Trailer Loading Trauma- Horses

Today I worked with three different horses that had all issues with trailer loading... the most important message I could convey was the conversation with the horse should initially focus on refining the tools needed in order to present the trailer loading itself.

Keeping Perspective to Accomplish Goals

Too often folks have laser focus on task accomplishment rather than assessing if they have the necessary "pieces" in order to present a specific scenario to the horse.

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Fearful, Fleeing Backward Movement in the Horse

As I meet a new horse, one of the first things on my "checklist of assessment" is if the horse's brain and body are softly influenced and directable forward, left, right and backward. 

In my initial presentation, I might hold the lead rope with just my thumb and index finger, gently sending energy from the connection point of the lead and halter, towards the horse's chest. 

The ideal response is for the horse to soften his jaw, relax his neck muscles, deflate his chest muscles, bend his hocks to prepare to take a step backward. He will lift his back as he steps back, there will be no leaning or pushing forward in his shoulders, neck, or nose. It will be a slow, intentional, thoughtful movement, with consistent, steady breathing on his end. 

More often then not, instead folks are amazed at how many horses go rigid or stock still the minute they are asked even just to mentally consider to take a step back. The horse's head goes straight up in the air, the front legs lock up and seem to be pushing straight up towards the sky with the inability to bend at the knee. The horse hollows its back, standing with his hocks spread wide, braced and seemingly locked. 

Playful behavior- keeping the fun without the danger

I had a recent inquiry about horse behavior and thought I'd share my perspective.

How do you stop playing/exuberant behaviour from turning into a fight or flight reaction without eradicating the fun aspect?

Appreciating your current horsemanship skills while seeking to improve

"It is okay that you aren't the horse trainer, your horse still recognizes your efforts."

I was recently discussing with a long time clinic host the evolving journey of self-growth and awareness folks unintentionally experience as they strive to be better partners for their horses.

So here are a few ideas I hope people can carry with them:

You don't know what you don't know. As you learn more, don't judge your past decisions and interactions with your horse. Simply learn what caused you to make them and how you could make improved decisions in the future.

You aren't a horse trainer, and that is okay. There is a fine line  between inspiring folks as to what can be, and not overwhelming them with what currently is. I find the challenge is keeping folks inspired to keep trying to learn how to refine and improve the conversations and support they offer to their horse, without overwhelming them because they will never be as capable as "the trainer."

As long as you are trying, your horse will recognize your efforts. Unfortunately society has created the idea of the "trained" horse. This illusion gets a lot of riders into sticky situations as they constantly rely on the horse to take care of them offering limited support in return. Eventually the horse reaches a point of being unable to handle their job solo and then unwanted behaviors occur as they ask and show they need support from the rider.

I suggest appreciating what the horse is willing to offer in the areas the rider may be unsure, BUT in other aspects when the person has clarity and capability, to offer guidance to the horse.

Instead, I suggest people think of the partnership with their horse as a continually evolving journey. There is no "end point" for anyone involved with the horses; every horse has something to teach everyone who is willing to hear them.

Riders should appreciate wherever they may be currently in their own journey of horsemanship AND still be open for improvement. Because there is no "end point" in how folks raise their awareness, improve their communication and refine their skill set, it can easy to get swept into the vicious cycle of self doubt with a stifling effect on the relationship with their horse.

I'd rather people recognize what they currently CAN do to help their horse, and see self-growth as a positive opportunity and not wallowing in self-critique of what "they aren't good enough" to do.

Every moment is an opportunity to learn with the horse. Unfortunately folks who allow their emotions to filter their interpretation of an experience limit their ability to take the "feedback" from the horse as vital information that can help them make different decisions in how they approach their horsemanship.

Clinic Critter Support

My eigth year returning to Oakzanita Ranch for my winter clinic series. I have some assistance from some of the local residents. How many do you see?

The Rider's Mental Approach- the unaddressed factor

Frequently though through good intention, usually in an attempt to show kindness, folks try to pacify, mask and cloak unwanted interactions with the horse. Unfortunately, by not "digging in" to what is contributing to the horse's unwanted behaviors, and instead "going along with the horse" tends to teach the horse to "take over" in situations he is unsure about. 

