"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2017. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


Making Summer Memories...

It is a glorious summer day and I just returned from adventures down back country roads, where folks pull over and fill up water bottles at natural springs; where you slow down and smile as you pass the 1950’s tractor steadily rolling down the road after a hard day of baling hay. It is a place where you wave at the passing train and the engineer honks the horn and waves back enthusiastically… Where you watch elk graze in the early dusk, eagles and osprey soar above the hay fields, and deer help their young cross the road.  Whether it is folks casting their reels hoping for the next great fishing story, families and friends floating down the emerald rivers, or children making memories at summer camp that will influence their future perspectives on life, nature and decisions, nothing holds a candle to watching a group of riders emerge between the same mountains that Lewis and Clark, David Thompson and other explorers have made famous.

It has been unseasonably warm and at 104 degrees F, and as I sat watching the riders make their way down to a creek that intercepted with a phenomenal river, untack, climb aboard bareback, and without hesitation plunge into the waters, was priceless. As the scene before me unfolded, a newly released song came on the radio; it was talking about the “last firsts.”

And often as it seems to be with music, hearing it, along with seeing the horse events unfolding before me, brought me back to my own many firsts I’ve had with horses. I was feeling a bit emotional as I reminisced about how many memories I had that were horse related, and how quickly I could close my eyes and “be” immediately back in a time and place many years before.  I could smell the horse sweat, taste the grit in my mouth, feel the heat of the sun glaring down on me. 

It didn’t matter if it had been years before when I’d been riding in the snow crested peaks of the Pacific Northwest mountings (even in July,) battling a blizzard trailing sheep in tip of the Patagonian mountains, taking a Mediterranean “short cut” crossing via an inlet feeling the power of my horse swimming through the turquoise ocean, trailing cattle through the high desert with giant saguaro cactus towering above, or riding barefoot, bareback and in a halter at the rear of a herd of summer camp horses… whether it’d been 30 years ago or just a few years prior, those experiences are forever imprinted in my mind and emotions.

I’m not particularly a touchy/feely kinda gal; a lifetime of living in a “man’s world” creates an emotional distancing of oneself, a lifestyle of relying solely on yourself creates callouses not only on your hands but in your ability to rationalize decisions and a self imposed “durability” over the years leads to a relentlessness that would overwhelm most folks if they were faced with the decisions I make on a regular basis. But when I think back to those invaluable equine moments, all of my toughness dissolves immediately.

The point of sharing all of this is that as I drove the other day and watched the kids and adults share that bonding moment with their horses, I realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment that they’d never lose.  I find most things that get shared via social media are done so because of the emotional draw.  People who’ve been in major traumatic accidents with horses and yet push through the recovery  with the goal of returning to the saddle again are inspired purely based on their emotions. Those folks who save horses from abuse, potential slaughter or neglect, to those who see colts and dream of their future blue sky potential, (if a person has nothing financial to gain,) the draw is always the emotional release horses offer us humans.

For some reason from the time of marching into battle thousands of years ago with the armies of Genghis Khan to jumping insane modern day obstacles, to the backyard kid, to the die hard Pony Clubber, from the hunter who religiously packs into the backcountry in search of their winter harvest, to the social trail rider, from the Amateur competitor to the rehabilitative experience of just being within close proximity to a horse, these equines continue to give, and give and give to us humans.

I was recently regaled with a few stories from new clients, returning clients and folks I’d just talked to and given advice to over the phone and via email correspondence.  They each came back with these heart-warming stories of the life-changing experiences they’d had recently with their horses based on advice I’d offered or after lessons/training with me. 

The one shared theme as they told of their individual experiences was the emotional release, empowerment and long term confidence they had developed from their journey with their horse. 

Because I don’t “only” work with one discipline, breed, or level rider, I’ve begun to realize a huge part of the inspiration of what I try to offer folks is the ability to “read” the horses, make rational decisions riding in “real time,” and offer them effective tools to clearly communicate.  This all can contribute to them then having those “life changing” moments with the horses. It also allows a mental and emotional "freedom" that I find is rare within the equine world of rules, traditions and restrictions.

Often the conversation one has with the horse, really resonates in all aspects of the person's life, it isn’t “just” about horses or riding.  The horses tend to draw the best and worst out of people; I imagine it has a lot to do with their honesty and black and white interpretation of the world around them.

