"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.


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!

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...

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!