Not many professionals tend to discuss "it" in mainstream lessons, but the mental approach of the rider/handler needs to be addressed. This affects the human's emotional reaction and interpretation of real-time interactions they experience with their horse. Which in turn affects how the quality of their physical communication with the horse. 

Learn to Read your Horse

Have you ever "wondered" how your horse will behave next? How he might react to something? Join us in the Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey Q & A group to learn from daily insight, LIVE videos, and much more!

Journaling- Keeping Track Improves our Horsemanship

I know many times in our hectic lives time seems to fly by. We have a variety of things that demand our focus and attention, and sometimes we lose track of when and what things have happened with our horse.

I suggest keeping a horse-related journal. This does not mean writing down everything that has happened during every interaction with your horse.

By jotting down events/occurrences with the horse, it can give you a better understanding of when potential health/soundness challenges occurred, it can help keep perspective as to your journey of learning and it can also be a good reference to decrease you getting "overwhelmed" by trying to do everything at once.

If you want to start journaling at the most basic level, begin with the three "F"s- Feed, Farrier and Focus.

What are you feed, quantities, what is your horse's work schedule/fitness level? Do you make adjustments for seasonal changes?

I remind folks if you do make changes in feed, give your horse at least three weeks on the new changes to assess if it is working. 

Dates of any farrier work, behavioral and physical issues, but not just with the hoof but either your horse's behavior (many times the first signs of arthritis and other physical challenges actually appear with the farrier and resistance in how they can hold their body on three legs.) Notice changes in growth patterns, due to seasons or health issues. 

Yours and the horse. If there is only ONE thing you notice throughout your sessions with your horse, experiment with "focusing on your focus," and that of your horse. If more folks spent time noticing their horse's thoughts- and believing them, learning how to influence changes in them, so many dramatic, or unwanted scenarios between horse and human would decrease.

You don't need to write your journal with critique or trying to "have" any answers. Use it more as a place to condense things you notice in both you and your horse. You'll be amazed that when you start to write things that you have seen, but without judgment, that you'll actually build your confidence in realizing you are probably noticing so much more than you have given yourself credit for. 

The first aspect of changing and influencing a different outcome from how "things have always been" between you and your horse, is raising the awareness within yourself.

From there, you can start to experiment with changes in your own behaviors and interactions, based on both you and your horse's focus.

Changing Routines creates Improved Adaptability in the Horse and Human

"How often do you present change in your horse's world?"

Over the years as different horse owners have sought my help I have discovered that horses are the best people trainers ever.

On numerous occasions, I have heard things such as:

I have to feed in a certain manner or location or time so that my horse will eat.

I have to catch my horse by doing XY and Z first.

My horse loads into the trailer just fine as long as his body goes in first.

I have to get on at this location in the facility so that my horse doesn't get distracted or call to his pasture mates.

My horse ties just fine as long as he can see me but if he doesn't then he will pull back.

You get the idea.

For many years, folks can learn to work around their horse in order to avoid conflict, feel like they were accomplishing things and having a certain level of success.

But at some point, usually under circumstances out of their control, they could not present things as their horse expected.

"Preparing the Horse for the Unknown"

 I hate practicing anything in a mindlessly repetitive manner. Irrelevant of the discipline, there are many folks who teach that as long as there is "time in the saddle" it is equivalent to quality training. I find that by "training" this way dulls the interest, awareness, intention and focus in both the horse and human.

The conversation with the horse should be based on a common language. You can and should be able to "practice" the conversation every time you interact with the horse. But this does NOT mean that you go through the motions of presenting the same scenario brainlessly over and over and over again. 

Hauling Horses- Top Trip Preparations Suggestions

As the leaves start to change, while the animals start to coat up and the deer move in obnoxiously close to my front porch, I take it as my cue to make preparations for heading south during the frigid winter months.

Packing is like a chess game with the weather and the logistics of winterizing the property and packing... timing is everything.

One of the big stresses I have found for those folks who cover long hauls with their horses is a lack of preparation.

Sometimes not "having" the thing you need while traveling with horses, or the stress of how well a horse will haul, or concern about towing a trailer, whatever the case is, everyone, can always prepare better to decrease and diffuse the stress levels in the horse and themselves by building up to the actual haul by addressing each aspect involved in increments...

