Bits- NOT the quick fix... A few thoughts..

This was a recent question from a new client... all too often people seem to look for a "mechanical" band for an issue rather than address the issue in itself...


My 15 year old QH has a hard mouth. I currently ride him with a full cheek snaffle twist and with a standing martingale. But sometimes he outs his head down and tries to yank me down. I don't know what to do. Many people have suggested a harsher bit or spurs but I really don't know. What should I do? I need more control.


Thank you for writing, hopefully I can offer some alternative ideas and suggestions from what you might be thinking. Too many times our horses tolerate what we ask of them, but as we increase the intensity or performance levels, they start to show signs of stress, worry, insecurity, fear or "acting out" in dangerous or unwanted behavior. Most of their behaviors are seen as "suddenly" appearing, which is wrong. Many times horses attempt to communicate in many shapes, ways and forms when they are having a problem. Too many times people ignore their horse's pleas for help and guidance, forcing the horse to comply physically while he is mentally and emotionally stressed out.

Imagine if you were being taught something new by someone. If you had some concern or worry about, and they just kept telling you "it'll be fine" and you went along trusting them. Then what if "it" didn't turn out to be fine and you reached of point of being completely worried for your safety. What would you do to get them to believe you could no longer "tolerate" what they'd been telling you? You would do whatever it took to get them to believe you were REALLY having a problem. It is no different with our horses.

Too many times people are satisfied with "good enough" or "close enough" because they get so focused on the end goal, instead of the quality of the ride that will allow them to achieve the end goal. If the ride quality at ALL times is good, then the end performance will be the ideal without having unnecessary stress for either the rider or horse.

Most "run away" horses or horses that do not stop when we would like them to, do so because something is scaring them or making them emotionally uncomfortable and therefore they respond by physically trying to get "away." The only natural defense a horse has to protect themself is to run. The tack and equipment you use are only addressing the symptom (the not stopping) not the issue (your horse being mentally available to listen to your aids from the saddle.) The stronger and more severe equipment you put on your horse will only create more stress and worry in him. It may temporarily appear to be an easy and quick fix that will force him to contain his frustrated or worried feelings until the day he finally is pushed to his limit and he explodes. By only addressing the equipment used and it's effectiveness will only delay your lack of controllability in your horse for a short period (like putting a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches.) I would say you need to go back and assess the clarity of your aids and the mental and emotional availability of your horse in order to create clear two way communication.

Break his "running away" down into steps. You might ask yourself these questions: When does he start to get strong when you ride? What kind of bit and other equipment do you currently use on him and why? Does it fit him correctly and is it effective? How soft and responsive is he towards your aids during your sessions when not running barrels? How effective are your aids? Does he respond worried if he is distracted, leaving his barn mates, riding in a group, etc.?

My guess is that he probably shows you signs of panic before he actually takes off. If you try to address this while it's happening, you are merely responding to his panicked reaction. You need to be able to recognize and RESPECT his behavior before or even when he STARTS to get panicked and be able to intercept his thoughts of running by offering him a better alternative. Keep in mind he will not listen to your aids unless they are both clear and effective.

Number one: The bit stops your horse. It does not ever stop your horse. His mental availability and respect of your aids is what allows him to physical stop.

Number two: Would you get into a car if you knew the steering or brakes only sometimes worked? If you wouldn't do that, then WHY would you not make it a number one priority to address steering and brakes when riding a thousand pound animal that has his own ideas and emotions about life?

Number three: Most horses have what I call a teenager attitude towards people. When someone offers the horse something most horses respond with a "Why should I?" attitude. Instead, our goal is create a mental availability in our horses in order to have them offer "What can I do to make this work?"

Number four: Most people are reactive riders. They wait and see being "hopeful" about how their horse might respond. Then they decide if they like or dislike what their horse is offering. Instead you must TAKE YOUR HORSE FOR THE RIDE rather than going along for the ride. You need to tell your horse AHEAD of time what you are going to ask of him instead of hoping he'll figure it out.

Number five: Horses and people are "patternized" beings. They get very comfortable with what they know and as soon as something different is presented they fall apart. How often do you change your routine of when you catch horse, where you groom and tack him up, when you ride him, what you ask of him throughout a ride, etc. Your horse should be available to try and do whatever you make ask of him at any time, anywhere.

So even though your horse has been ridden for years you may have to go back to some of the basics and re-evaluate you and your horse. In your case I would gather that there is general lack of clear communication between you and your horse. There are many ways to break down his lack of willingness to lope at various speeds. Because he is currently confident that when asked to lope it must be at a full out speed, that is all he thinks he needs to offer you. You are going to have to be able to influence his brain with alternative ideas, clarify how and what aids you use, and help him start to gain confidence when he mentally addresses you so that he can then offer alternative physical responses, rather than the current conditioned brainless responses.

First look at yourself, you will need to evaluate how you are using what aids, when, why and with how much pressure and then break down exactly when your horse mentally "tunes you out." Remember that a horse can feel a fly land on his skin, if you are creating a lot of "activity" with your aids and not getting a response, your horse is tuning you out.

Many horses are what I call "shut down" (mentally unavailable) due to boredom and routine rides. It will take a lot of creativity to create interest in your horse so that he will begin to enjoy participating in the ride rather than tolerating the ride. You will also have to establish black and white lines that clarify which of his reactions to your aids and what behaviors will be acceptable and those that are not. The faster you can catch an unwanted response, the faster he can "let it go" and try another response.

The faster you acknowledge that he achieved your "ideal" response, (giving him a break, move on to something else, etc.,) the more confidence he will have to increase his level of mental availability and physical performance. As you increase your own awareness and thought process you will begin to be able to pin point where and when you need to do something different in order to get an alternative response from your horse.

Also you need to become aware if your horse only has a hard time slowing at the lope, or perhaps you may not have noticed, but I would guess, that asking him to perform various energy levels within the walk, jog/trot, he probably also has a difficult time doing- this only becomes worse the faster he moves, which is why at a lope he feels slightly out of control.

