"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.


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

Demo Day April 10, 2017 Oakzanita Ranch

FINAL CA Clinic of the season... April 7-11 Oakzanita Ranch, Descanso CA. Here's what's special... there will be a DEMO day!
There are still a few one hour, private, participant spots available, Clinic audit/participant info
Photo Credit M Canfield
ASAP to sign up!
Auditing is free every day EXCEPT Monday April 10 from 9-4 which will be a demo day. I'll work with five different horses (spots already filled) that I've never worked with before! Cost is $50/day to audit and here's why...
Below is the "sales pitch" blurb and explanation as to why the audit fee is on the DEMO day:
"Sam does not offer books or DVDs to read or watch as her utmost priority with her teaching is clarity for both the horse and human. Spending the day auditing her working a variety of horses will allow you an intensive opportunity to watch real life scenarios unfold. As they do, as an auditor, you will be able to ask, discuss and mentally digest many of Sam's approaches and training theories that contribute to building a solid foundation and partnership with the horse. It will be the chance to watch in a short period of time how to assess a horse, "start a conversation" with the horse to achieve mental availability, and then a variety of ways to communicate spatially and with the use of aids to build the horse's confidence, focus and willingness to participate, which in the long term then leads to the ideal riding partner. There will be lots of opportunities for discussions, Q & A and much more than what is covered when folks audit individual sessions."
If you have questions or would like to audit you may PM or just show up with a chair and lunch!
Hope to see you there!

Sending the horse to the trainer: Things to consider

The idea for this blog has been in the back of my mind for a while, but the other day as I was about to cross-post a different blog on a blog directory, three titles of articles written by other folks caught my eye.  Each of their blogs was mocking/sarcastic comments about horse trainers and their cliché attitudes towards clients. Sadly, there was a lot of truth in what was being written.

Nowadays the general public has limited time to spend with their equine partners. Scenarios such as a spring tune-up, continuing education in an older horse, “maintenance” training, or starting a young colt, will create a need for folks to send their horse to a horse trainer.

When it comes to discussing the typical client/trainer relationship there could be many tangents, but in this blog I’ll keep it to three main areas of focus: Respectful Relationship, Asking Questions and Behind the Scenes.

Respectful Relationship

Keep in mind that in the USA, anyone can literally hang up a sign and say that they are a horse trainer.  That being said, even if someone does have the talent and ability to work with horses, does not automatically mean that they will/can run a business successfully, have the ability to clearly communicate with people or teach the human student, or that they have the human resources skills to be a quality boss.

As with many things that involve humans and tradition, certain behaviors within the professional equine industry have wrongfully (in my opinion) become accepted by the public.  I have personally been subjected to (as a student and client), and had to work under (as a working student and employee) these impolite and often boorish behaviors. They are completely absent of anything remotely professional or respectful- often to either the human or the horse.

Even if behaviors among horse trainers have become “the norm” and have been conventional for years, such as using disrespectful language with clients, a lack of clearly defined billing procedures/costs/over-billing clients, and a defensiveness towards explaining training methods/plans for clients, does not mean that they are or should be customary behavior and continue.

Because the equine industry is flooded with “horse trainers” it is very difficult to “get a foot in the door,” which can be the root cause of the “starving trainer” cliché. Commonly due to a lack of business background or grandiose but unrealistic business plans, inadequate budget, over-spending tendencies, and the inability to market appropriately, there is often a constant anxiety the trainer is feeling.  Horse trainers can be some of the most stressed-out professionals I’ve ever encountered.  With that constant stress, their emotions and patience are like a swinging pendulum; clients never know “who” they’ll encounter on any given day. 

Another contributor to the stress is the lack of consistency in the horse market.  So with no guarantee ever of a paycheck, it is a highly initially romanticized job that in reality is nothing of the sort.  The burden and distraction of continual financial stress takes a toll on the professional, which is often displayed in their rough, gruff, degrading attitudes and hurried mannerisms towards the horse and human alike.

As the client you have a choice who you give your hard earned money to.  Every time you pay someone, you are reaffirming their business practices and behavior. Plus you are putting your horse at the ‘mercy’ of the trainer.  I have yet to encounter a disrespectful, rude trainer towards people, who suddenly becomes polite when around the horse.  If a professional is unable to be kind, patient and respectful towards the client, they certainly are not going to be that way towards the client’s horse.

Sometimes the relationship between a client/trainer can evolve or devolve; just because you started with a trainer and all was well initially, honestly continue to evaluate the relationship every few months. If you see dramatic and negative changes in the professional’s behavior, you as the client have NO obligation to stay with the trainer.  Remember it is often your horse that will pay the “ultimate” physical and emotional price and it may take years to “undo” what has been done by the disrespectful trainer.

Ask Questions

Just as with buying a horse, starting a new endeavor such as working with a horse trainer will require effort, energy and research on your part. Just because someone offers a service that is of interest to you, does not mean that your personalities will be a good fit.  I also suggest to people to go and watch lessons and training being offered by the potentially new horse trainer.  By visiting and auditing in person, and watching a variety of scenarios, you’ll get the most “honest” version of what they’ll offer. 