I’ve found that this summer I’ve been slowing down more, I’ve been watching more, listening more, and more contemplative. I feel that sometimes as I watch the behaviors, I yet again refine my initial interpretations of what I see, to best understand and improve how I communicate with horses and humans alike.  And it all comes out in my lessons, clinics and training.  I can literally see the changes in humans and horses alike.  I believe our journey of horsemanship never ends; there is always more to learn, see, try and do.  Every horse and every scenario is an opportunity for us to learn from, embrace and evolve from.

So, maybe you can take a few minutes and whether you just stroll down memory lane or actually jot something down, perhaps you can practice a few minutes of thankfulness as you explore memories of what horses have taught you, forced you to confront about yourself, and inspired you.  I think if we brought more appreciation to the horse (even the frustrating, challenging and difficult ones) then our partnership with our horses, would have  stronger bonds and increased quality experiences. If we humans spent less time comparing how much “we” accomplished and more time on making quality memories, ironically “we’d” get a lot more done with our horses. 

So please, I encourage you to set out with a smile the  next time you approach your horse, take every unexpected experience as an opportunity to evolve and build upon, and I promise you, it’ll make you a better leader for your horse and emotionally happier.

Sam



Keeping the curiosity...

video
Curiosity is often taken out of the horse the more "training" it has... I've mentioned before Pico is the official "greeter" and I have to be careful not to leave any door open anywhere... I was able to catch the end of his exploring. 14 acres of grazing available, and he seeks out the trailer. And no, there isn't food, or grain, or anything else in the trailer. I missed the first two times he got in. Enjoy!

Spring time considerations for all things horse


It has been a long, snowy, wet winter and thankfully it looks like spring may be nearing soon! As the upcoming riding season approaches there are a variety of factors to consider when preparing you and your horse for safe, fun and fulfilling rides in the near future.

Life can get “busy” and sometimes folks lose track of when they did what with their horse.  I suggest keeping a simple calendar that marks any veterinary work, farrier care, vaccinations/worming schedule, changes in feed, work/training program, etc. This can be a futuristic tool and a historical reference to help you assess if the horse maintenance program your horse is on is appropriate or needs to be adjusted accordingly.

All horses handle the transition from a tough winter to spring differently.  Whether you’ve owned your horse a short time or for years, attempt to assess both his mental/emotional state and physical condition without any preconceived ideas. Make no assumptions that he’ll require the same care as the previous year.

After a long winter, I suggest folks take pictures of the horse, from each side, the front and the rear.  Use it as a “reference” or starting point to assess hay belly vs. muscle tone and general overall condition.  Though you may have been feeding a lot of hay, it does not mean your horse’s nutritional requirements are being met. Depending on his age, overall health and changes in lifestyle/exercise regime, the horse’s dietary needs may have to be adjusted according to the season and riding frequency.

Especially with older horses, have the vet do an annual overall assessment in the spring for any changes in his health; addressing things like possible dental issues which can affect their entire nervous system, the ability to easily chew/break-down food, and how comfortable he is with a properly fitted bit can contribute to his well-being. 

Having a quality chiropractor adjust/check your horse can help address any possible lasting physical compensation he may be carrying if he had any pasture accidents due to ice or snow. Though they appear to be strong animals, it actually takes very little for them to become physically misaligned. Other parts of their body begin to compensate and this can lead to a variety of physical issues and often pain.
With the farrier be sure to take measurements of each hoof, and pictures, (along with dates) to help assess hoof growth and condition influenced by weather, moisture and dietary changes. Be aware drastic changes in weather from super wet to hot and dry often lead to “sudden” lameness caused by things like abscesses.
Reassessing what tack you are using, why you’re using it (and no, just because “it” came with the horse does not mean it is appropriate,) and if you know how to fit and use it properly.  Be sure to check all of the stitching, buckles and look for any cracks in the leather.  Launder any pads, material cinches, etc. but be aware to the skin sensitivities many horses have towards most mainstream detergents. 
You may need someone to help you assess if your tack fits your horse’s current physical state- especially your saddle- which may require some adjustments from the beginning of the riding season and onward depending on muscle changes or gain during the spring and summer.

