From the Trainer’s Perspective: Feedback after session working with an insecure horse

I know many students wonder “what it is like” when I work with a horse; this week I had a nine year old mustang that I worked with a few times and thought it would be a good example to share with you of an “alternative” perspective, my thought process, things that I asked of the horse and evaluation. 


Most people I find are surprised that I do way less than the “normal” hour of cardiac inducing workout (for both horse and rider) when working with a horse.  For me, the horse’s brain is the priority.  The horse in this case was brought in from the wild a few years back, had been a stud until late in life (had a history of trying to dominate the mares) , and had a lot of excessive “movement”- pacing, weaving, etc. when tied, in his stall, waiting for feed due to his insecurity and worry. 

When his current owner got him he was uncatchable- even in a small stall.  He has issues with the farrier, other horses (if mares are in season), etc.  No aggressive behavior towards people at all- but a LOT of excessive movement- constantly.

His current owner brought him here to the property when I re-opened it in the fall, and has been a bit shocked at the change in her horse’s personality in the past two months; just from the “energy” of a mellow facility, horses that get turned out with a laid back herd (including mares) most of the day, large stalls (single bar 24x40), and grass hay.  I actually saw him lay down and enjoy the morning sun for the first time a week ago.

The following is my feedback to the owner as she was unable to watch the last two sessions I worked with her horse… Enjoy!

On Sunday even though we had sheep move past the property in the morning (which got him a bit concerned) he seemed more focused and participative.  He was more relaxed about being saddled at the trailer, though we had to work on standing balanced- as oppose to all four legs in four different directions.  I reviewed with him in the halter on looking to his left and right without moving the rest of his body or creating a brace, being able to “relax” into quietly moving forward, sideways or backwards from light pressure directing him through use of the lead rope.  I ask him to focus on looking “around” his circle as he walked it- as oppose to careening his neck and head towards the outside of the circle.  We focused on his transitions from walk to trot on the lead rope without dramatic movement (falling in on the circle with his shoulders or leaking out of the circle with his hindquarters.)  Being able to “think forward” when I bumped the stirrup at his sides (similar to where my lower leg would be if I were sitting on him.)  Then I worked him loose.  He seemed a bit patternized and his brain was all of the place, so we worked on slowing down his gaits and getting his brain to think about what his body was doing.  My saddle has leather ties at the rear and they gently smack him on the rump as he moves- he was a bit shocked at the “goosing” he was getting.  He really wanted to think everywhere BUT where he was moving, or he just wanted to stop and come in to the center of the pen.  So we worked with me increasing and decreasing my energy until he was able to offer a fluid walk, trot, and canter with quiet upward and downward transitions.  He breathed, blew, relaxed, etc. so we called it a day.  Untacking I dangled the lead rope on my arm, as oppose to tying him, and he was really relaxed and just stood nicely by the door of the trailer.  I also noticed that night bringing him in from the pasture, he really wanted to “address me” instead of just trying to sneak into his stall.

Today even though he was turned out with all the other horses he came at a brisk walk over to be caught and dove his head into the halter.  Again we focused on “thinking” while being tacked and not just swinging his body brainlessly around.  We reviewed his “lightness” on the lead rope and then I turned him loose.  Transitions were better, so we worked longer staying within a gait (he was distracted by the fruit pickers in the orange groves next door and wanted to resort to “fleeing” mode if he stayed within a gait too long).  He couldn’t fathom that he couldn’t just creep in on me, stop, or reverse directions at his own whim.  Then he started to realize I was “going with him” with my energy and movement in the pen and started to relax.  Still a bit bothered by the leather straps flapping, but way better.  So I got up on the mounting block and he sidled right up so that I was in line with the saddle, but if I waited longer than 20 seconds, he had to move.  So we played with me “hanging out” on the block; touching him (really bothered by my hands running along his neck, touching towards his ears, lifting my hand above the saddle horn,) and then just standing, then leaning on him along his shoulder/saddle/rump, and  finally just standing, etc.  He couldn’t believe I wasn’t just going to get on.  He breathed.  Then breathed some more.  Then he finally relaxed.  Then finally let down and stretched his neck out, cocked a foot and chilled out.  Then we ended the session.  At the end I untacked him again, while he wasn’t tied, and let him loose to graze on the parking side of the property and he just stood there staring at me not really wanted to leave for the grass!

So the goal should be about first slowing his brain down, then engaging it so that his movement can slow and have some thought as oppose to his natural “reacting” all the time.  The nice part is he can very quickly let go of his worry, concern and fear.  BUT he needs to be clear on the standard asked of him; otherwise he checks out mentally and then physically starts getting busy.

Riding without a Saddle-Not just a brainless session

The temperatures have definitely dropped here in the Southwest and our version of winter hit; we even had ice in the water buckets over the past few mornings…

On one recent chilly day, after doing morning chores I didn’t have much time so I decided to hop on Pico with just the hackamore and ride him bareback.  I know many riders who began riding as children used to tear bareback around the field clinging to their horse or pony with sheer joy.  Later, as the ground seemed farther and harder and they had less “bounce” in them, riders rarely seem to ride without their saddles. 

I find though hopping on once in a while sans saddle can actually improve the quality of your feel, timing and understanding biomechanically of how and when your horse is moving underneath you.  Many times a rider’s tack can actually interfere with the sensitivity of the rider, along with how, when the accuracy with which they use their aids.

One of the basic exercises I ask of my students is to first learn when each hoof leaves and touches the ground at a slow walk; then you would start to get comfortable with doing the same exercise at the trot and canter/lope.  You’d be surprised at how many people have ridden for years without ever thinking about or feeling the timing of their horse’s hoof pattern.  Sometimes riders are so focused on trying to feel, it just mentally messes them up and they stop feeling anything.  So, a great time to practice at the walk “feeling” your horse’s movement is by riding bareback.

