the resistant horse, leading to more defensive and dangerous behavior. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Second, many folks tend to compound their own personal and emotional issues/tendencies/insecurities/fears/worries into their interpretation of the horse’s personality traits and behaviors, therefore anthropomorphizing, (according to Wikipedia - the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities), i.e. “He’s so stubborn,” “Oh he is so ornery,” “He’s just having fun.”

This both inaccurate and selfish perspective causes a clouded ability to literally see the thought and emotional behind the physical behaviors in the horse. I always tell folks the least “educated” (traditionally) horse person can often see the most, because they have not been “taught” to ‘not see’ what is really happening.

No, your horse did not decide today was the day he’d wreck your day by choosing to ___________ (not be caught, pull back when tied, fuss when saddled, unable to stand still while you are mounting, bolt on the ride, jig the entire ride, spooky as something he’s seen a million times, not load in the trailer, etc.), rather, today was the day it ALL became too much.

The multiple occasions that he asked for help in the past, that he showed his concern, that he displayed fear and emotional distress, and you either ignored it, didn’t recognize it, or bullied him through it, has now become too much and what appears as an “all of a sudden behavior” is really an accumulation of the sessions/days/years he’s been containing his issues, until he no longer can, and the only thing he can do, is act dramatic and flamboyant enough to no longer be ignored. But to the unknowing human, these events are seen as a one-time, independent occurrence, rather than understanding everything the horse does is related, and nothing is by accident.

And third, neither horses nor humans are “the same” as they “used to be”- mentally, emotionally and physically. The human’s reliance on the horse has devolved from survival/livelihood to pleasure/hobby. Therefore, many people have become removed from horses and ignorant of animal behavior and their own physical energy, mental focus and emotional centeredness in general.

Backyard breeding tactics, lack of quality horse handling, and limited interaction outside of where a horse is stalled/pastured/etc. limits his exposure to the “real world.” The things “we” used to ask of horses can no longer be assumed that they can “handle” the same tasks, without the support of an educated handler.

This means that the illusion bubble of “I can buy it, therefore it’ll do what I want,” often gets burst with dramatic, dangerous events that arise from inexperienced, undereducated horses who’ve lived in a very “small world” and undereducated folks who assume that “it’ll be fine” because _____________ (they were told so by another horse person, their horse’s previous owner said so, a “trainer” told them ‘this is how it is’, etc.)

Present day (quality) “horse trainers” now have clients who don’t have the experience or know-how to recognize what they don’t know or understand. Everything is interwoven in the cause/effect cycle; it isn’t “just” about the behavior of the horse anymore. As a professional, that trainer has to be able to address all things horse related; tack fitting, farrier care, dentistry, chiropractic, veterinarian care, feeding program, AND have the ability to educate/communicate not only with the horse but the human too!

And so folks who’ve “gotten in over their head” often seek help; the problem is anybody can be a horse a trainer. The unknowing client doesn’t realize how much damage or danger they could be putting both themselves and their horse in from trusting the person who seems to act the part of the professional, but in all reality may have limited ability, exposure, understanding, etc.

So for the sake of you, your horse, or your horsey friends, please take a few minutes and consider the three factors I’ve mentioned in this blog. The most dangerous thing people can be when around horses is to be “hopeful.” I always say folks don’t find me until all the mainstream ways of doing things quit working. I wish that weren’t the case, because so many of the “damaged horses” I see really could have had a totally different outcome if there had been a clearer understanding and more respectful handling with people.

Be honest about your own goals, expectations, standards, abilities, and those of your horse. The best aspect with horses is there is never a “limit” as to how much we can accomplish with them if the foundation is based on a solid, respectful partnership.

Someone recently sent me a blurb from an article written on Ray Hunt 23 years ago. I’ll close with his words:

In an interview, Ray was presented with this statement – “You’ve said that people come to your clinics, then go home and sometimes make the horse worse. They hear what you say, but not what you mean."

To which Ray replied - "Correct. When I met Tom Dorrance he told me what to do and I did it, but it didn't work. I can ask 10 people the same question and get 10 wrong answers and they'll say; "Oh I thought you meant this" or "I thought you meant that."

For 10 years I rode a lot of horses people couldn't get along with. My kids could end up riding them and I could ride them, but the horses went back home and in a few days they'd be back. I would tell the people what to do, but it wouldn't work.