If the trainer will not allow you to watch, WALK AWAY! There should never be any secret “behind the scenes” training or coaching that they are unwilling to share with a potential new client. 

If you are able to audit a lesson or training session, go with your “gut” instinct.  Even if you have limited experience, if something about the overall “picture” does not seem right, trust the little voice in your head.  Horse training or riding lessons should be positive, supportive, engaging and done with the encouragement of the trainer.  If you’re witnessing any crude, aggressive or rude behaviors by the professional, WALK AWAY!

Other questions to ask include the frequency of communication between trainer and client during the horse’s training.  Many folks send their horse to the professional and don’t hear from them until a bill is sent every 30 days.  (Although an uncommon practice, I personally update folks via email every few days to keep them in the loop. This also allows them reference points to re-read when their horse returns home and they want to better understand what training has occurred and how I approached working with their horse.)

Sadly I have frequently heard trainers berating clients for inquiring about their horse’s progressive.  The trainer that becomes immediately defensive, or that takes a question from a client as a critique, has a “lot” of other things going on.  Horse trainers are famous for intimidating their clients into submission, and sadly treat the equines the same way.  As a client, there should be no fear to ask questions or understand what is happening with your horse.

That being said, there’s also a “line” that needs to not be crossed by the client.  There are some trainers can be overly friendly. In some cases clients mistake the kind behavior and conversations with the pro and unknowingly take advantage of the trainer’s time and energies. Clients are often unaware that mixing the professional and personal friendship with the trainer can lead to another range of issues.

Another part of asking questions is to learn what will go “on” behind the scenes when the owner is not present.

Behind the Scenes

Due to many of the factors addressed earlier in this blog, there seems to never be enough hours in the day for most trainers to get everything accomplished.  Therefor (and often not through malicious intention) the trainer will take on too many horses or responsibilities in an attempt to “pay the bills.”  This can lead to a lack in quality time spent with each horse, or more often, to the trainer resorting to having other folks work with clients horses. This could be grooms doing most of the handling, working students or assistant trainers warming up/schooling/cooling down horses, etc.  The problem is that no two trainers/riders are the same, even if they learned or are using the same style/technique of training.

So if a client has sent their horse to be in training with Professional X, due to that person’s ability, if the horse is mostly being handled by assistant Professional Y, obviously there’ll be a different outcome in the horse’s training.  I have witnessed at a multitude of facilities and among various disciplines, this to frequently be the case, leaving the clients in the “dark” about who is actually doing most of the training with their horse. 

Keep in mind that every moment a horse is being handled, groomed, worked with, ridden, etc. is an opportunity for them to learn something.  Although at larger facilities it is not possible for the head trainer to do “everything,” if you know that other employees will be working with your horse, go and WATCH those who handle the horse, to make sure they are folks you’d trust and agree with their training practices.

I suggest once a week if possible, but at least bi-monthly, go and watch your horse being worked.  It will allow you enough “gap” in between sessions to see progress or any red flags or concerns.  Again, if your horse is suddenly displaying things such as an unhealthy drop in weight, signs of stress, worry, anxiety, etc. YOU need to make the decisions to find a better fit from another trainer that is willing to work WITH your horse, his personality, ability, maturity, etc.

“Breaking up” with a horse trainer can be incredibly uncomfortable, stressful and lead to a lot of gossip within the local horse community.  So what.  I am here to tell you that in the long run, YOU need to do what is best for you and your horse, irrelevant of what works for anyone else and their needs.  Just because one trainer “gets results” with one horse does not mean that the same trainer will be a good match for your horse.

So please, push tradition to the side, and spend some time searching for a quality, respectful, kind and of course talented trainer for you and your horse. It may take more effort and patience than you realized, but in the long run you’ll not only save money but you’ll be happier with your horse’s progression and results.

Sam


Pain in horses- an unaddressed common denominator


Let me preface this blog by saying I am NOT any of the following: veterinarian, equine nutritionist, equine dentist, farrier, equine chiropractor, equine naturopath or any other medical related equine professional. 

What I am is an equine professional who sees/handles hundreds of horses a year of varying ages and breeds, with differing degrees of training and exposure/experience in both competitive and pleasure disciplines. 

I am continually learning from every horse I encounter; when I think back to years ago to what I’ll call during my initial 14 years of learning in the “traditional” riding lessons and clinics stage, I can only clearly twice remember two instances of professionals looking at my equipment and asking me why I was using what I was using on my horse. One instructor suggested a stronger more severe bit for “control” (later I learned this was a standard suggestion and not a personalized nor appropriate suggestion for my ability nor the horse I was riding at the time) and the other was from a Dutch clinician who suggested the KK Herm Sprenger bit, (which to this day I still use,) if I’m introducing or using a bit on a horse.

I have found that commonly at traditional boarding facilities the students all used the same farrier, the same vet, fed the same feed, etc. and no one ever questioned if those practices were appropriate for their individual horse.  Why? I’m guessing out of convenience, but also because students were/are often taught “this is how you do it, this is who you use” and the unspoken “don’t question the ‘system’ ” is loud and clear.