Many times lateral movements are ridden without accuracy due to several factors.  First most riders ask a movement without clearly being able to imagine where they would like to place each of the horse’s four feet in order to perform the movement accurately.  Next, the rider does not use or know how to use their body to effectively and correctly ask the horse to move a specific body part, or interfere if the horse offers an unwanted movement. 

Again, by riding at a slow walk bareback a rider can actually “play” with first sitting correctly; you’ll feel if your seat bones are “plugged in” evenly or not.  If not, you’ll continually feel like you are slipping towards the side of the horse that you are sitting “heavier” on.  The side you are more coordinated on you are more likely to slip towards, so if you’re right handed you will consistently slip to your right.

Next you can thinking about your lower leg and how you use it.  Do you find yourself “gripping” with your calf? (Is your horse constantly speeding up? If so, you’re probably trying to hold with your lower leg (from the inside of your knee to the inside of your heel.)  Instead, imagine looking at a bow legged cowboy head on; you want your leg to simulate that look. 

Take your toes and turn them towards your horse’s nose and imagine drawing your heels away from your horse’s rib cage, this way your upper leg (from the inside of your groin to the inside of your knee) will lie flat against your horse and will help reinforce your balance that began with your seat bones.

Now practice being able to apply your lower leg in multiple areas along your horse’s ribcage in order to influence his shoulder, ribs, and hindquarters.  Keep mind as you apply one leg for your horse to yield away from, your opposite leg will need to be able to move “out of the way” of whatever body part you are asking your horse to move.  At the same time that same leg that moved out of the way, will have to create an imaginary “wall” so that your horse doesn’t accidentally allow another body part to “drift” along with the one you were originally asking to move.

This brings up another topic to mention; being able to move their horse’s head, neck, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters, independently of one another.  Too many times riders have way too much motion, without accuracy.  As you ride around bareback, have your goal be literally slow, baby steps of quality.

Play with picking a specific spot in the dirt (or snow) and being able to quietly ask your horse to move a specific body part to that spot.  This should be able to be accomplished in a calm, quiet and great way to help your horse slow down his brain and think about what you are asking before he physically moves.  It also gives you the rider, a clear intention.  This in turn allows you to truly feel your horse shifting his weight or energy in response to your aid in “real time.”   By being able to really feel what your horse is offering, you can then assess what and how you are asking for a movement and then perhaps change (literally) how much energy or where your leg is in order to get a different response in your horse. 

By riding slow, intentional and bareback can often help you start to really learn more about the physical resistance, or brace, you might be feeling when you are working your horse.  It is an opportunity to experiment with how you physically are riding your horse, and will often tell you a lot about areas of your communication that may be lacking, or where the effectiveness of your aids is diminishing. 

Plus on one of those cold winter days where you may not have time for a “regular” ride or worry about being able to cool down your horse properly, you can hop on for fifteen minutes of intentional riding that can greatly influence the quality of your future rides. 

The best part about riding bareback is it does not allow us a “false sense of security”, therefor forcing us to raise our focus, intention, timing and feel, if not motivated by the simple desire to “stay on.”

One last note, if you have never ridden your horse bareback before, don’t assume that he will be “okay” with it.  You’d be surprised how many horses are used to their saddle, but the motion of someone “sliding” around on their backs can bother them.  So you’d want to start slowly in just half way mounting and dismounting, to sitting on them, to a few steps of walk to get them used to you directly touch them with your seat and upper leg. 

Also, many “warm” winter clothes are made of textures that can sound crinkly and create static when rubbed against horse hair, so try and introduce your “loud clothing” from on the ground first, or rubbing just perhaps a “loud jacket” on your horse’s body before riding in one.

Our journey of Horsemanship: Leaving Room for Interpretation

I’ve never had an “English” language conversation with a horse, but over the years I feel that I’ve found some degree of a “common language” with which I use to communicate with them.  I explain to students there is no “one” way to do things, and I always tell people “take what you like, leave what you don’t” from any learning situation.  I finished reading a horse blog the other day and realized that in this day and age I don’t think you can participate in any aspect of the horse world without hearing the word “pressure” in reference to communicating with the horse.

Over the past few days while I worked around the property, I casually watched the horses happily grazing.  As they meandered about the field, I started thinking about what “pressure” might mean to others; ideas and questions started to pop into my head, thus creating the platform for this blog. 
Most moments of every day I have horse related thoughts floating through my brain.  After enough years of “the lifestyle” I often forget what it was like to NOT live this way.  I believe that the qualities with which you understand and the clarity with which you communicate are reliant upon one another.  As I’m sure you’ve heard me say in other blogs, I feel it is my responsibility as an equine professional to attempt to explain, help interpret and teach in a manner to those unaccustomed to spending most of their day’s energy focused on their horse.
With that in mind, the word “pressure” can have multiple interpretations as to “what it really means” such as in the scenario of the horse within the herd, in the horse’s interaction with its handler, as in to the rider, as in to the coach, etc. 
I believe that the word “pressure” is just as casually “thrown out there” as often as you hear people talking about “collection.”  As with most things within a language, there is always room for further clarification and interpretation.  There of course is also plenty of room for lack of understanding, as what all too often happens when a word, explanation, statement or example is taken out of context.  For example take religion, philosophy and written literature, how many times have documents been “re-interpreted” for better or easier understanding and clarification? I think it is human nature to “want it better.” 
For me, the “wanting it better” applies to all aspects of my understanding, teaching and ability to communicate both to equine and human students.  I’m continually revisiting previous thoughts, ideas, epiphanies, etc. in order to propel my “forward moving” journey of horsemanship.  I find that my teaching often improves my training, just as much as my hands on training improve the clarity with which I teach. 
As much as I talk A LOT, I’ve also learned over the years to ask questions of my students.  To assume that they understand my words as I meant them to be taken would be wrong.  So questioning the student is never done in a challenging way, but rather in trying to understand their mindset.  I want to hear them have to “think through” and explain the how, why and when to be sure they are not just “repeating” what I’ve taught them, but are able to grasp the theories, which in turn will help them when they are on their own and will “have options” in how they influence changes in their horse’s brain and body.
So I want to play a bit of a game for a moment- I’m going to use one word, and I want you think of the first scenario that pops into your mind in response.  Here it goes, the word is:
PRESSURE
Did you think of applying leg pressure to your horse’s side when in the saddle?