Looking for your Reflection- Improving your Alignment

So much of our horsemanship can be improved in the time spent bringing awareness to our own behaviors and thoughts before we involve the horse.

Many of western society's daily routines involve our balance being brought forward and a bit "collapsed"- such as sitting at a desk, working at a computer and often when driving a vehicle.

So start to practice every time you approach a door at a store or a mirror in your home, that you look to make eye contact with yourself in your reflection.

This simple act will begin to draw your body upward and centered with your shoulders over your hips and over your feet.

Relearning to find your "center" without sitting on a horse, will improve your balance in the saddle, without having to think about it.

It will also allow you to recognize earlier when you are not aligned, and you will make adjustments without compensating for the quality of the conversation.

Also practice looking, especially when driving, turning your chin towards your shoulder in the direction you are about to turn, without leaning forward or towards the direction you are about to turn.

I find many riders lose connection with their seat bones in the saddle because they use their entire upper body to turn the horse, rather than being able to first turn their head, then use their rein, without having to lean in the direction they'd like the horse to turn.

I know these sound like two very simple tasks that seem basic, but I can't tell you how many times folks initially chuckle at these suggestions and then wind up realizing how often they are using their entire body to communicate with the horse, rather than being able to independently conversate with each body part separately.

Once you begin to bring awareness to your own physical behaviors without the horse, you can start to make changes in your own patterns or manners of compensating in your own movement.

Then when you add in the horse, it does not seem so overwhelming to "remember" all the details about your own body and how you are sitting.

Horse Unwilling to Move Forward

The theme of the past few days has been new folks asking for help with horses that are going "fine" and then the horse "randomly" or suddenly stops, or quits, moving forward. 

First, nothing is random when a horse does it. You may not know why the horse did it, but it was not an accident... Including all those times he "accidentally" rubbed your leg on the fence or put you under a low branch while riding. 

Second, the body is a reflection of the horse's brain and emotions. 

So is the real problem the horse is not moving forward? No. 

That is the result of his asking for support that was ignored and "answered" with a "driving" him into doing something. Which may have appeared to have "worked" until it didn't. 

The question should be, what were all the activities or scenarios asked of the horse prior to the moment of "final resistance"? 

When/where were the INITIAL signs of insecurity, resistance or him being unsure? 

So take a few minutes and play detective: 

Did the horse start looking away (literally) to avoid the area you were leading/riding him into? 

Was there a time where the horse was fixated on an object/buddy horse and not focused on where he was actually being asked to move? 

Did he attempt to speed up and rush through an area or task and you felt like you had to contain him? 

Did his movement start to drift or leak as you approached an area he was unsure of? 

If you were able to pass through an area of potential bother, did it feel like he was rushing or "fleeing" afterward? 

The horse only has so many ways to communicate he is unsure or needs more support. Unfortunately, because humans tend to be task fixated they tend to push a horse through something thinking if the horse does it once, he'll be okay the next time. 

And sometimes it appears that way. Until the day the horse "suddenly" quits wanting to move forward. 

So to save you and horse a lot of unnecessary stress, start to believe him from the moment he begins to show concern. 

Start to focus on what "tools" and skill set you to have to help redirect his thought, drain his tension, soften his body and create a curiosity versus a defensiveness in him when you present new or unfamiliar scenarios. 

Prioritize being able to influence and re-direct his thought WITHOUT it feeling like a fight. If you can't do that from the start, before you present a potentially stressful scenario, you're setting yourself up to be "at the mercy" of the horse. 

It isn't about getting the horse through/past one imaginary boundary or location, it is about the quality of every conversation between you and the horse that either contributes positively to building a quality partnership or starts to deteriorate it.

Allowing conversations between Horse and Human to occur

Do you take the time for the opportunity to see the unexpected?

I never head out with expectations as I work with the horses. Wherever they are in the moment is where we start.

I find the more "room" I give them to have opinions, after establishing effective tools, respectful boundaries and clear conversations, the more interesting (in a good way) the communication gets.

I have witnessed so many incredible, unexpected moments of horses helping one another, supporting each other, and then what is interesting is adding me into the mix of the conversation.