Many times when working on a repeated exercise, horses try to please us by trying to do what is "right" ahead of when we have asked them. In reining your horse probably has been conditioned to perform the pattern, rather than waiting for specific cues or direction from you. You need to have his mind available at all times to consider what you are asking, even if in the middle of a pattern. If you can influence his mind, then you can change his outward actions. The more he realizes you are helping him throughout the ride, rather than fighting to control his speed, the more sensitive he will be to listening to your aids.

Last but not least. Keep in mind that race horses run their fastest when they are straight... Mentally many horses are way ahead of where there are physically moving, so if your horse is moving too fast, offer him a circle, turn or specific task that will act as something to get his brain to slow down, and tune back in to where he currently is at. You can slowly make the task more specific, until he offers to slow down... then continue on with your ride as if nothing interrupted you... Soon it'll only take one rein about to offer him a circle, turn, etc. and he'll slow down... Again, check your body language... If your weight is forward, similar to that of a jockey, you are offering your horse to run faster... If you weight is back in the saddle you are offering him to slow down...

With patience and clarity you will start in small steps (literally) to begin creating the opportunity for a two way conversation. This will allow both you and your horse to gain confidence in the other which will then lead to a trusting and fulfilling partnership that will allow you to both enjoy a quality ride. Remember, when your horse shows signs of rushing, nervousness, concern, worry or stress he is not trying to act naughty, rather he is asking for your help.


Word of the Day- Anticipative Horses

Anticipate- Many horses tend to be mentally ahead of where they are physically because of concern. The action or movements of the horse tend to be exaggerated and over-reactive mentally and behaviorally. 

Contributors causing a horse to become anticipative can include:
  •  lack of confidence
  •  lack of clear communication from the rider
  •  riders that "drive" the horse rather than help them learn to think through scenarios
  •  riders that don't offer a clear mental and physical release when the horse tries  
Because the horse is mentally unsure,  it limits his ability to be mentally available or willing to accept the human's influence. This causes excessive, undesired, and sometimes dangerous movement. This often leads to a vicious cycle creating fear in both the horse and human. 

Word of the Day: Accordian Effect

Accordion effect- shortening of the top line: from the tips of the ears to the neck, through the back along with the hindquarters, and into the horse's hocks.  This creates a stiff and resistant movement similar to that of a needle moving in a sewing machine; movement has a more up and down action rather than stretching forward in a relaxed manner.  The horse is lacking a "forward-thinking" mentality his entire body is scrunched up similar to that of an accordion rather than stretched out and relaxed.

Word of the Day: Tolerating

Tolerating- a horse's lack of mental availability despite his physical interactions. Often assessing for softness in his movement and his mental and emotional response towards the human will display a rigid, tight, and often dramatic responses.

Anticipation- In both the horse and rider

As we sat around in blustery WY swapping horse stories the other night I realized there was one common theme. Anticipation. The focus happened to be about team roping, but my thoughts on this subject still apply to ALL riders and their horses.

In this day and age riders are starting to expand their equestrian activities rather than just sticking to one specific discipline. This is great for both the horses and riders and encourages them to raise their level of awareness, their horse's mental availability when presented with different tasks (rather than the same routine,) and it allows them to evaluate and use tools to offer clear communication no matter when and where they are needed.

As I listened to the group I realized I was hearing horror story after horror story about people either having had experienced themself or having had witnessed roping accidents. The most common occurrence had to do with after a rider had caught a steer.
Once the steer has been caught the rider uses their coils in their hand to "dally." A coil is the excess rope that is held in neat and organized circles in their hand. Some of these are released as the rider throws their loop at the desired steer. A dally is when the rider has caught the desired steer they then take their rope and wrap it around the horn of their saddle in order to maintain control over the steer they caught.
In this sort of roping things happen very quickly because the riders are competing for who has the fastest time in catching both the head and the heels of a steer. This can become dangerous if the rider does not keep track of their coils and has caught a three or four hundred pound steer that is showing resistance towards having been roped. After the steer is caught the coils need to be easily and quickly separated from the rest in order to dally. If there is any slack between the steer and rider, if the coils are not neatly held or are accidentally dropped while the rider is trying to dally, a rider can get their fingers and hands literally ripping off from the force of rope tightening/wrapping around their hand as the caught steer is trying to make his get away.

As with anything, the faster things "have to happen" the more pressure and intensity both the rider and horse feels. Here are a few things I see happen all too often:

• Seeing a horse feeling pretty troubled in the box (the area they wait until the steer is released form the shoot and the rider begins chasing it to catch it.) Serious accidents have happened from a horse becoming anticipative about the upcoming run and they can get pretty light on their feet. You'll see this commonly in sports that require quick bursts of speed such as race horses, barrel races, team roping, etc.

• Often the rider is more concerned with their performance and accuracy with throw of thier rope they accidentally end up ignoring areas of horsemanship that need to be addressed BEFORE they head out of the box or to a competition.
A lack of quality horsemanship and awareness seem to be the worst contributors towards how a horse and rider handle ANTICIPATION.

There are many parts of clear communication with a horse that need to be established (not just on the day of the event or competition) so that going into an event the rider and horse feel confident and clear in how they interact with one another.