Did you think of using rein pressure?

Did you imagine a horse yielding from creating physical pressure with the lead rope?

Did you think of working at liberty and using your own physical movement as spatial pressure to influence your horse?

Did you think of your horse either spatially or physically “leaning on you” creating an uncomfortable spatial pressure from him being in your personal space?

Did you think of a horse showing physical signs of stress due to mental pressure such as swishing its tail, grinding its teeth/the bit, short/tight and inconsistent movement?

Did you think of a tool such as a lead rope, flag, or whip, to create both spatial and physical pressure to get a change in your horse?

Did you imagine changing your energy (increasing and decreasing the pressure of your seat) to influence the energy of your horse’s gaits?
Did you imagine walking past the “scary” spot and “pushing” your horse forward with pressure from your entire body?
As you can see the list can go on and on.  My point being that depending on your past education, exposure, riding discipline, and experience, your interpretation of the word pressure could mean many things to you.  As with all horse things, there is no definitive “right and wrong” as we explore translating a theory, word or manner of interacting with our horse.
For me, as both an ongoing student and current teacher; I don’t just accept a theory or statement.  I don’t try to “beat it into the ground,” but over time I return to it to explore and experiment with the concept presented.  Every encounter with the horses offers the opportunity to fine tune “what I thought I already knew.” 
Someone once asked what my goals are if ride with a mentor to continue my own education process, and I said, “I go not to ‘work on’ a specific problem, but rather to recognize the things I don’t even realize might be happening.” This often is the case with folks who come to me with "only one problem," without realizing their issue is a symptom, rather than the root cause.
Here’s to keeping an open mind towards what you think you know, and realizing you may have change your assumed understanding to improve the relationship with your horse!

Sam


Confessions of a Horse Trainer- Our own horses get the least of our attention…

About a month ago, before I left my summer facility in the northwestern US, I had my vet come out to do my horses' annual dentistry.  As we were looking at the previous year’s exam records, I noticed the date on my colt, “Pico”, said that he was born in 2004.  Wait a minute.  How was my “colt” seven years old???  That couldn’t be right.  But with a little further investigation, it turned out that it was. 