Very cool to feel like horses and humans are speaking the same language, without aggression, fear, drive, force, imposing oneself or otherwise.

In the picture at the top was a scenario from today's sessions.

Interestingly the filly had the entire field to graze in with other horses and she chose to stand close by to support the newly arrived Colt from her same Oak Creek herd. They haven't been kept together, but she was there supporting him.

At one point he got a bit mentally stuck. And he had to sort out finding how to put slack in the lead rope.

Immediately after I helped the colt sort himself out, the filly walked right up, imposed herself made a warning face towards him with her ears pinned, which she had never done before, he breathed, she looked at him and then calmly walked away..

So much of the time humans miss the conversation and the interactions these awesome creatures offer.

#FifteenForFriday LIVE Q & A video with Sam- Don't miss out

#FifteenForFriday reminder Friday Sept 13 @ 7pm pst.

Don't miss out on the live video posted ONLY in the closed Facebook group Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey 

Join me for this week's topic:

"How semantics influences our perception and communication of the two crucial forms of communication with the horse: Boundaries and Pressure"

Re-Set, Re-assess, Re-Start- Changing our Horsemanship

Did you take the ten minutes to "re-set" your mental and emotional starting place BEFORE you showed up to work or play with your horse? 
Find out more about Alternative Horsemanship

Are you able to leave stress, work, distraction, past occurrences with your horse behind? 

Did you notice any differences in your attitude, energy or intention that could influence your horse in a negative way? 

Horses frequently mirror us. If you don't like what you see, perhaps take a few minutes and assess yourself. 

Is this something that is easy to do? No. 
Do we always like what we see in the mirror? No. 
Should we mental beat ourselves up for where we are at? No. 

What it does allow is a starting point. Once we learn to have an awareness, then we can begin to change our own intentions, behaviors, and patterns that may not be contributing to the partnership with our horse.

"The Secret to Horsemanship: There is no Secret"

I frequently get inquiries from folks reaching out for help with...
Catching their horse
Loading the horse in the trailer
Saddling/bridling issues
Unwanted/Dangerous Behaviors

They ask for "just a few pointers" or ideas on what they can do to fix their horse's problem.

The good news, is people have realized they need help. The bad news is their perspective.

Each of the scenarios I listed is a symptom, not the issue.

Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach: Two Conversations

Yesterday I posted a video clip of working with two horses having two separate conversations. One was being asked to circle. It occurred to me that I should share my interpretation of a circle.

Lunging... driving with a whip/stick/flag/etc... flee... high rate of energy... tension... "making"... stiffness... counter bent... should not be a part of the horse's movement while on a "circle."

The actual shape of the circle should be round, balanced and with the horse's inside shoulder stepping towards the direction of movement, without the horse "falling-in" towards the human.

The horse should be looking where he is moving.

The horse should be able to follow the feel of the rope and offer the "shape" the human is asking for without heaviness or resistance.

Most folks drive their horses nuts with circles because they have a misconception of what "it" should look like or the purpose of them.

Many horses have learned to avoid critique by offering light circles, yes, there is no tension on the rope, but there is no softness in the brain or body.

Folks are in a rush to move through the gaits in each direction, frequently causing auto-pilot from the horse and not have honest conversations, which in my mind defeats the point of a circle.

Then the person attempts to ride, and finds out the horse has more "stuff" to sort out, and the human wonders why the circle didn't help. Because it was a conditioned response and not a thoughtful conversation.

Circles should be a tool, not a crutch. But to have it be quality, preparations need to be made before teaching a horse to think around and then move around a circle. The ability to directing the horse's thought, influencing his energy levels, addressing how he feels about physical and spatial pressure.

The circle can be a preface to many other conversations. The circle can be taught in quarter sections to the horse, wherein they need to be able to differentiate between think, step, check-in and be available for further guidance, no different than what occurs during a ride.

"Are you plugged in?"

For years in traditional riding lessons, I heard things such as:
Sit up
Heels Down
Look up
Deep in the saddle
Hands up

Not until much later in my riding career did I start to realize that ALL of the rider's movement is connected. If there is not a strong foundation- starting with the seat- the rest of the rider's body will have unwanted "side effects" or excessive movement as a way to unintentionally compensate for a lack of balance and stability.