In this case, if a rider is solely focused on the actual roping of the steer- how are they ever going to GET from the box to the steer with any accuracy, speed and control if they're horse is worried, anxious, insecure, etc. Too many times because of patternized (click link for blog definition) practices (i.e. practicing by riding the horse numerous times out of the box trying to attempt a catch rather than focusing on doing it a few times with a calm, confident and quality ride.)
Instead if the rider took the time to create clear communication through the use of their aids rather than reactively riding (click link for blog definition) or responding after the fact, they can "tell" their horse while the ride or run is happening what they need their horse to do. If a rider winds up being hopeful (see blog definition) that their horse will do what he's supposed to do they have no clue as to what and how their horse will respond as they come out of the box.
Because the horse gets used to not being told by his rider, he winds up taking over and starts getting anticipative because it does not make him feel good to come out of that box "on his own." Just as with people, they like to know what the "plan" is.
The next element in this particular discipline is the steer itself. The rider and horse have no idea what the steer is going to do as he comes out of the shoot. So they have to be ready for whatever may need to get done in order to rope the steer. If the horse has only previously been taught that "he's on his own" then he will tend to anticipate (many times causing a time fault for leaving the box early, also known as "breaking the barrier.")
Once a horse reaches a certain degree of stress they typically reach an "unreasonable" state. This is where the horse takes over and the rider winds up "going for the ride." Again this is another undesirable and potentionally dangerous situation. Once he takes over, especially in an event like team roping, if you need your horse to quickly turn, slow or speed up, you have less of a chance that you horse is going to perform as you need him to when "you've got to get the job done." This lack of responsiveness, mental availability from your horse and unclear communication is the largest contributor to an accident waiting to happen that my have been preventable by taking the time to address the quality of horsemanship with your horse ahead of time.
So whether you are a roper or a Dressage rider, a trail rider or a barrel racer, the next time you head out to ride start to assess if you horse may have a degree of anticipation in him. If so, start to break down into little steps how and what you ask of him and then how he responds. He'll tell you if your communication is clear, and he'll certainly show you if it's not.
It's more "work" to be a safe rider, but in the long run it decreases the level of stress you carry with you as you step into the saddle and in turn the more relaxed and confident you are, so will your horse be.

Weathering the weather while retaining "Mental Availability"

Over the past few years Mother Nature has offered more than her share of natural disasters challenging both humans and animals in extreme situations ranging from devastating fires, floods, earthquakes, heavy snows, long winter freezes, to "long term" power outages/shortages. I was inspired to write about this topic after a wet wintery day.
I'm sure you've all experienced a day like today no matter where you live. For those of you living where I spend my winters (SW AZ,) the following weather report is rare and usually only happens once (yes, ONCE) a year because the norm precipitation is less than several inches for the ENTIRE year... According to the Weather Underground website it was reported today as follows:
"Very windy. Showers with a chance of thunderstorms. Rain will be heavy at times. Southwest wind 30 to 40 mph in the evening...becoming 15 to 20 mph after midnight. Gusts to 55 mph in the evening...becoming 30 mph after midnight. Chance of measurable rain 90 percent. High Wind Warning in effect until midnight MST tonight... Flash Flood Watch in effect through Friday afternoon... Tornado Watch 8 in effect until 10 PM MST this evening... "
I'm not going to give you the common "How prepared are you..." speech but rather something else. I'm also not going to focus on things such as riding on a windy day, or desensitizing a horse towards those "life threatening plastic bags" that whip past on windy days. I'm also not going to talk about evacuation preparedness for your four legged friends.
The point of this entry is to encourage you to be prepared by helping your horse ahead of time. As someone once told me "Expect the unexpected." You never know what you might face with your horse, but why "wait and see" how the both of you will handle an unforeseen event?
What I am going to address is how to get from POINT A (where your horse currently is) to POINT C (where he needs to end up) in an emergency situation while experiencing the least amount of stress possible (for BOTH of you.)

You may be asking why I called my second point "C." This is because there is also a POINT B that too often is forgotten about or not addressed with enough priority because typically during times of stress, panic, worry, fear, chaos, bad weather, and traumatic situations all too often people's and horse's brains check out. This of course is the WORST possible time for this to happen.
Point B that I've mentioned could be various situations. It might be the actual loading into a horse trailer to evacuate a property. Or it may be needing your horse to cross (while you lead him) the ditch/stream/river to get to higher or safer ground. It could be needing to have your horse ponied, roped, hobbled, tied or herded somewhere for his own safety. Or how about when you get that flat on your horse trailer or have engine problems and need to unload your horse on the side of a busy road. It could also be having SOMEONE ELSE having to handle your horse (they may not interact with him the way "mom" does) but he will still need to be participative.
You'll find if you've read any of my past blogs or if you've visited my website one of my main focuses is working on creating a horse's mental availability. So how does a horse's mental availability have anything to do with bad weather or an emergency situation?
I have found a horse's physical actions are a reflection of his mental and emotional status. If he is feeling confident and relaxed on the inside, he'll be physically cooperative and happily participative on the outside. I wrote a recent post about not being "hopeful." You might take a moment to review it. Being challenged by a stressful situation and still having to "get the job done" with your horse is NOT THE TIME to start neither “training him” nor when you want to be "hopeful" in how you interact with him.
The point of this blog is to stimulate YOUR thinking about "POINT B." I'm not going to explain literally "how to" prepare for point B. There is no way we can ever expose our horse to ALL the situations he might experience in life. Instead if AHEAD of time (who knows when the unexpected event will occur) you have built a trusting partnership based on clear communication with your horse he will be mentally prepared and available under any circumstance presented to be helpful and REASONABLE. This will eliminate unnecessary stress for the both of you.
Your goal should be to encourage our horse to "TRY" to think about what it is that you are asking of him (even if he's never experienced the scenario before.) On the calm quiet days you will need to take the time and put in the effort to build a solid foundation with our horse by teaching him to mentally address and focus on whatever you may present.
By preparing ahead of time and without the stress of a "crazy" situation you will have established the tools in communication necessary to SUPPORT (not physically manhandle or force) your horse to explore his options and then participate in a reasonable manner during a stressful situation. Your end goal is for him to be mentally available to search for the "right" answer no matter the situation, circumstance or stress level without him having a complete mental break down.