I think the old saying was, “The cobbler’s children had no shoes.”  Well the horse professional’s saying should be, “The trainer’s horses are the least trained!”  Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of trainers who have what I call “blue sky potential” horses that they put many hours into with hopes of selling or promoting, but in most barns or facilities, there always seem to be a few “project” horses that were usually acquired accidentally and somehow time had quickly passed leaving those equines pretty much as they were when they first arrived.
Now granted, in my own case, Pico finally had his “fair share” of attention this summer.  I had a working student whose personality seemed to mirror Pico’s and they just clicked.  It was great that the student had the opportunity to work with an “unfinished” horse.  Poor Pico on the other hand was a little shocked at being “harassed” more than once every few weeks; but as he started to believe that his new “partner in crime” was relentless and NOT going to leave him alone after five minutes Pico changed his tune and soon enough the two of them were sneaking off into the woods like a pair of youngsters whose imaginations were running wild (I think “cowboys and Indians” might have been their theme.)  I have a “loop” through the woods that usually takes riders about 15-20 minutes if they are really taking their time.  Pico and his new partner would slink off and disappear for 45 minutes- by the time they showed up, I didn’t even ask…
Now for a moment, bear with me as I go back to the beginning when I “accidentally” wound up with Pico at three months of age. He’d been orphaned at birth and a gal had rescued him from his “get rich quick with horses owner whose stallion had gotten out of pasture and visited all the mares who were now having babies that the owner can no longer afford”.  My vet had heard that I might, I said, might want a baby… So I showed up to meet the little red dun colt and of course, he came home with me.  Even then, as much as babies are cute, Pico was quite plain.  No real flash, no real movement, oh yeah, and that slightly clubbed foot.  But as with everything, once you take them in, they’re part of the “gang” and Pico quickly fit in with my motley crew of misfits. 
I think Pico was about nine months old when he made his first trip south to the warm winters of Arizona.  At that time I was on a “ horse collecting” streak, and that winter I picked up a 17.2H bay thoroughbred from New Mexico that had been saved from the slaughter truck.  It was so cold, icy, windy and frozen when I looked at the horse, we took him out of the stall, when I had him trot down the outdoor barn alley as chickens were flapping around and a tractor was zooming by.  I asked, “Does he load?” and that is how he made his way into my life- unexpected and unintentionally of course.
He was the third horse bought from a person with the same name, so I started naming these newbies after their previous owner’s last name, and this horse, Houston, fit perfect.  Now Houston had run and won over $70K at the track, and was somehow still sound and semi sane.  He was just one of those “good guy” horses, but he was also very inexperienced in “the real world.” 
From the moment I unloaded Houston, he and Pico fell in love.  Now you have to remember Pico was nine months and very small for his age, and here was this very large, lanky thoroughbred.  The two of them would pal around the pastures like they were soul mates.  Talk about the odd couple.  But the funniest part of it all was that Houston would follow Pico.  So here was this rambunctious little colt storming about the pasture, splashing through our flood irrigation and for every short sprint or gallop where Pico gave his all, Houston would effortlessly offer a slow,  long trot and easily keep up.  All day long, round and round they’d go, with breaks in between to mouth, chew, rear, and climb on each other…
Anyways as time passed I dinked around with Pico, for fun.  For the most part I never really felt compelled to do much as Pico’s mental, physical and emotional maturity seemed to take the “slow route.”  So if I had a moment here or there we’d work ten or fifteen minutes…  The day I first got on him I hadn’t even meant to.  I had taught him to line up to the mounting block, as I do with all horses and was “desensitizing” him.  Leaning on him, banging on him, banging on the saddle, clunking the stirrups, fussing with different “stuff.”  He finally turned his head around to look at me, took this huge sigh, and I swear he said, “Just get on ALREADY.”  So I did.  Our first boring and slow ride (for those who have worked with me my GOAL for my students, the horses and myself when working with them is for the experience to be boring and uneventful) turned into another, and then another… and so on. 
He started to be the “go to” horse I rode for “fun” once in a while because it was easy.  He was light.  He was a quick learner.  Hey, he was actually fun.  BUT his attention span was about 20 minutes or less.  And honestly, in my life of training, teaching, office work, property maintenance, etc. that was all I needed for a fun ride. 
Now don’t get me wrong.  I knew he had some major “holes” in his education… But kind of like that diet we all talk about going on “someday,” I had the same perspective with addressing Pico’s missing links in his training.  Yeah the “horse trainer” has a horse scared of plastic bags.  (Pico’s enthusiasm and curiosity got the best of him as a two year old and he picked up a plastic grocery bag in his mouth.  He took it to share with the other horses in the pasture, from which they all fled.  He started freaking out because they kept running away from him.  Then he couldn’t figure out how to “let go” of the bag.)  Or the famous, “I clipped him a few years back, but now he won’t let me near him.”  Or things like the water hose.  WHAT???  Not my horse. 
I have clients who on a daily basis bring me horses with serious behavioral “issues” and I spend hours helping them get long term changes through revisiting the basics and using clear communication in order to build their horse’s confidence so that the horse learns how to be “reasonable” in how they address life’s scenarios.  Why didn’t one of my own horses have that same time put into him? 
I made that diet reference earlier.  How many of you have ever committed to going on a diet?  Okay, now how long did it take you to FIRST mentally convince yourself that a.) you need to go on a diet, and b.) that you actually will commit to one?  The same thought process went for my attitude with Pico.  That little voice in my head had a million reasons (all the explanations my clients get on a daily basis) about WHY it is so important to create the quality foundation, and that time was ticking… But somehow, it just kept ticking.
Eventually as I decreased the size of my herd and I could feel Pico at first staring at me longingly then after enough of my ignoring him, he started to act like the unaddressed teenager being dramatic in his small annoying behaviors.  (Example:  All the horses know how to “put themselves away” and he would insist on taking an extra lap, exploring, and then, sigh, eventually heading over to an empty stall for the night.)  Just little stuff.  But his attitude was clear.
So fast forward to this summer and the new student who “took on” Pico. I realized after the first month that the student had ridden my horse more than I had in all the time that I had owned him.  We’d do sessions together each day, and then they would head out on their own to do who knows what… But in that time, Pico’s brain, enthusiasm, and experience expanded.  He started greeting us at the pastures again; he started offering a “try” without being asked.  His mental endurance slowly started to increase from his “usual” 20 minutes… And yes these days, rubbing bags all over doesn't faze him...
Needless to say, I’d taught Pico to bow a few years back.  Again, for those who do or don’t know, I’m NOT into teaching “tricks” but rather my goal is that I can ask anything of my horse and he can offer a try.  In the case of bowing, it was asking a balance of mental relaxation and trust along with a physical yielding of his front end lowering it to the ground; to the rest of the world it looks like a bow.
Two days ago was the first time I “played” with Pico in probably two months… I hopped on and we had a great ride.  The next day I worked with him from the ground on suppling exercises (even though he is petite, he is the most stiff-as-a-board Quarter Horse I’ve ever encountered.)  At the end of our session I asked him to bow.  He did so easily even though we hadn’t done if for a good six months or so.  It was so easy in fact, that I then continued using a light “yielding to pressure” that he was familiar with, asking him to bow lower and lower until the moment I saw him switch his thought from bowing, to, saying “More?”  I released and asked him to stand and we dinked around for a minute scratching his “itchy” spots.  Then I asked for the bow again, and then a little more, a little more, and then he gently sighed, and laid himself down for me.  He lay flat out, with the side of his head on the ground, and as I rubbed and sat on him, he started nibbling grass as if that were the most natural thing to do while having been asked to unnaturally and unnecessarily lie down.  That is SO Pico.  After a few minutes I asked him to get up which he quietly did, and then looked at me, and like his partner in crime from the past summer, it was as if he asked, “What next boss?”  I turned him out to graze with an ear to ear smile on my face.
So the point of this blog, whether you have a “regular” job, family, life, or yes, even if you are a “horse trainer” – don’t feel bad if your training goals/accomplishment or “schedule” hasn’t gone “according to plan.”  You have time, your horse has time.  As long as in the meantime he gets to “act” like a horse living a balanced social life with room for natural movement, don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing “what you thought you would have” by now.  Instead enjoy the time you do spend with your equine partner and appreciate what you have accomplished.  It will make each experience more positive for the both of you.
Have fun,
Sam

Blast from the Past- Then and Now: A perspective on our experiences

The idea for this latest blog came about unexpectedly… This past week I was out of town attending a non-horse related event, when as with most horse people, a group of us found ourselves standing around trying to remember the “good ol’ days” of our Three Day Eventing careers and/or experiences…  Out of the seven of us chatting I turned out to be the only one still involved with horses though of course my “world” today is as far removed from “that” world as could be; the other most recent rider sold her Advanced level horse three years ago and has tried to replace the emptiness with golf. 