So I doubled my price. I didn't get half as many horses. But when people did bring horses, they were pretty sure something REALLY needed to be done. The next time I'd see them, they'd say; "Hey Ray, that works."

I tried to give it away and they wouldn't pay any attention, but when I started charging, they began to listen.

What I'm trying to teach to the human, I'd give my life to share. It's everything to me."" - Ray Hunt.

From an article that appeared in the June 2004 edition of the 'Western Horseman' titled 'Ray Hunt's Mission' by Susan Smith.

Spring Time Horse and Human Assessments


Every spring after a cold, dark winter folks start getting excited at the prospect of the upcoming riding season. For most people in the inland northwest, there is a major decrease in the amount of ride/horse time during the winter months. Below are some ideas to help safely get you back in the saddle!

Equine Health Assessment:  I suggest an evaluation with a vet or trained professional to help you recognize any health issues your horse might have and to create a plan on how to address them. Reevaluate your feed program and make any needed adjustments due to changes in weather, increase in physical work, etc. Keeping a calendar that tracks veterinary work, chiropractic work, farrier care, vaccinations/worming schedule, changes in feed, work/training program, etc. can be a futuristic tool and a historical reference in the case of any future health issues.

Tack Assessment: Horses vary in how they handle the transition from a tough winter to spring and often tack that fit the previous fall, no long fits your horse in the spring. More than 75% of all horses I encounter have ill-fitting tack.  Not only can it cause debilitating physical issues, but it can cause “bad attitudes” towards being caught/tacked/mounted/ridden from anticipation of potential pain when ridden. Evaluate why you are using the gear you are, if it is appropriate, check all stitching, leather, etc. to make sure it is in safe, usable condition. It is also a good time to pull out the saddle soap and glycerin and give an in-depth cleaning to all of your gear.

Mental/Emotional Equine Assessment: Every spring I start receiving daily emails from horse owners wondering what they should be doing with their horses after a long winter off. Often the “horse” that was turned out in the fall seems nothing like the one brought in during the spring time. It might be a good idea to ask for a professional’s opinion to assess the horse’s availability to be worked with. Many folks get hurt by “assuming” or being hopeful when resuming work with their horse in the spring time.

Mental/Emotional Human Assessment: I find a lot of folks are often “lost” in what they want to do with their horse, because of a lack of clarity in their own equine related goals. Take some time and write a list of short and long term goals for yourself (all of which can evolve throughout the riding season.) Then considering the horse you currently have, and ask yourself if those goals are appropriate for your current horse; if so, how will you implement working towards them?  If they aren’t appropriate for your horse, assess if the goals and tasks are more important to you versus the partnership with your current horse and his abilities.  If the goals might over-face your horse, but you want to continue working with the same horse, come up with attainable, alternative options for you and your horse’s current abilities.

Equine’s Physical Condition Assessment: Horses can come off winter with a lot of muscle loss and a bit of a hay belly. Come up with a reasonable conditioning plan (appropriate for your horse’s age, physical/abilities) to slowly help your equine partner get back into shape.  As the horse starts to build muscle, remember to reevaluate saddle fit, as it can change greatly.

Human’s Physical Condition Assessment: Folks focus on the condition of their horse, without giving much regard to their own fitness.  Whether you’re a pleasure or competitive rider, the better your cardio condition, flexibility and physical stamina, the better rider/partner you’ll be for your horse.  Riders often don’t realize a major contributor to the misuse of aids in the saddle is often due to them compensating, gripping, hanging, “holding on”, as a result of muscle exhaustion, inadvertently also miscuing the horse. The better shape you are as a rider, the better partner you will be to your horse.

Human’s Riding Experience Assessment: If your current riding abilities/experience leave you feeling unsure about getting back in the saddle, consult with a professional and take lessons or enroll in a training program.  Whether you’re a novice horse person or have ridden for 30 years, there is always more to learn, refine and finesse.  Sometimes people and horses get “stuck” in patterns and it takes an outside perspective to help break that cycle. Please do your research and remember that just because someone says they are a horse trainer, does not mean they will be a good fit for you and horse. Be sure to audit lessons/training sessions and get references from other current students before signing up to work with a new trainer.