Keep Warm! Sam

Today's Chuckle...Cliches of the Equine World

Some of you may have seen this before and others may not have... I have EXPERIENCED most of the following scenarios, whether it was a competitor, trainer or student... I hope you can chuckle at the cliches used to describe the riders of each discipline. When people ask me "What TYPE of training do you do?" or "What's your method?" I find many are frusterated because they can't easily catagorize what I offer into one grouping. It's the same for my clinics; in one clinic we may have as participants an unstarted horse, a Dressage schoolmaster, a trail horse, a green broke horse and a "bomb proof" one. People are astonished that they can all LEARN from one another no matter their experience, background, discipline, etc. The following has been reprinted with the persmission of the it's original author. Enjoy! Sam

Usually found wearing shorts and a sports bra in the summer; flannel nightgown, muck boots, and down jacket in the winter. Drives a Ford 150 filled with saddle blankets and dog hair. Most have deformed toes from being stepped on while wearing flip-flops. Has a two-horse bumper-pull trailer, but uses it for hay storage, as her horse hasn't been off the farm in 6 years. Can install an electric fence, set a gate, and roll a round bale, solo. Rode well and often when she used to board her horse, 5 years ago. Took horse home to "save money" and has spent about 50 grand on acreage, barn, fence, tractor, etc. Has two topics of conversation - 1) How it's too hot/cold/wet/ dry to ride. And 2) how she may ride after she fixes the fence/digs drainage ditches/stacks 4 tons of hay.

Looks like a throwback from a Texas ranch, despite the fact that he lives in the suburbs of New Jersey. Rope coiled loosely in hand in case he needs to herd any of those kids on roller-blades away from his F-350 dually in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Cowboy hat strategically placed, and just dirty enough to look cool. Levi's are well worn. "Lightning" is, of course, this natural horsemanship guy's horse. Rescued from a bad home where he was never imprinted or broke in the natural horsemanship way, he specialized in running down his owners at feeding time, knocking children off his back on low-hanging branches, and baring his teeth. The hospitalization tally for his previous handlers was 12, until he was sent to Round Pen Randy; after ten minutes in said pen, he is now a totally broke horse, bowing to the crowd, and can put on his own splint boots (With R.P. Randy's trademark logo embossed on them) R.P.R. says, of all this, "Well, shucks ma'am, tweren't nuthin'! It's simple horsemanship. With this special twirly flickitatin' rope ($47.95 plus tax), you'll be round-pennin' like me in no time!"

Wears Lycra tights in wild neon colors. The shinier the better, so the EMTs can find her body when her horse dumps her down a ravine. Wears hiking shoes of some sort, and T-shirts she got for paying $75 to complete another torturous ride. Her horse, Al Kamar Shazam, used to be called "you bastard" until he found an owner almost as hyper as he is. Shazam can spook at a blowing leaf, spin a 360, and not lose his big trot rhythm or give an inch to the horse behind him. Has learned to eat, drink, pee, and drop to his resting pulse rate on command. He has compiled 3,450 AERC miles; his rider compiled 3,445 (the missing five miles are the ones when he raced down the trail without his rider after performing his trademark 360.. Over-heard frequently: "Anyone have Advil?" "Anyone got some food? I think last year's Twinkies went bad." "For this pain I spend money?" "Shazam, you bastard-it's just a leaf" [thud]!

Is slightly anorexic and trying her best to achieve the conformation of a 17-year-old male in case she ever has a clinic with George Morris. Field marks include greeny-beige breeches and a baseball cap when schooling or mud-colored coat and hardhat with dangling chinstrap when competing. Forks over about a grand a month to trainer for the privilege of letting him/her "tune" up the horse, which consists of drilling the beast until its going to put in five strides on a 60 foot line no matter WHAT she does. Sold the Thoroughbred (and a collection of lunging equipment, chambons, side reins) and bought a Warmblood. (Bought a ladder and a LONG set of spurs.) Talks a lot about the horse's success in Florida without exactly letting on that she herself has never been south of the Pennsylvania line.

Has her hair in an elegant ponytail and is wearing a visor and gold earrings sporting a breed logo. A $100 dollar custom jumper (also with breed logo) is worn over $300 dollar full-seat white breeches and custom Koenigs. Her horse, "Leistergeidelsprun dheim" ("Fleistergeidel" for short) is a 17.3-hand warmblood who was bred to be a Grand Prix horse. The Germans are still laughing hysterically, as he was bred to be a Grand Prix JUMPER, but since he couldn't get out of his own way, they sold him to an American. His rider fell in love with his lofty gaits, proud carriage, and tremendous athleticism. She admires mostly while lunging. She lunges him a lot, because she is not actually too keen to get up there and try to SIT that trot. When she rides, it's not for long, because (while he looks FINE to everyone else), she can tell that he is not as "through" and "supple" as he should be, and gets off to call the chiropractor/ massage therapist/psychic, all of which is expensive, but he WILL be shown, and shown right after he perfects (fill in the blank). The blank changes often enough that the rider can avoid the stress of being beaten at Training 1 by a Quarter Horse.

Is bent over from carrying three saddles, three bridles, three bits, and three unrelated sets of clothing (four, if she is going to have to do a trot up at a 3-Day). The hunched defensive posture is reinforced by the anticipation of "a long one" a ditch and a wall, and from living in her back protector. Perpetually broke because she pays THREE coaches ( a Dressage Queen, a jumper rider, and her eventing guru, none of whom approve of the other) and pays trailers/stabling/ living expenses to go 600 miles to events that are spread out over 5 days. She is smugly convinced that Eventers are in fact the only people in the world who CAN ride (since Dressage Queen's don't jump, the H/J crowd is to afraid to go OUT of a ring, and the fox hunters - a related breed - don't have to deal with dressage judges). Hat cover on cross-country helmet is secured with a giant rubber band, so she can look like her idol, Phillip. Her horse, (who has previously been rejected as a race horse, a steeplechase horse -- got ruled off for jumping into the in field tailgating the crowd -- a jumper, a fox hunter, and a polo pony (no bit stops this thing) has two speeds: gallop and "no gallop" (also known as stop 'n' dump). Excels at over jumping into water, doing a head first "tuck and roll" maneuver and her horse exiting the complex (catch me if you can!) before his rider slogs out of the pond. Often stops to lick the Crisco off his legs before continuing gaily on to the merciless oxer jump just ahead. Owner often threatens to sell, but as he has flunked out of every other English-riding discipline, it will have to be to a barrel racer.