I really didn’t say much at first, just listened.  What struck me as we started listing and trying to remember who had done what, when and where they were today, was to realize that during “our time” when all 25 to 30 of us “regulars” had been on the road traveling almost every weekend and competing, that somehow a good majority had “survived” (literally) and became a percentage of today’s top rated US competitors.  We reminisced about our regular “dinner out” during a competition.  Although of course we were competitive, it was an incredibly tight knit group of people.  The camaraderie and support for one another when we crashed and burned (literally) to truly being happy for when someone won an event or championship was amazing.  I really hadn’t ever thought about just how many of us had toughed it out and “learned the ropes” together. 

Then amidst memory lane and exchanging “remember when…” stories, trying to remember who rode what horse, what person ended up marrying what other equine enthusiast, etc. and what horse had “made it” to the top, a friend suddenly blurted out mid-sentence, “If I ever do ride again I want a really, really broke horse.  Something like, a quiet Quarter Horse.”  The gal standing next her chimed in, “Yeah something with NO bucking, rearing or other dramatic issues.  Something boring.” 

By then, a few of them turned to me and kinda gave me a look and said, “Something like what Sam probably has at her place.”  I had to laugh… The gal who had initiated this new comment had “learned the ropes” on literally “free” horses.  Now I know these days it has become common to find cheap or free horses, but back then to be handed a free horse meant it had a really, really, REALLY long list of “quirks” as we politely called it back then.  A few of the others in the group had experienced the “growing up with their horse,” which at the time with our trainers meant you had a 50/50 chance of either surviving the ride in one piece or not.  Most of us could remember the E.R. doctors about to cut off those custom made leather boots we had saved several years for and although in more pain then imaginable, us shrieking, “DON’T CUT THE BOOTS!” no matter how much pain would be involved in trying to pull a tall, leather field boot off of a quickly swelling broken ankle or foot. 

As much as we had wonderful memories and most of us wouldn’t have traded them for the world, they were bitter sweet.  Among seven of us we had at least four horses that prematurely went lame or had to be put down far earlier than they should have due to excessive wear and tear from all the competitions.  As much as we were proud of the  high levels we had competed at, it seemed that subconsciously we winced thinking back to ALL the blood, sweat and tears we shed to get there.  It was common at the time to have a love/hate relationship with your trainer and horse.  They could bring you to the highest highs, but also the lowest lows.  As much as we were proud of all the craziness we had survived, at the time buying into the concept that what didn’t kill you made you stronger, hindsight, being 20/20, has  allowed us some distance and perspective, then of course causing you to start questioning, “WHY did I think such and such was a normal situation???”

The conversation then took another turn and others started asking what exactly is it that I do.  It was funny because as I explained my training philosophy in working with the horse’s mental availability in order to get the desired physical results, I found myself staring at blank faces.  It was almost like I could explain to a non-horsey person more clearly than those that had been so ingrained into believing “this is the only way it’s done” sort of riding, training and routines. 

For those of you who have been involved with horses for less  than fifteen years you have to remember the whole “natural horsemanship” concept, clinicians, articles, TV shows and DVDs did not exist or was not easily accessible.  And back then you only rode “one discipline” and that was all that you did with your horse.  And if there was someone who didn’t do “stuff” the way the rest of us did it, they were considered a little “goofy” and more often than not their ideas were disregarded before they were ever really listened to or tried.

As I was comparing a “then and now” perspective, I almost felt guilty, because my current perspective has allowed me to take off the personal blinders created by my past “mainstream” ways of training and riding.  Today I think, question and try things outside the “conventional” box and have no qualms about whether I try something with a horse that works, or if it doesn’t, move on and try a different approach.  Whereas the people I was talking to from the past, had no idea that “my” present day world even existed.  As I was talking, a brief slide show of horse moments from roping cattle on the north rim of the Grand Canyon to this summer’s 6000’ mountain pack trip (think The Man from Snowy River snow/cliff scene) to jumping my horse over large fallen trees and splashing through creeks- everything we needed in our Three Day Event horses, that we trained and practiced and went round and round, with the inability to truly “do” in a comfortable, quiet way. 

Now I’d like to make a note here- I’m only talking about MY experiences and perspective and am in no way naysaying the sport.  For me, I went through these experiences and after enough years of out of control horses that I “survived” the ride on, I finally had to find a different way to do things.  Don’t get me wrong- I still get a thrill watch a few navigate world class courses such as Badminton or Rolex.

I always wonder if I had been able back then to have had an instructor who taught like I do now, what would have happened.  I never had anyone who mentioned my energy in the saddle.  Nor did a single person ever tell me to have my horse LOOK where he was going.  I know it sounds really obvious when you’re cantering at 20mph and aiming at a solid jump the size of a pickup truck!  I thought it was normal that my horse was resistant, heavy and on the forehand, because hey, he was a jumping horse or he was built “on the forehand.”  No one thought twice about how strong of a bit they had to use in order to resemble a level of control on cross country.  We all had those experiences of just being happy to have stayed within the Dressage arena’s borders during our test.