Trailer Safety Assessment: If you’re planning on hauling your horse anywhere, be sure to have a thorough inspection of both your tow vehicle and horse trailer. Check electrical/wiring, tires (including the spare tire), brakes, floorboards, rust, possible wasp nests, etc. always suggest keeping an emergency equine vet kit, human first aid kit, unexpired fire extinguisher, 5 gallon water jug and bucket, electrolytes, spare halter and lead rope, jack/tire iron, and road flares in the trailer.

By taking the initial time to assess each of the above topics will help decrease the “guess work” with your horse, increase you and your horse’s safety and well being, and will lead to the start of a great riding season!
 Have fun,
Sam


Supporting vs Challenging the Horse

People often ask "what kind of horse training do you do?" I say I work with people and horses.

In the traditional world of horses, not categorizing yourself meant that you didn't really know a whole lot about anything. Nowadays I find it quite ironic how many students I have that come from "specialized" trainers but are having major issues on fundamental basics with their horses and the specialized trainers are unable to help them through the situations other than forcing the horses into submission through fearful and aggressive tactics.

On any given day I'm working with Colts, rehabilitating the older horse, refining the trained cutting or roping horse, mellowing the endurance horse, improving confidence in the ranch horse, slowing down the jumping horse who rushes at fences, improving the dressage horse's self carriage, and so much more.... And the thing that I keep repeating is, " At the core, all horses are all the same."

First we need to treat, interact, and have partnerships with these animals as Horses, then the specialized focused can come into play.

But there are so many people who are so fixated on accomplishing "stuff" that in the end, whether it's through ego, bragging rights, unintentionally overfaced with goals or otherwise, the human doesn't realize that they are setting up the horse to fail in what they ask of them because they don't have the fundamental Basics nor effective tools to communicate with the horse in order to support him through the scenarios they present.

Nine out of 10 new horses I meet have no concept or good feeling about pressure, whether it's physical or spatial, and are often defensive towards the human. People often want to rush through the motions constantly putting the horse in a position of having to tolerate very stressful scenarios and then afterwards act surprised when the horse no longer can handle it emotionally or physically.

My goal is to teach people how to communicate without relying on the instructor and learn to recognize the horses mental and physical resistance and influence a change in his thoughts and physical Behavior so that the ideal outcome is accomplished without a fight or a tantrum or an emotional meltdown from the horse.

But that takes time, that takes effort, that takes Clarity and intention from the human, and it takes an openness that you may not accomplish what you set out to accomplish in that particular day.

If we spent more time supporting our horses through their troubled moments rather than challenging them through them, in the long run we would accomplish so much more without the drama and stress for either horse or human.

Not letting feeding time control our interactions

Many times humans and horses are stuck in patternized behavior. I find many people get stressed out at the thought of having to take their horse away from food due to fear of possibly resistant behavior. For me, anytime of the day irrelevant of food or anything else going on, I'd like to be able to call the horse over and have him show an interest and a curiosity. I want him to be mentally available, willing to leave whatever he is doing, in order to participate in what I'm offering.

The video of the three-year-old shows this example. I don't use treats or gimmicks or "drive" the horse into yielding and coming to me. It's all about having a conversation with his brain and emotions, and then getting the physically desired response.

The goal is not the physical movement of leaving his food, but rather the quality of the conversation. This horse has been with me for about a month now, and the video was the first time I called him off of his feed. To me it represents all of the other foundational work that makes a horse feel good about wanting to be with the human, even during feeding time.

Following this video clip, I then had him stand loose in the stall while I tacked him up, and then took him for a ride. Yes, even during dinner time.


Working Colts off of experienced horse... learning opportunities

Several decades ago I made a choice to leave any of the cliches in the equine world that are associated with specific types of riding.

Nowadays my approach is a culmination from my experiences from both the competitive and non-competitive world, along with real life riding such as on ranches, in the mountains, working with livestock, mixed with working with troubled horses after mainstream ways of doing things led to dramatic and resistance and fearful behavior.

Today I was working with a three year old who when he arrived, I was told was "very quiet" and his nonchalant behavior made him seem to be pretty easy going. He came from cutting Bloodlines and was far more athletic than what he knew to do with himself.

Anyhow he is very much a common example of the outward appearance "quiet," and yet the inward because of both mental and emotional immaturity, has yet to decide how he honestly feels about things. So he tends to seem "fine"... until he doesn't.

