"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 2018. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


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.

Sam

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Client feedback... Success over time

Over the past few days I've heard "feedback" from clients both in the States and abroad. If you've ever read anything from my blog, website or posts on FB, you'll quickly realize I do not offer the "quick fix" or "easy answers" in my approaches to helping horses feel better about life. It is slow, intentional communication, and often it requires a rebuilding of the foundation of the partnership, in order for the rides to be successful. 

I always say I try to teach and offer "tools" in how we communicate with our horses so that clients don't "need me", but rather they can assess, think through, and then help their horse through scenarios in order to have a positive, confidence building outcome for both the horse and rider.


I LOVE hearing stories of success; not because "my way" works, it isn't about me or the ways I've found work, it is about owners/riders being open minded enough to put their own egos aside, and to BELIEVE their horses when they are troubled, when they ask for help. Time and again, those who support their horses through uncomfortable moments, rather than challenge them through them, see amazing, long lasting changes.


So "Good on you," as I say, to those folks dedicated to being open to having an honest conversation with their horse, patient enough to respect what the horse is saying, and kind enough to search within themselves to how best to help their horse.


That is how we reach those almost perfect moments of being completing in sync with our equine partners, and it makes it all worth it. Happy riding!

Instant Gratification... Harming our Horsemanship. How auditing can change everything!


I recently finished offering a three day long Full Immersion Clinic. I've titled these clinics that because we cover so many aspects of horsemanship and riding. I never have an agenda as to what we'll accomplish. Depending on the participants and what their horse's needs are, things evolve organically. These are not sit-in-the-saddle-for-8-hours type of clinics. These are an opportunity to mentally slow down and really raise our level of awareness within/about ourselves and our horses, to better understand the conversation the horse is offering and learn how best to work with the horse in order to get the ideal ride.
I often open these clinics to auditors, folks who can participate in lectures, discussions, etc. but who are not working with the horses directly.

Although I abhor promoting myself, as I feel horse and students that have been under my tutelage will "speak for themselves", I do encourage folks who are working with me to come and watch, listen and learn, even if they aren't participating with a horse.

I remember years ago, it used to be the "die hard" horse enthusiast would find, make, take any opportunity to be around horses that they could. Didn't matter if it was shoveling stalls to get that quick ride on a borrowed horse at the end of the day, or to go to the local fairgrounds and stay ALL day, watching, petting, and taking in all the riding activities.

And the "inspiration" for this post has come up several times. In my specifically intentionally scenario of "leaving reality behind" while offering the clinics, it allows people to "let down" for the first time in a long time. Leaving stresses, work, family issues, etc. behind, and just learning to be present, here in the moment, in order to best help their horse. By day two participants are often realizing how much of a shift has occurred in "slowing down within themselves, in order to hurry up and get to where they'd like to be," with their horses.

Watching, horse after horse after horse, and different folks with varying energy levels, experiences, perspectives, etc. allows both auditors and participants to see time and again, clearly how the horses communicate, what they communicate and why they do so. By not imposing a time pressure, it allows participants to experience (and most auditors feel like they're "in" working with the horse too as they're watching from the sidelines) reading the horse, experimenting with influencing a change through non aggressive, nor disrespectful behavior from the human, and watching how quickly the horse can make an emotional shift and mental change towards the person.

Many horses don't even look physically like the same horse by the end of the session, because of the "release" from rushing, unclear communication to specific and intentional clarity from the human.
For those auditing it can be such an amazing opportunity, without the "pressure" of having to do it yourself with your own horse, and have the opportunity to gain many useful tools to work with our horses in a respectful way. It isn't about "Sam's way of doing things." Folks it is about learning "horse." 
Many auditors by the end of the day are so excited to go home and try out what they've seen, but the difference is, because I'm able to break down the how, why, when we're doing what we are with our horses, it means something to the human. It is NOT teaching conditioned responses, or obedience training imposed by the human. Rather offering thoughtful conversations between the human and horse.
The difference from watching a trainer with "free videos" online and attempting to mimic the behavior seen, or buying the "fix it" halter/stick/rope/gadget, is if the human does not understand BOTH the big picture and the small details, the more "instant" expectations they have for their horse, the worse and more unclear the communication gets leading to frustration in the human and defensiveness in the horse. If you are training in a "step by step" process, you'll be unable to understand what to do, if your horse offers a behavior that you'd hadn't seen before. If instead you were able to read what the horse is asking, you'll then know what he needs from you to support him through his learning and education.

So whether you don't have the finances or time to participate in a big clinic, if you find a trainer whose methods you appreciate, take the time, put in the effort, grab a notebook and pen, and sit and WATCH. You won't realize just how much you've absorbed without even trying. Your horse will thank you for it.