It didn’t have to be that way.  Today I taught a student who showed up in a jumping saddle and halter with clip-on western reins.  We rode in an open field that had cows mooing, goats scampering about and assorted fowl crying and squawking.  The grass was still damp from the flood irrigation and due to a leak there was a huge flooded section to splash through.  It was the first lesson after  light summer riding (they do after all experience a norm of 110+ degree temperatures) and we included things such as shoulder in, haunches in, spiral in and out, leg yielding across our “fake” diagonal, transitions and much more.  It was casual, calm and quiet.  We used “that red barrel lying down” as a marker instead of “E”, or that “railroad tie in line with that fence post” for our “centerline.”  Were we “doing” Dressage? No.  We were riding.  We were revisiting the basics and yes, it was fun.  No the horse was not swishing his tail, grinding his teeth, or showing other stressful or irritated behaviors.  And yet, it would have been “a lot” to have done all that in a lesson during the “old days.”

But in the end, the saying that goes, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ I guess held true.  Even for those who had been out of the sport for fifteen years, still had hands that looked like they hadn’t ever seen a manicure.  I would bet money that every one of us could have backed a trailer through an obstacle course without knocking a cone over.  I’m sure in their heyday they would have thought it was normal to walk three horses at the same time and have a pack of dogs ambling around their feet while “conducting business” with a client. 

Out of the group chatting at the event, one is a nationally respected vet that specializes in Ophthalmology and is a professor at the University of Illinois, another is ranked among American Airlines top 150 pilots, another leads guided bicycle and hiking tours thinking nothing of covering several hundred miles in a few days with up to 120 guests in the wilderness.  Another is a physical therapist who just happens to be a personal assistant to high profile business woman that allows her to travel the world coordinating and organizing. 

There’s just something in the mindset of these strong people that is so refreshing, even if they are no longer involved in the horse world.  As with most things, horse folk can be some of the best and some of the worst characters you meet.  With this particular group you could be comfortably frank, direct and honest with no one thinking it odd or that you were “too forward.”   

The conversation ended with everyone agreeing, that even though the timing wasn’t “right now”, someday, somewhere, somehow, yeah, they probably would get back in the saddle again.  Like I always say, if it’s in your blood, there’s nothing you can do about it, except enjoy it!  So here is to those who have endured, for better or worse, and still find at the end of the day, your current or past equine partner still brings a smile to your face and teaches you to be a better person.


Sam

How to decrease the stress of trailering/hauling horses

As with most things, after each experience you become more comfortable.  I'm always amazed when I meet people that have never had a pet- either as a child or adult.  But animals here on the farm have become "a lifestyle" for me.  That means things that I don't think twice about, such as loading up my dogs in the truck anytime I go anywhere, having the the dog ride on the back of the ATV as I drag pastures, or head out into the mountains with four of five of them is "normal" to me. 

The same goes for horses.  I actually find that taking the horses is "easier" than the dogs... For those who don't know for the last nine years I've hauled 1440 miles twice a year between my farm's summer and winter locations.  Before that I spent years traveling to both near and far competitions, for training, horse vacations, and horse shopping trips. 

As with anything, if you do it long enough, things will go wrong.  Everything from broken down tow vehicles, broken axles on horse trailers, weather conditions causing travel delays, stresses, side trips, to human hospital emergencies.  Some things just aren't preventable; but when it comes to hauling livestock, many stresses can be reduced or eliminated if addressed before the moment of travel- whether in an emergency to the vet or for a long haul trip.

So I've come up with a list of things that I've either experienced or have heard that makes it "stressful" for owners to travel with their horses. 

1) Practice driving your trailer WITHOUT your horse.  Yes, really.  If you have access to a huge field, empty parking lot or even just down a low traffic country road, practice.  Straight, turning (turns on the drivers side are easier to maintain perspective, so learn to become aware of your "size" when turning the opposite way,) and of course the dreaded BACKING.  Most people are stressed about backing because they either haven't done it, or have had a negative experience (usually with a "helpful" spouse/family member screeching at them.) 

I could write an entire blog on backing, but, I'll just highlight a few points.  1.) The tow vehicle is what you must understand first.  For me, I have a very powerful truck but it has NO turning radius, to just make a U Turn on a four lane wide road takes three stop-reverse-turn series. Which means when I back with a trailer, I have to allow enough room and time (meaning SLOW) to just get my truck set up first.  2.) The longer the trailer the "slower" the reaction time.  This can be good and bad.  I have a 42' (12 meter) long trailer- my total rig is 60' (just over 18 meters) - this means I need enough space to allow the very slow reaction time with a trailer that long when I back.  Short trailers on the other hand can "take off" on their own when over corrected, which then causes that "10 time attempt" to get the trailer "straightened out."  3.) Take the time to practice and GET OUT OF THE TRUCK to actually see where you are at when practicing with defined "points".

People get stressed about having to fuel up, and getting into a tight spot at the station, get stressed about their arrival destination not having enough room to turn around, etc.  The more you stress about the "what ifs" the more tense you'll be while you drive- even if nothing has happened and it will become very tiring for you.

2.) Assess your tow vehicle AND horse trailer.  Again this could be an entire blog in itself.  Some people use their every day vehicle as their tow rig, but others have a designated vehicle that only tows- which means it's not used very often.  Make sure your tow vehicle is appropriate for your trailer- remember towing "live" weight is different than hauling something such as a boat. 