My goal is that when he's unsure or has concerns, that he can offer me an honest answer, rather than an obedient one. I would rather sort out anything that's bothering him than gloss over concern and let it build.

One of the things I like to incorporate is working training horses off of another horse. One of the most dangerous ways that people get in a wreck is by not having a solid enough equine partner that they're riding as they are working with a young or inexperienced or defensive horse on a lead rope.

Anyhow as you can see from the picture, by the mixture of my jumping saddle, side pull roping reins and jeans and boots, I blend the lines and use the tools of what works for me, versus following trends and cliches.



The conversation between the Colt and I today, using my confident partner as an extension of me, helped reiterate just how light his softness to pressure needed to be, and the mental availability the young horse needed to offer, rather than just brainlessly following the older confident horse.

The colt's conversation with me via the lead rope, should not differ if I was sitting on another horse. There's so many important tools that can be learned from this sort of scenario for being able to redirect a horse's thought, to being able to create an independence in him, irrelevant of how close in proximity to another horse he is, to teaching him to experience energy and spatial pressure from above and behind his viewpoint and get used to it.

The conversations I had previously had on the ground I continued as I worked the colt from my horse's back. It was amazing to see the light bulb moments go off as a young horse realize the conversation I was offered him was no different, consistent whether I was on the ground or on horseback.

All the tools and things that I'm asking of him, such as the less common standard of first look, then think, then move, was a priority in our conversation. All goes towards building the foundation and preparation for the first ride. People don't realize how much you can prepare a horse for an uneventful ride if you put in the time and effort to have quality conversations.

Re-educating the troubled horse

I recently had someone inquire about a horse who has bucking issues. It was a person who did not have a lot of experience and had sent their horse to a well-known training program. When their horse returned, multiple times the horse started bucking when ridden.

So their question was if I would be able to help the horse, how long it would take, Etc. This is a very common inquiry that I get.

I thought it would be helpful to share my response to the owner as many people seem to have these issues. The following is my answer:

There are several options for rehabilitating a horse that has become troubled and is now physically dangerous.

Every horse is an individual, so when horses arrive for training, the first week is an “Assessment week,” which allows me time to evaluate his current fears, insecurities, ability and willingness to learn, any potential physical/pain issues, and then approach him in a way that rebuilds his trust in humans.

By the time a horse is committed to bucking, his original “quiet” pleas for help from the human have either been missed or ignored; whether intentional or not, most folk’s priorities are to “just go ride”, often not realizing how much “help” the horse needs from the rider.

Also, if you have limited experience, you need to keep in mind that even with a lot of quality training, you will need to “be on the same page” as your horse. Sending your horse to the trainer without understanding how/what he has learned, does the owner no good.

People also often think that once a horse is “trained” it will automatically maintain the knowledge or abilities; they don’t. Every experience with the horse is a “learning” opportunity for the horse; so again, whether you mean to or not, you may be “teaching” your horse many things you don’t realize.

Also many training programs are suited to the human, rather than individualizing the methods so that it is appropriate for that particular horse. Just like humans who all have different learning styles, so do horses. Which means that many horses “go through” training programs and the more training, the worse the horse feels about the “human experience,” he may come out with some knowledge, but often there is a lot of miscommunication and defensiveness felt by the horse if he didn’t naturally fit the “program”. But this typically doesn’t show up until the horse has spent time with a less confident person, and only then, does he offer his honest opinion or show his defensiveness with dramatic and dangerous behaviors.

As far as “how long” it takes to both undo a horse’s fear and defensiveness, and re-educate the horse, all depends on the severity of the horse’s current mental and emotional state. I offer training by the week to best suit the horse’s needs, yhe first week is assessment week, and then we go from there. I’m big on keeping owners in the loop with weekly email updates as to the progress reports on the horse.

I require all owners to participate for at least a week with me before taking their training horse for at least five sessions.

Once your horse arrives for training, they have priority to stay however long you need.

What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?





What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?

One person might work with a "broke" performance type horse that has been so ingrained with human expectations and patterns, and who has learned to be obedient in order to not be reprimanded, that just by being in close proximity and changing what the horse had anticipated would happen (such as not catching as soon as you enter his pen) and watch the horse's emotional roller coaster as years of pent up obedience and emotional containment are purged...