Whether you are a trail rider, a weekly "lesson" participant, or a die-hard clinic auditor/participant you can get MORE out of your time, effort, and money spent by keeping a riding journal.
Now, hold on and don't sigh yet... I'm not recommending a "write everything that was said or learned" journal. Instead think of it more as something to highlight 3 focus points from your session.
Staying Neutral
Don't focus on the big or obvious things and don't write your opinion such as "I like that my horse..." Write your entries from a neutral perspective rather than an emotional one and jot just several focus points that you worked on with your horse. The sooner you can make your entry after your ride the more accurate it will be. "Life" can happen and even just a day or two later you'll forget a lot of what you had noticed during your last session with your horse.
What to write about
You may want to include: what, when and how you asked something of your horse. Then observe the level of his participation mentally, emotionally and physically to your communication. You'll find his physical participation will be a reflection of his mental end emotional availability towards you.
Why keep the journal?
Many times we think we "know" our horses, but all too often the little details escape us. Once you start to make it a point to raise your level of awareness when working with your horse, you'll find that you'll also start to "learn" a lot more about both yourself and your four legged partner.
Examples journal entries:

• How long into a session when working your horse either from the ground or when riding does it take for him to sigh, like his lips or blow his nose?

• Is he "patternized" and require a "routine warm up" or is he mentally available to address whatever you offer whenever you might present it?

• Does he "always" respond in the same manner when you ask a specific task of him?

• Evaluate yourself when you present one specific task for your horse. What did you learn about you? How, when, and why did you do what you did? What are other wise you might be able to communicate the same desired result using different aids?

Keep in mind
Health Wise- if you notice odd physical behavior (coughing, runny nose/eyes, soft stool, etc.) make a note of it. A lot of times it can help prevent or diagnose an on-coming health issue. Keep track of worming, vaccinations, shoeing, etc. and notice if there's a correspondence to a change in your horse's health.
Lameness- if you start to notice your horse becoming sore after a certain type of workout you might be able to "break down" what is causing this and prevent any long term damage.
Learning from YOU
Learn from the past- REVIEW past entries in your journal once month. You'll be amazed at how fast your level of awareness and sensitivity increases once you make a point of noticing the small details. You'll also be amazed at how much you "thought you knew" but then had forgotten as you advanced on. It's always a good idea to go back and review the basics no matter what level rider or horse you have.
Enjoy! Sam

Being HOPEFUL: The missing link in communication

Hopefulness. Waiting and Seeing. Reactive Riding. Taking the "try" and willingness out of your horse.
What do all of the above have in common? They are a domino effect that occurs in the riding world far too often. Let me explain.
Each of the following three scenarios is acts of "Hopefulness" by riders:
Have you ever experienced or witnessed someone riding down the trail and seen something "scary" before your horse did? What did you do? A common response is the rider will hold their breath as their horse gets closer to the scary item, sitting very still in the saddle, and perhaps asking their horse to look the opposite way from the item as they "snuck by." Then they waited, and were silently hoping their horse didn't have a melt down as they passed by. Afterwards they let out a "sigh of relief" that nothing dramatic had happened.
Or how about the horse who was inconsistent about his willingness to load in the trailer. After he was caught as he was walked to the trailer the handler is chanting in hushed tones under their breath a message of hope "that today the horse would load willingly and not have it turn into the 5 hour fiasco like it had last time."
What about as you watched (or experienced) someone approaching a jump, half way through their barrel pattern or was building a loop while waiting in the box, what was going through your head (or what appeared theirs based on their facial expression) before the horse was asked to perform? And then what was the reaction from the rider AFTER the round? "I wasn't sure what he was gonna do..." "Whew, glad that's over with..." "Well THAT was a little scary..." "I hope that doesn't happen again..."
Many equine enthusiasts talk about communication between horses and their owners. This in itself is a whole other topic for another entry. What I want to mention is what about the LACK of communication between the rider/handler and the horse. All too often I see horses that have been deemed a "bad" or "ill behaved" horse. When I actually watch the interaction between the rider/handler and the horse often I find myself staring at a horse with a totally blank expression or confused look on his face due to "silence" from his rider/handler.
Then when the horse starts showing signs of worry, concern, stress, or other dramatic behavior, because he doesn't know what is gong on, he is punished or reprimanded for it. Instead the rider/handler ought to be having a CONVERSATION with the horse. The horse needs to be told AHEAD of time what is going to be asked of him. All too often the person winds up being "hopeful" and then after the horse offers a physical action does the person address him. By now, it's too late. The rider is REACTING after the event. This is what I call REACTIVE RIDING.
When people sit down in that saddle their brain tends to focus solely on themself. Instead if they treated their horse like they were "on the same team" and told the horse what the PLAN was ahead of time, the horse would have a better chance of offering the desired response to the handler or rider. BUT in order to have a plan, one must be THINKING (again, another blog topic) AHEAD of time of what, how and when they will ask something of the horse.
People tend to HOPE their horse will figure out what is going to be asked of them without ever offering any physical, spatial or verbal communication. Then when the horse doesn't respond as the handler/rider had wanted, the horse is reprimanded but never shown what the desired response had been. So the horse continues to stumble mentally and emotional, therefore physically, due to his continual existence in the "gray" area when interacting with a human. Eventually the feeling that he "just can't get it right" overwhelms him and he mentally checks out. Once he's mentally gone, there's no chance he'll physically comply.
When a horse reaches this point, people term them as being "naughty," lazy," "disrespectful, 'bad," etc., when in fact this is not the case at all. After trying all of his "options" if there is no communication from the handler/rider, the horse eventually gives up trying to figure out what it is that the person is asking of them. This is how people take the "try" and CURIOSITY (again, another blog topic) out of their horse.
In summary, by being HOPEFUL you will end up WAITING AND SEEING how your horse is going to respond in the future. This means you are now RIDING REACTIVLY which causes your horse to be operating in the "gray" area which will eventually TAKE THE TRY out of him and cause much stress to both of you.
So the next time you head out to visit with your four legged friend, please keep this in mind:

