"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.

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.