Another person might work on the nuances of rebuilding a horse's curiosity and trust after years of the human experience causing that horse to mentally shut down and check out causing the horse to outwardly seem physically quiet, but internally is quite troubled.

Someone else may encourage their horse, while at liberty, to learn to mentally search and make decisions, without being "driven", chased or scared into brainless and reactive physical movement, rather instead offering thoughtful and intentional steps.

Another person might practice learning to refine their feel and time while riding, as they raise their standard of softness and clarity towards the horse...

Someone else may be learning how to recognize from how they're sitting in the saddle, where they're horse's feet are underneath them, to offer the clearest aid to influence the ideal movement.

Another might be working with a young horse building a solid foundation of learning "how to learn" with thoughtful intention as new things are introduced, that will be used in future rides.

The horses breeds, ages, experiences are all varied. The disciplines, participants, experience levels, and their backgrounds are even more diverse.

And all the while, it might be blustery wind gusts, freezing temps, peaceful and warm, sleeting rain... The weather is irrelevant... the location doesn't matter... the "accomplishment" of a task is ignored... rather it is all about the conversation between the human and horse. Soft, clear and intentional.

It is only then that you see the worry and peak lines on the horse's face disappear, the muscles in the horse and human's body relax, and both take a deep, quiet, body-replenishing breath of air, while experiencing a shared peacefulness of being mentally, emotionally and physically present.

Less than ideal circumstances leading to better partnerships

Thought for the day...

Often when weather conditions and circumstances are out of our control or are not ideal, we tend to shy away from spending time with our horses in order to avoid potential conflict or issues. For me I find some of the most successful learning situations is when our surroundings are less than ideal.

Yesterday was a great example. Here in the desert of southwest Arizona we had a blusterous 20 mile an hour windstorm that was sandblasting from all directions. Being close to a Marine base, we also had F-35 Jets flying overhead, so close that you actually vibrate from the Jet's power. Trash and tumbleweeds were blowing everywhere. Palm trees were bent over.

I've included two pics which don't nearly give you a clear enough idea, but to see the flag standing straight out gives you an idea of how strong the wind was.








Two days before, a three-year-old horse had arrived for training. The first day we had just worked on the concept of softening to pressure on the leadrope. We didn't move farther than 40 feet from his stall. I introduced the ideas of being able to first look and think, and then move. Also the concept that he looks where he's going while he moves, rather than looking at everything except where he's going. The concept of personal space and that if he is asked to do something, he needs to try to address what is being asked of him the first time and not that it takes a huge amount of energy to get him to listen. Also the concept that he can stand over grass and wait quietly without constantly trying to lunge for the grass and eat. It was a lot for his young brain. And yet there was no running, no fleeing, no chasing, no driving, no scaring him, in order to help him learn. Just simple conversation creating boundaries of what behaviors worked and those that did not. Lots of blinking, licking, chewing, and yawning from him.

So the second day is when the wind storm hit us. It was so bad you couldn't see 40 feet out because of the sand and debris in the air. And yet I brought him into the round pen to work with him at liberty for the first time. For me the round pen is not a place to chase/run the horse into submission. It is rather a safe setting that allows the horse to learn to search to find what is being asked of him, without scaring him or driving him into giving up. There was distractions of other horses running around, other animals running around the farm, metal roofs flapping, and yet through simple trial and error (communicated through spatial pressure and release w the lead rope hanging at my side), the young horse was able to let go of all of the mental distractions until he could focus on just me. He learned how to be with me without spatially walking on top of me even though he was loose. He learned how to stop and look at the distractions and then bring his attention back to me when I asked him to. And then he learned how to leave me to move around the rail of the pen, without flee or chaotic energy, rather mimicking whatever energy I was offering from the center of the pen. Then when I decreased my energy and moved away from the center of the pen, he learned to come in and be with me respectfully, quietly waiting for whatever I asked of him next. If you had only seen him you'd never know there was so much distraction and Chaos going on around us.

So the next time the weather or situation is less than ideal, remember it might be the perfect opportunity, because you may have to face addressing small issues that in the past you've wanted to mask or smooth over rather than getting to the root cause. Being forced to confront those small issues is a wonderful preventative measure for them not to evolve causing major issues further down the road.