Until Next Time...Sam

Patternized Behavior... Thought for the day

Have you ever been in the shower thinking about stuff you'll need to get done that day and suddenly stopped and asked yourself, "Did I already put conditioner in my hair?" I know it sounds silly but I bet a lot of you have. This is what I call Patternized Behavior which I define as after having done a specific task numerous times it starts to become part of your "routine" where you no longer have to think in detail or focus completely in order to get the task done.
So how does this term Patternized Behavior apply to horses and their owners? I find most horses that are mentally unavailable are resistant to change. That means they "know what they know" and will be what I categorize as tolerant or obedient to what is asked of them. That is, until you ask them something different from the "norm." Then they come completely unglued mentally, emotionally and physically. Kinda like when the babysitter tries to do something with your kids and the kids respond "that's not how my mom does it."
The topic for this blog came to me this morning as I went to feed. While at my winter location we have stalls where we overnight the horses in, then usually around 11am we turn them out into the pasture for six or seven hours of grazing. This morning because of my schedule, I decided to turn them out in the morning and bring them in the afternoon. I like to do things as "simple" as possible, so when I turn horses out I swing open their gate and they know to go and look for the opening in the hotwire.
So this morning I opened each of their stall gates and all five horses (except one) stood with an absolute blank look on their face. Total shock had overwhelmed them that they were not being fed breakfast. I shooed them out towards the pasture where they reluctantly trotted off to. Then they promptly turned around and stood at the pasture gate with a look on their face saying "This is NOT how we do it."
People and horses can get VERY comfortable with routine and patterns. They catch their horse the same way, tack up at the same time of day in the same spot, mount from the same side, start their warm up in the same direction, ride for the same length of time, etc. So the horses start to learn what to "expect" from their riders and figure out how to "comply" within the demands of their rider. This seems like a quality relationship until the day the rider comes up with something new. Then "ALL OF A SUDDEN" (one of the terms I dislike most when people attempt to explain a negative occurrence with their horse) their horse does something "he's never done before..."
Hmmmm. Most "issues" are not the issue at all; in fact they are the SYMPTOM of an issue, not the issue itself. So how do we know what the real issue is? Well this is where we need to assess if both our horses and ourselves are suffering from patternized routines or behaviors. The next time you're with your horse try an experiment. Take a few minutes and interact with him in a way that you have not done before. Below are some ideas:
Catch him, let him go and catch him again.

Carry your tack to a different place than the norm and tack him up in his stall, pasture, at a trailer, etc.

Mount him from the "off" side.

Mount him then dismount immediately and start picking rocks out of the arena.
While you are offering this new way of presenting things to your horse you should be assessing his mental availability and be asking yourself some of these questions:
Does he appear to get stressed (swishing his tail, pawing, chewing on the lead rope or fence, excessive movement as you work around him, etc.)?

Does he get a blank (literally) look on his face trying to figure out what you are doing?

Does he try to resort to "the old way" when you are asking him to do something new or different?

Does his breathing rate increase?

Does he become physically resistant to where you are asking him to move?
Now both your fellow riders and your horse may think you've gone off the deep end when they see you doing these "silly" little things with your horse, but by doing so you'll be able to evaluate how much MENTAL availability your horse has towards what ask or present something, new or different. If he appears to respond by "shutting down" you may need to go back to the basics and review what tools you are using to communicate with your horse, how and when you use them, how effective they are in offering "black and white" communication and increasing your standard as to what behaviors your horse offers that are acceptable and those that are not...
Your goal is for your horse to offer in any situation, whether he has experienced it before or not, "How can I make this work?" If you horse is mentally availability he will be physically willing to do what you are asking.
Stay tuned!  Sam

Samantha Harvey & Rick Lamb Interview

This is an interview about Sam's equine background and how she got to where she is at today!

Ask the Horse Trainer: Desensitizing My Horse TO A Plastic Bag

My question is regarding my daughter's Quarter horse gelding and plastic. We can dress him in it, rub him down, throw it over him, etc... without care. We have been doing this for over a year. But each new day is like the movie Ground Hogs Day. He will go over after a couple minutes, but the next day he acts as if he has never seen it before. This does not work in the show ring.

I have tried taking him to different arenas and areas all over the farm. It always starts out the same way as absolute shock and fear. Can you suggest something else? I know he could do very well in trail classes. He will do all objects now except this one and if it's at the beginning of the class the class is blown. I would love to hear your advice. Thank you,  Very Frustrated Trail Horse Mom.

Thank you for writing. The behavior you describe in your horse is quite common and I will attempt to offer you some thoughts on why your horse is doing what he is. Because I am unable to see you work with him I will try to explain the "whole" picture and not just addressing his particular issue.

Horses are incredibly adaptable creatures. Take a horse that has never seen a cow, leave him in a pen next to the cows overnight, and the next morning he and the cows will be standing side by side. But if you take that same horse, after that same night, and ask him to move the cows around, the horse might become rather insecure, worried, or panicked. So as long as you allow the horse on his terms to address the cows he did, but when you asked something specific, his brain was unavailable to "hear" what you were offering, and so his reaction was worry.

Most people are satisfied if their horse tolerates what the person is offering, but many never "ask" or "hear" how the horse feels about it.

We recognize when our horses are having problems, but rarely do we do anything to influence changing how our horse "feels" about what is being asked of them.