Have yearly/mileage services current.  Check tires.  Have a SPARE tire.  Same goes for the trailer.  Most common issues seem to be is the wiring- which makes most people cringe when they inspect "what the last guy did" as a quick fix and now have to find why their lights, brake controller, etc. isn't working.  Don't wait until the last minute to check this.  Things like axle service, check/rotate tires, etc. ARE necessary.  Check for rust, rotted wood floor boards, etc. 

Also this summer I heard of several people who had horses that suddenly wouldn't "load" or had dramatic behavior from their normally easy traveler when loaded.  CHECK for wasp, hornet, or bees nests.  Trailers seem to be "the place" for them.  If your horse is suddenly acting odd about trailering, put in the effort to find out why.

3.) Invest in tow/road side assistance.  Here in the States we have things like AAA.  Let me tell you- whether it's bringing you that spare gas, fixing that flat tire, or having your rig (truck and trailer) towed (first 100 miles free)- they are always smiling and happy even at 3am when you're stuck on the continental divide in a blizzard with ten horses in the trailer.  $50 a year is TOTALLY worth it.

4.) YOU inspect your rig BEFORE loading your horse for your trip.  Even if you hooked up your rig inspect the vehicle, the hitch connection, the lights, everything!!! Don't rely on someone else. Don't wait until just before you load your horse- if you need to fix something you don't want to find out the day you're hauling.

Same goes for feed, bring more than enough feed that your horse has been eating- don't suddenly change his diet.

6.) Check weather conditions, Road Conditions, and ROUTE options.  This goes for both cold and heat.  Horses walk the ENTIRE time that they are being hauled, so both the cold and heat can affect them.  Dehydration is the most common issue.  Most horses don't drink as much as they would at home, but make sure they keep drinking.  Once a horse becomes severely dehydrated things like colic and other health issues can arise.  Make sure you check the temperature of the trailer, even in 10 degree weather, with ten horses in my rig, I can have all the windows open and it feels like a sauna.  This is another reminder about trailering in blankets.  It may feel chilly outside to you, but with all the "walking" the horse does when he is hauled, they usually get pretty warm.

Here in the northwest our "good weather" seasons tend to be very short, therefor if it's nice out, you can expect road repairs.  The time I came in from a 24 hour haul and had less than 60 miles left and got held up on a Montana Hwy for 45 minutes- I was fuming.  Never mind the poor horses standing there breathing all the asphalt vapors.

Don't just "trust" mapquest and other easy access online directions.  Depending on where you are in the country, you may not want to take the main road or route.  Talk to other horsemen who have traveled that way to get current advice.

7.) Bring drugs & medical kit.  Now I'm an organic, all natural food, no meds type of person.  BUT in an emergency, things like a mild sedative, such as Acepromezyne, Banimine for colic, and Bute for an injury can be a life saver.  Also I always keep a sharp knife, cotton rolls and vet wrap.  Horses can bleed A LOT, and you don't want to have to "start looking" for stuff to stop the bleeding if there is an injury.

8.) Keep a lead rope handy and use quick release trailer ties.  Now this is a personal preference, but in the moment of emergency or the unexpected, I don't want to have to start searching for a lead rope.  Quick release trailer ties can help eliminate a tied horse's lead rope from "burning" to itself making it difficult to untie the horse in an emergency.

9.) Have a map, with route alternatives, AND phone numbers for possible layover options on your journey.  Don't just have one place designated.  I've found that usually the initial "planned route" can change, therefor having options and contact numbers printed out ahead of time will make your life way easier.  You don't want to have to call home while sitting on the side of the road, trying to find numbers of options to stay when the unexpected comes up.

10.) Practice small trips ahead of time- for you and your horse's sake.  Seriously.  Load up and head around the block a few times.  Trailer to your friend's arena, head to the local fair grounds, etc.  Especially if you have a young or inexperienced horse, this is a great way to build their confidence that getting into the big metal box is not a bad thing.

11.) Keep your cell phone charged.  Today with all the technology make sure it's accessible.  The worst is when you have it but can't use it!

12.) If you can, bring a buddy.  It's more fun, and in general easier to have a second person whether they share the responsibilities or are just good company.  Make sure they are familiar with horses.

13.)  Don't drive when you are TIRED.  Seriously.  It's not worth it.  Bad decisions, stress and increased possibility of accident. 

14.) Work out your horse's trailering "issues" ahead of time.  The day of your trip is NOT the day to start training your horse to load.

15.) Research what paperwork/travel documents for your horses are required for your journey.  Have them ready and easily accessible.

Whew... I'm sure there are more, but these cover the basics... Many people ask me about how long I haul my horses, do I layover, etc.  Every trip is different and depends on the stock I'm hauling. The other thing I want to mention is that I don't compete anymore- so that means my horses don't have to "perform" when we arrive at our destination.  They usually have a week or two to recover before I "use" them.  Also, the distances I travel tend to be a lot farther than the average "long haul."  In my experience most horses that don't travel well are carrying a huge amount of stress before you ever get to the "hauling" part.  Therefor, the hauling isn't the actual issues, but rather one in a long list of symptoms the horse is displaying due to his stress.

So on Monday I'll be heading out for another trip south... This year hopefully I'll keep a photo journal and will get it posted online after my Arizona arrival... Stay tuned!

Sam

Riding with Sam- Assessment, Awareness, Communication

My opinion is that all disciplines require the same basics, from jumpers to gaming horses, from trail riders to dressage competitors. An ideal ride would be on an enthusiastic, attentive mount that responds when asked and performs as asked.
Key words and questions Sam Harvey uses to start off a ride:

· Where: Where is your horse’s mind today? Is he physically next to you but mentally somewhere else?