Many folks each spring call me with horses that have sudden “behavioral” issues; I’ve often found they are experiencing an immense amount of pain due to a multitude of factors. Notice if as you begin to spend more time with your horse any odd changes in his attitude and behavior. Mark on your calendar if your horse is becoming more fidgety, antsy, and unenthusiastic about being caught, tacked or ridden. Rather than ignoring the changes, slow down and play detective.  Assess for pain  and the quality of the rides. The horse only has so many polite ways of telling you there is a problem, before they resort to more drastic measures.
If your riding abilities/experience leave you feeling unsure about getting back in the saddle this spring, look for opportunities to work with the support of a professional giving you lessons or having you AND your horse participate in a training program.  If you hear that little voice in your head (yes, it is self-preservation), please listen.  Even if you’re unsure as to what is causing your insecurity, ask for help sooner than later.
Whether you are fairly new to horses or have ridden all your life, I believe it is an ongoing learning experience.  Irrelevant of whether you’re a competitive or pleasure rider, there is always opportunity to refine you and your horse’s communication, and his willingness to participate when ridden in a soft and quiet manner, which can then lead to the ideal ride and partnership. 

Asking for help or finding an appropriate professional can be a bit overwhelming.  If you find someone as a potential instructor/trainer, be sure to audit them working with a horse AND teaching a lesson to make sure their teaching approach and mannerisms will be a good fit for you and your horse.  And just because one person likes a particular trainer, does not mean it’ll be a good match for you.

If you’re planning on hauling your horse anywhere, be sure to have a thorough inspection of both your tow vehicle and horse trailer. Checking electrical/wiring, tires (including the spare tire), brakes, floorboards, rust, possible wasp nests, etc. all can prevent unwanted trailering “adventures.” I 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 proactively checking all contributing factors such as the horse’s health, mental and emotional state, tack and equipment, tow vehicle/trailer condition, and asking for help when necessary, you will save time, money and effort and can have more stress-free opportunities enjoying your horse.


 Have fun,
Sam

Exploring the use of a round pen- an alternative perspective

A FB friend posted an article on anti round pen usage... Here was my in depth perspective/answer:

I find 95% of folks misuse a round pen, whether under the guise of "exercising" or teaching conditioned responses, such as the lesser of two evils is to turn, face the human and be caught; which is a bullying tactic. The problem with teaching conditioned responses and patterns is the day you change the routine, you get a fire breathing dragon instead of your docile horse. 

So what happened? Most horses learn the pattern in order to get the human to leave them alone. There's not a lot of thought or clarity, it is just a form of "escaping" the pressure created by the human. The human in turn incorrectly assumes that because the horse is being so "helpful" by automatically doing something they might ask of their horse, that the horse is okay. More times than not, he is not.

For me the round pen allows an opportunity in a safe place where the horse and I can have open two way communication. It is an opportunity to assess if the horse is mentally available to physically participate with me. If any sort of fast movement or continuous movement occurs, there's typically a brainless-ness and flee to it.

Most horses that arrive with "behavioral issues" (which is often a symptom, not the issue) is a direct result of constant mental and emotional stress. The horse is rarely considered when the human has an agenda. So often the horses are bullied into doing things that really bother them and "all of a sudden" they act dramatic, resistant and dangerous. No, it wasn't all of a sudden. Most folks do not notice, put value to or address if their horse is asking for help, until the person can no longer ignore the escalating dramatic behavior displayed by the horse.

So as I start a colt, re-educate an older horse or fine tune a finished one, the round pen can be a tool. Could the same conversation happen while in the pasture, being led or tacked? Yes. It is not about location, shape of fence or teaching a patternized response. It is about a quality conversation that sets you and your horse up to be successful. But folks are looking for patterns and conditioned, brainless responses. 

If the horse is physically and mentally bothered, fearful, insecure or shut down, why wouldn't I want to address that and help him sort out his concerns BEFORE I get on? There's no need to "wait and see," what the ride will be like; if I see he's bothered now, it'll only get worse in the saddle. 

Imagine if all these amazing athletic creatures were supported to compete without being in the the continual state of stress and duress, then what might their movement look like?

By not offering a horse TIME to sort through his emotions, rather just attempting to physically exhaust him, but never address what he's bothered about, is setting up the horse to be defensive.... 

As with everything, something that can be a safe, confidence building and supportive tool based in how it is presented by one person can also be a horrific experience for the horse if someone with ego, time limitations, and ulterior motives uses it...

Just my thoughts.
Sam

Pressures from others: Making appropriate choices for you and your equine partner

The initial romanticized idea of what equine ownership can be, inspires many people to commit to buying a horse, but it can quickly diminish with the realities and learning curve they experience.  I’ve found that there is a preliminary assumption, that because someone is able to financially “buy” a horse, there is an expectation that horse is “waiting” to do whatever the person asks of him. 

If the focus is solely on what the new owner wants to do, irregardless of the horse’s need’s or abilities, a novice owner may unwittingly be creating a “problem” with their horse. By not recognizing a problem or resistance in the horse until the animal displays enough dangerous, insecure or fearful behavior, the new “owner” may not realize that something needs to be done.  And this is where “it” all gets complicated.