Take the infamous tarp- leave it in one spot, take the worried horse and walk him past the tarp numerous times until he "tolerates" the tarp.

But what happens if you then move that same tarp 20 feet down the path?

You feel like you are starting all over. Why? Because you only asked your horse initially to "deal with" the tarp in one particular spot, and as long as he "survived" getting past it, you left him alone. Instead, why not ask him to change how he feels about the tarp. If he feels better or more secure or confident about the tarp, then it will not matter where you place it nor when, where, or how you ask him to address it. So, how would I do to help my horse accomplish this?

First when we come near the tarp and he starts or as SOON as he shows signs of distress, I would ask him to stop and address the tarp.

Horses' natural defense mechanism and instinct are to flee when they are worried. So let's have him actually stop and look at the tarp. (You will be amazed at how many horses are worried about something but never look [literally] at what is bothering them.) Then depending on your background with groundwork, you would ask your horse to address the tarp without being "led" you could either do this loose working him at liberty in a round pen (which I prefer) or with a lead rope (but not using it in a "dragging" manner.)

What you would like to assess is if you can direct his brain, (as opposed to his movement,) to focus on the tarp. When he "tunes in" to the tarp, his curiosity will get the best of him and he will probably display the "suddenly" overconfident (and lean in towards it) and then the "suddenly" insecure (wanting to turn and bolt away) behavior. Your goal is to build his confidence the more he addresses his fear. The more reasonable and "try" that he offers, the more you want to make him feel like he had done a great job. The best reward for horses that I have found is to give them a moment to just stand, relax and take it all in. Then they usually take a deep breath and let all of their feelings of the stress out in a calm and quiet manner. They can learn that this is a better way to "diffuse" any worry, panic, or fear, rather than resorting to their natural "brainless" reaction of running.

As you work with your horse and the tarp you will imagine that you can slow downtime, so that nothing "suddenly" occurs. You will be watching for signs from his body that will tell you how he is feeling and what he is thinking.

Where are his ears? (They are indicators as to his thoughts towards the right and left.)

Where are his eyes? (Keep in mind each eye sees independently of one another and we want both eyes focused.)

How are his stance and weight distributed? (Is he standing square or with all four feet heading in four different directions in case he needed to "bolt"?)

How is the tension in his topline? (Is his neck and back shortened like an accordion?)

How are his lips? (Are they pinched and tight, moving like he is mumbling, or relaxed?)

How are his eyes? (Are there worry lines that look like "peaks" on the lid of the eye?)

How is his tail? (Tight, held at an angle, clamped to his hindquarters, or relaxed?)

How is his breathing? (Does he sound consistent, heavy, and tight in his stomach?)

Even if you think it may only be a "slight" concern, I would stop and continue to present my horse focusing on the tarp. You will feel like when you start he is going to consider EVERYTHING but the tarp.

Eventually, you will help him narrow down his options until the only thing he focuses on is the tarp. (This is where you will hear a huge sigh of relief from the horse. Many times they need us to "help" them find the right answer, not challenge them to it.)

Horses can be incredible at the lengths they will go to try and make something "work." The problem is people get greedy, the more a horse offers, the more the people want from the horse. This starts to create anticipation where the horse associates that if he "gives" or "tries" what the person wants, instead of feeling better about his effort, only more will be demanded of him.

But if he recognizes that the person's level of awareness and sensitivity towards his feelings is raised and that there is now a two-way communication occurring, his respect, trust, and level of try will increase. The more a horse's brain thinks about something and commits to it, the more relaxed his body will be when he actually physically accomplishes or addresses the task at hand.

This manner of working WITH the horse can be applied to any situation once it is clearly established that he needs to mentally try before he physically moves. Everything else will start to "fall into place".

This is when more complex or difficult tasks can be asked of the horse.

There should be no difference in our goal or asking a horse to step into a tire, trailer, water, over a bridge, stand on a bag, chase a cow, jump a fence, or ground tie. If his brain is available to consider and try what you are asking, he will accomplish the task at hand.

My goal in working with a horse is for the long term, rather than instant gratification, so that no matter what, at any time, anywhere, my horse's attitude towards me is "What would you like?" This will make both of us feel confident in our relationship AND avoid the all too common "surviving the ride" syndrome.

Ask the Trainer: Bad Attitude at Feeding Time


My 3 year old gelding has developed a habit of dipping his neck down, then shaking his head at me at feeding time. He didn't do this over summer, of the two youngsters he was the most respectful. I assume his attitude says he is more important than I am, and wonder how to correct him. He is second to the mare in herd status, she is just 4 but very dominant over him, but accepts me as lead mare. Why has my lovely Chinook taken such a turn? Had him since he was a baby, and the only difference is, its Alaska and its winter so I don't spend as much time with them.

Samantha Harvey & TEC Answer:
Thanks for writing. There could always be a million reasons why a horse "suddenly" starts to behave in a certain manner. I would guess he did not start this over night, but perhaps he did more subtle mannerisms that you may have not noticed. As for his attitude towards you, take a look at another Ask the Trainer article I have posted about young horse behavior. Trust

Instead of being distracted by his head tossing (which is a symptom and not the issue itself) you may have to investigate and "break down" the big picture to understand why your horse is doing what he is. Head tossing is typically a mixed sign of frustration and a bit of a challenge. The challenge masks the insecurity he is feeling (if he is more offensive rather than defensive he may be able to protect himself better.)

If he is second man on the totem pole, perhaps he sees you as lower than he, and takes out any frustration he is feeling towards the lead mare on you. If there is any worry as to accessibility to feed he may be impatient at feeding time to get as much as he can before he gets run off by the lead mare. You may ask yourself a few simple questions- any change in diet, feeding times, feeding locations, herd setup (pasture vs. stall) that may be attributing to the change in his behavior.