Proactive Riding- Raising the Rider’s Awareness


Creating conditioned and patternized behaviors, or routines, while interacting with our horses can lead to “dishonest” conversations between the human and the horse.  Whether heading out on a trail ride or focusing in the arena, there frequently is a sense of “wonder” from the rider regarding what the ride will “be like” on any given day.  I dislike repetitive movement as there becomes a familiarity and “dullness” to the conversation between the horse and human leading to brainless responses and a lack of adaptability. The day the person changes the routine their “quiet” horse becomes a fire breathing dragon because the pattern has changed.

There should be no mystery when working with our horses. Every interaction with the horse is an indication as to what is about to come.  Weather issues, location limitations, and time urgencies can influence people and horses falling into behaviors that contribute to a lack of awareness, lack of clear intention and lack of mental presence.

Unfortunately the standard with horses is that as long as the horse isn’t offering enough resistant behavior that the human sees their life flashing before their eyes, dramatic behaviors from the horse are tolerated.  Anticipative movement, the lack of softness towards a light rein, seat or leg pressure, the dramatic, flamboyant responses to an aid, are all indications that the horse’s brain and emotions are having a problem, and therefore his physical response will mimic the worry, fear, pain, insecurity, misunderstanding, leading to a less than ideal ride.

Assess your relationship with your horse by asking yourself the following:  Do you work with your horse at the same time of day? Catch him in the same manner?  Enter/exit the gate the same way? Tie/groom/tack up in the same place? Mount from the same side, in the same location? Start off always tracking in one direction?  These basic behaviors when done without intention, lead to mentally unavailable and resistant horses.

The moment you think about going for a ride, the ride begins.  “Reality,” other distractions and stresses from life need to be put on hold.  To be proactive by making decisions to influence how the ride will go, you’ll need a mental clarity as to what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it.  Every moment you’re in close proximity to your horse, you are teaching him something, whether or not you mean to. 

Mental presence allows you to honestly assess what your horse is offering in his behaviors.  My approach is to first address the horse’s brain, and then the desired movement will follow. Opportunities for assessment can begin in the pasture or stall; notice if your horse moves off as you approach?  If so, why?  Is he distracted by new events at the barn? Wildlife that recently passed by? Does he prefer to stay with the herd rather than being ridden? You may not initially have a clear understanding of his behavior, but it will be the beginning of awareness from you of noticing initial resistance from him and be able to prioritize addressing it before you ride. 

As you lead, is he ahead of you physically and actually “leading you”? If so, he’s already telling you what the ride is going to be like.  If he believes from the start that he is in charge, by the time you’re in the saddle, you’ll be at his mercy. 
If he is pulling, hanging or ignoring your pressure with the lead rope while you’re on the ground, he’s already telling you he is going to be heavy on the bit and slow to respond with the rein.  Why wait until you’re in the saddle to address his concept, or lack thereof, of following, softening or yielding to pressure?
If he’s become fussy as you tack up as you ride more frequently, have you assessed if your saddle is fitting correctly? Perhaps pain issues from ill fitting tack have begun, and you’ve assumed he’s just being difficult with his excessive movement.  He only has so many ways to convey his distress before he has to increase his behaviors until you can no longer ignore them.

Humans often anthromoporphize equine behaviors, giving human characteristics to them and wrongly interpreting what is occurring. Taking the time to slow ourselves down from the rushing mentality, by addressing the little details, can help us break down overwhelming scenarios and understand our horse’s behavior.

By learning to recognize the signs leading up to potentially unwanted behavior, we can influence a change within the horse, before he has committed to doing something we don’t want.  But the small details, the finesse isn’t the “fun” or “exciting” way of doing things, therefore we humans bring chaos to horses, causing much turmoil.

Let us raise our standards.  What if the new “normal” became a horse that presented himself quietly to be caught irrelevant of if feed had just been put out in the pasture or riding at an odd time of day? Ignoring discipline, riding goals or experience, what if we could straight tie, ground tie or cross tie our horse in a field, to a trailer, or to a post, as we groomed and tacked up, without any fussing, wiggling, pawing, swinging of the hindquarters, holding his breath while we tightened the saddle, or tossing his head while we bridled him? Let’s be practical and forgo outdated tradition and learn to mount/dismount from either side on the ground, from the fence or a mounting block, without having to lead our horse to a spot and quickly scramble on while holding the reins tight to prevent him from walking off.  What if at any point we expected our horse could stand mentally and emotionally calm and therefore physically relaxed, rather than anticipative of what we might ask next.


If the above mentioned behaviors became our basic foundation that we built our partnership with our horses on, imagine the possibilities.  Here’s to proactive riding and raising our awareness!