You and your horse are who will wind up having the most one-on-one experiences together, learn together, and endure the “journey” of horsemanship together.  It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, though difficult to navigate due to ALL of the many, many, MANY opinions of those (trainers, horse friends, boarders, vets, farriers, etc.) involved in the horse world around you. 

As a novice, when any sign of conflict arises, there tends to be a LOT of unasked for opinions pushed upon new owners.  If a horse is kept at the owner’s home, there seems to be less outside “intrusion,” but if kept at a public facility… Well, it is a bit like flies on manure.

The horse world can be a harsh, critical and judgmental world- whether or not in the competitive arena. As with most things in life, there can be amazing folks and those whose sole purpose seems to make everyone miserable around them.  Unfortunately, in many cases with folks who attempt to help, due to their own personal issues, they tend to “project” onto the horse, who is a mirror to one’s emotions, energy, stress, confidence, etc. 

Though it may be with the idea that “they” can help, I’ve found the folks who want to push “their way” onto the novice horse person, tend to be quite dramatic and harsh in the “methods” they offer as “solutions”. And the uneducated owner is either bullied (YES, it happens all the time) or their horse is bullied with whatever the “helpful advice” is. 

I’ve seen more damage done in five to 10 minutes of “good” intention, than if things had been left alone. Most novice horse folks have no idea how to “navigate” the horse world, and do not realize they have to really ‘vet’ where and from whom they are learning from. 

But what I wanted to talk about is the amount of stress and pressure that can be induced by dominant, “experienced” horse folks.  Even if they have good intention, they often create such a “chaos” or “frantic” energy about them that it tends to affect others around them- human and horse alike.  In extreme cases, with an insecure novice owner, the “stress” of other boarders ideas and opinions starts to psych them out before they’ve even arrived at the barn.  It can cause so much distraction and defensiveness and a feeling of “invasion” into the inexperienced owner, that it can negatively overwhelm them to the point where they are dysfunctional towards being their horse’s partner.

There are many situations that could be handled with a respectful suggestion or idea, and offered in a way that the person on the receiving end can either “take or leave it.”  Sadly that doesn’t happen too often.

So this blog is written for both those inexperienced folks; YES, it is okay for you to politely say “no” to, reject or ignore “advice” from those folks you feel unsure about.  And for you EXPERIENCED folks, please, unless you see a major safety issue (and you can offer a polite suggestion), please, please, please go about your own business.

Part of the learning curve also involves the inexperienced owner wanting to learn from others.  I’ve been in many situations (trailer loading is the prime example,) where I might be at a facility to work with someone else.  And in the background someone is having issues loading.  (And as a side note- most “issues” are dramatic moments/resistance/etc. are a symptom, rather than the underlying issue.  So with trailer loading, often there is a lack of clarity in communication, a lack of understanding or defensiveness towards “pressure” from the horse, an inability to change or redirect the horse’s thought, etc. which all then affects trailer loading.  IT ISN’T ABOUT GETTING IN THE TRAILER.)   Anyways, whomever I’m working with will inevitably ask, “Why don’t you go and help that person and horse?” And my answer is, “Until someone is ready to ‘hear’ me, and ask for help, I won’t offer it.”

So if you find yourself in any of the situations above, please, for the sake of your horse, feel confident enough to say “No” when the voice in your head is telling you the “advice” sounds inappropriate for you/your horse, or put in the effort to seek out quality HELP to improve your understanding, abilities and communication with your horse.

You don’t need to “do it” like everyone else.  You don’t need to compare what you can do with your horse versus what someone else can do with their horse.  You don’t need to “rush” as you learn, and you certainly don’t need to put self-induced pressures or be bullied into doing things with your horse that you are unsure about.  Sometimes it might take just a nice comment and folks will get the message to back off.  Other times, it may take a very direct “No thank you,” to get folks to quit offering the suggestions, and other times, it may take moving to another facility with your horse. 

Though you may have limited experience, you can still trust your “gut instinct” if something doesn’t seem right about a situation with your horse.  Trust that voice in your head and be the voice for your horse, you’re responsible for his well-being.  Trust me, though it may make you a bit uncomfortable initially, it’ll get easier to navigate the opinions, ideas and personalities of the equine world.  The more pressure you feel alleviated by doing right by your horse, the more comfortable you’ll be to make better choices in the future.

Good luck,

Sam