Many people work with their horses in a challenging manner, "Let's see if they can get this right or tolerate this." Rather than with a "Let me see how I can HELP my horse get this right," type of attitude. The time to address his head shaking, worry and/or anxiety is not when he is feeling it at it's peak (currently at feeding time,) rather to start to communicate and interact with him during a less stressful time. If you have access to a round pen or small and safe area to work with him at liberty (because a lot of times horses "keep in" bad feelings when they are on a line as this is what they have been taught to do.)

When he is loose in the pen does he acknowledge you, seek your help for leadership, look for guidance, show the same aggressive or frustrated signs towards you as at feeding time, etc.? You will need to find a mental availability (do not get distracted by what he is physically doing- this is only a reflection of what he is feeling on the inside) for him to learn to ask you for help when he is having a problem (even if it is during feeding time.) The more he trusts and has confidence in you, the more his aggressive behavior will dissipate. Horses act aggressively because they are feeling BAD on the inside, not because they enjoy acting out towards people.
While at liberty we do not just want your horse physically near you, rather we would like him to feel relaxed (in posture, stance, breathing, thoughts, etc.) and have "warm and fuzzy" feelings in being "with" you mentally rather than physically "tolerating" your presence. There are many ways you can play with him in the pen and you may need to seek the guidance of local trainer who prioritizes working with the horse's brain rather than his movements. Many times when working at liberty people get distracted by setting their sights on having their horse accomplish a specific task, rather than remaining clear and focused on HOW the horse feels when addressing a task. If he is having a problem, the task is no longer important, rather changing how he feels about what he is being asked to do is. If he can start to see you addressing his feelings and worries, he will start to trust you and change how he outwardly is acting towards you and the other horses.
He is also young and just as with people, he is exploring the boundaries of what works and what does not both in how he addresses horses and people. He needs to understand that just because you like or care for you horse, does not mean that he gets to delegate how the two of you interact with one another.

Feedback from Horse Owner
I had written to your website regarding my young Chinook and his aggressive behavior. Made some changes in feeding arrangements, and in less than a week, he was no longer challenging me. Until I can permanently separate him from the mare, in spring, he now eats shut in his stall, where she cannot get at him or his feed. I use that time to groom him, handle his feet etc. and he is his old sweet self again. Such a simple solution, and it worked wonders.

Ask the Horse Trainer: Aggressive Horse Round pen resistance

Ask the Horse Trainer: Aggressive Horse Round pen resistance
I have a 3 y/o quarter horse who does not work well in the round pen. When you put her in the round pen and ask her to move she doesn't. All the articles I have read talk about working the horse in both directions and I have had a trainer come to my house and show me how with my other horse. However, what do you do when the horse will not run the pen so you can establish dominance over that horse? She paws the ground and challenges the fence. If you put pressure on her rear to move she bucks and kicks. A time or two she has charged me and ran me out of the pen. This is the same horse that is the first to meet you at the fence when I walk up. She is not timid or shy but she seems scared of the round pen. You can halter this horse without any problem and lead this horse but with some resistance when leading at times, but overall she is a sweet horse until you try to work her in the round pen. She is very buddy-sour but so is my older horse but she does well once she gets her attention on me in the round pen and off the other horses. I have been kicked once and I do not want to be hurt trying to train my horse. Her kicks are incredibly powerful, much more powerful than my older horse. How can I safely approach this problem with her and not be trampled or kicked in the process?

Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey

In the Beginning…
I began riding with a focus on jumpers but quickly turned towards Three Day Eventing after a few cross-country rides. I loved the adrenaline rush of galloping up over hills, down through streams, and then out over huge fences! I left home at a young age to focus on training and competing: my riding brought me throughout the US and finally to England.
My Experiences…
Although my main focus was Three Day, I wanted to expand my field of knowledge and experience many different aspects of riding. I worked in Jumper and Dressage barns, schooling, conditioning, and training horses. I attended jockey school, and get to know the ins and outs of several race tracks.
I worked with international caliber competitors, trainers, and coaches with varied backgrounds throughout the US, and was able to experience all aspects of Three Day. I saw what it was like from a competitor’s standpoint, from the trainer’s standpoint, and from the Olympian’s standpoint. I found that the more I saw, the more frustrated I was with the lack of concern for the basics including both their horse and their own mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
I began to see a common trend with the intensity of focus lacking any original motivation of why they were riding and competing. The stresses, pressures, expectations, politics, and finances clouded their enjoyment and quality of the relationship with their equine mount.
I found myself disappointed and lacking motivation to continue towards the initial goal I had been working towards. So I left the sport.

Even though I was not riding, I continued to stay in touch with friends from the equine world. My interest was slowly rekindled when I went as a spectator to an event in Kalispell, MT. I saw people who were riding for the pure enjoyment of the sport. This encouraged me to once again become involved with the sport. I was reacquainted with United States Pony Club, but this time as a trainer and District Commissioner, and I began to teach and ride again.
I also was reunited with a horseman who helped me re-evaluate the underlying basic thought and interaction with the horses.
Refining my own level of awareness, assessment, sensitivity, and timing has allowed me to find within myself and to also offer to others the tools and aids to clearly communicate with their horse to build a quality partnership whose foundation is built on respect and trust.
I now travel throughout the United States clinicing, training, and teaching. In July 2003 my business partner and I opened The Equestrian Center, LLC, in beautiful in Sandpoint, Idaho located in the panhandle of the state.
Present Day…
By now my experience has allowed me to step back and “see” more of the whole picture; I use a mixture of ideas and theories that have helped me define my own training and teaching style for both horses and students. My goal of achieving respect and communicating with horses before I get on them is a very important part of the actual ride. From watching, clinicing, and auditing with “horse whisperers” it soon became very clear that winning over a horse’s mind and becoming his friend on the ground would greatly improve the quality of my ride. I encourage riders of all experiences and disciplines to enjoy this blog!
To find out more visit my website at HERE