Nowadays I find that as I approach a horse for the first time, whether one that has arrived for a seasonal clinic, weekly lesson or initial training, I tend to automatically start visually scanning the horse physically.

Things such as the direction and reaction of the ears, worried lines or tension peaks above the eyes, emptiness/brightness in the eye, busy-ness in the lips/lines/tension in the mouth/odd jaw movement, tension in the poll/withers, lack of mobility/range in the neck/shoulder, uneven muscle development from one side of the horse to the other along the top-line, continual tightness along the rib cage parallel to the ground, hindquarters sunken in or tail held tight against rump, inconsistent breathing, shortness of step, foot/heel placement as the hoof touches the ground, etc. are just a few things I look at.

I look at the overall “balance” of physical development of the horse, his coat, etc. as I ask about what feed/frequency and any health issues. Then I move on to what equipment has been used and why; probing about issues, changes, resistance, problems, etc. with tack and equipment.

This is all BEFORE we’ve actually done anything. At all.  And I LISTEN to what is and perhaps isn’t being said by the owner.

Then I start to assess the general behavior of the horse (i.e. totally oblivious he is attached to other end of the lead rope and is dragging the owner around in search of grass or staring at new setting, defensive when touched by owner, worried/concerned behavior just as we are standing- or attempting to stand, etc.) If inclined I will start to run my hands over/around/near certain parts of the body that seem to “jump out” as uncomfortable or hypersensitive areas based on how I read the horse’s body language.

Why do I do all of this? It gives me a starting point.  Clients come to me for help.  Often, though they may have good intentions or think they are clear on what they want help with or want to work on with their horse, the owner may be focusing on a symptom of the “issue(s)” rather than understanding the root cause. 

In many cases I’m playing detective and trying to connect the dots between unwanted obvious behaviors (symptoms), and searching for contributing factors creating the undesired outcome in the horse.  And yes, realistically multiple issues, experiences, anticipation/lack of understanding/ill-fitting equipment/miscommunication all contribute to the “problems” with the horse.

To put things into perspective, I ask folks, “How receptive would you be to learning or trying something new if you were in a constant state of pain?” They tend to admit that they’d probably be unable to focus, be patient, try the unknown or trust someone new.  The same goes for their horses.

So if it is obvious something is physically bothering the horse, I need to respectfully attempt to address that first, BEFORE I move on to “training”, with or without the owner.  Obviously there’ll be a wide pendulum between easier things such as digestion issues, compared to long term corrective dental or farrier care whose results will take longer to see/make a difference.  With that in mind, I will adjust how much I ask of the horse in a session.

Things like maturity, experience, confidence will all factor in to how much I ask a horse to mentally engage and participate. But first I need the horse to be as comfortable as possible.  I have seen drastic differences while experimenting in making small changes for horses with an array of ailments including things such as inappropriate feed program with either too much sugar or protein content, sleep deprivation issues, ulcer/hind gut issues, idealistic angles in farrier care vs. appropriate shoeing for their individual build- therefor causing more damage than good, rehabilitating old physical injuries/atrophied muscles from things like pulling back when tied/severe training methods/ill-fitting saddles, teeth/jaw/poll issues that create dramatic reactions in how they respond/use/carry their head, and much more.

Sometimes having a horse for a long time causes a familiarity that can mask an owner’s clarity in literally seeing if there may be physical/emotional/behavioral issues occurring with their horse. It is always good to keep a calendar of any changes made in diet/lifestyle/work/veterinary care/farrier care/tack to allow yourself to keep track of any “new” behaviors that occur afterwards.  With the craziness of “life” owners sometimes lose perspective of how long/when a behavior or change happens in the horse (good or bad) therefor causing a lack of understanding that a change in one area caused “results” in another seemingly unrelated area.

If you have a trusted equine professional, have your horse at least once a year evaluated for overall health; you do not need to “wait” until something is glaringly wrong before asking for another opinion.  Or take pictures and measurements every two months of your horse from both sides, front, behind, measurements of weight, hoof size, etc.  You’ll be amazed how much your horse’s body can change seasonally between the Spring and the Fall. Often these physical changes will require a change in the feed regiment and the tack used. 

If you don’t understand why you’re feeding what you are, why you are using the tack that “came with the horse” or what your equine professional is doing with/to your horse, ASK QUESTIONS! It is your responsibility as the owner to understand, think, question and do what is in the horse’s best interest. Please do not just follow the latest “trend” in the equine world, as often by doing so, can lead to more long term damage than good.

If I had to put a percentile to the number of horses that I see that are physically in pain or discomfort it would be in the high 80s.  That are a lot of uncomfortable horses, and often with a little investigative, proactive detective work, experimentation and follow through, folks can eliminate unnecessary stress, agitation, pain, and distraction, allowing the opportunity for a quality partnership.

Don’t beat yourself up if after an honest assessment you realize your horse is in pain; the good news is you are now becoming aware and more sensitive in your horse management.  The knowledge gained by honestly evaluating your horse will allow you more “information” in order to make better informed decisions for improving the comfort of your horse. Remember, your horse only has so many ways of asking for help, and often the most dramatic behaviors are seen in the horses that need the most mental, emotional and physical help.

Sam