· How: How effective is your physical communication with your horse?

· Why: Why do you use the tack and equipment you are using? Is it necessary?

· When: When does your horse respond to you? When do you use one aid versus another?

· Can: Can you see the whole picture - or do you get distracted and focus on small details?

· What: What are your riding goals? For:

Each ride?
Short term? Long term?
What can you do to achieve them?
Are they realistic?


What, who, when and where, and why do we ASSESS?


What: This is a combination of evaluating, measuring, considering, and attempting to gauge the mental and physical status of each the horse and rider.

What can your assessment tell you about your ride? Your assessment will help you understand that although you may have certain expectations or goals for your ride that day, your horse may have other ideas.

Who: You -- Attitude Attention Emotion Physical condition

Are you distracted with: the bills you have to pay, being on time to pick up the kids from school or extra curricular activities, the errands you still have to run, deciding what to cook for dinner, stress from work, or ???

If the rider is not 100% present mentally, it is unfair to ask the horse to be. We are supposed to be their leaders, but if we are distracted or have other things on our minds, they know.

Horses are constantly assessing and reacting -- this is their instinct for survival. We humans have to concentrate to do it. As soon as the horse is caught in the field or stable, he is evaluating and assessing us. He knows when we’re not paying attention. So by the time we get on, he has already made the decision whether or not to respect us and respond to our aids.

Your Horse -- Where is his mind? How is he physically today?
Is he emotionally present?

Is his brain with his buddies? Is he stiff or sore from age, health or earlier exertion? Has he recently been vaccinated or received other medication? Is it feeding or breeding time?

When and where should the assessment begin?

· For me the assessment begins when I catch my horse. Did he come up and “happily” greet me? Did he turn his tail to me, but tolerate my catching him? Did he run away?

· As I closed the gate, was his attention with me or was his head on the ground looking for grass? As I moved away from the enclosure, did he follow promptly or was his focus elsewhere?

· When I led him to the grooming area, did he walk along happily and pay attention to where I was? Or was he distracted by the other horses or events? Did he bump into me? Did he stand still when I tacked him up or was he fidgeting constantly?

By the time you get to where you’re ready to get on, your horse will have told you a lot about the upcoming ride -- did you listen? This ground assessment can help you decide what expectations to have for your horse that day.


Why do we assess?


We assess because we view the rider and horse as a partnership rather than a dictatorship. We need to have the patience and understanding to recognize realistically what can be achieved in a ride and what might not. This is not to say that your horse is permitted to decide what you will and won’t do, but rather a way to better educate yourself about your horse’s feelings, mood, mind set, and physical state -- and how it will affect the quality and enjoyment of the ride for both the horse and you.

When we get on…


What basics should our horses have so that we can accomplish our goals?

· Lightness- carrying themselves so they are not hanging on the bit dragging you around

· Suppleness- relaxation while carrying himself with the ability to bend and give any part of his body

· Bending- starting at the ribcage flowing in two directions: towards the neck and the tail- causing the haunches and the shoulders to operate independently of one another

· Flexion- starting at the spine, a stretching of the neck while staying relaxed, light and balanced

· Balance- ability to go in any direction and carry his own weight equally

· Relaxed- no tension in any part of his body no matter what is asked of him

· Engaged- lifting of the back so that the hindquarters can come underneath the spine to shift his weight from the front end to the haunches, causing the power to come from the rear so that the horse’s shoulders and neck are free and light to bend, flex, be supple and maintain balance

· Responsiveness- reaction time to an aid

· Creation of a smile: the look on our face when the above is achieved :) and you experience a fabulous ride and have a great time

how to create clear communication with the horse and have a quality ride

· Efficient- doing as little as necessary to achieve as large a result as possible

· Effective- promptly getting the reaction you asked for

· Sensitive- feeling, seeing and sensing what is happening underneath you

· Aware- not just seeing the “now,” but being ready for what might come next

· Evaluation- constant checking of results -- self and horse -- to make future decisions

· Preparing- always expect the unexpected

· Planning Ahead- if something were to happen what would/could you do to resolve, fix, or isolate the issue and make it a positive experience?

· “Taking” the horse- are you telling the horse where to go or is he “taking” you

· Establishing Respect- does he really believe you i.e. that what you ask is what you mean

· Feeling what is happening- not just seeing and focusing on the obvious, but maintaining sensitivity to feel your horse

By teaching ourselves to become this aware and focused every time we play with our horses, their respect and desire to please increases. We also become improved riders because we are now open-minded about communicating with the horse rather than just making demands of him.

A day in the life...

I laugh every time I meet a non horse person who sighs when they hear about my life and see them get a dreamy look on their face as I'm sure they're conjuring up some romantic image of what my days must be like.  Then there's potential new clients who can't understand why you would need notice or deposit policies for training and lessons- as if this "horse thing" is something I do just for fun.  In fact I even had family visit my Idaho facility for the first time and stood on the property and looked around and went, "Whoa, you take care of ALL this by yourself?" Until that point I was pretty sure their impression was that I just spent my days playing with the horses... In the last few weeks I have had quite a few inquiries about how DO YOU become a horse trainer... But as much as this is a 24/7 lifestyle- not just a job- there are many unexpected perks.


I'm going to use this past week as an example, although these two weeks are my slow time each year as I'm in transition of closing the Idaho facility and preparing for the semiannual move to the Arizona facility (1400 miles away.)  This year I'll be taking seven horses, dogs and of course all horse, office, outdoor stuff south. 

Typically I feed around 6a.m. then spend the next two hours doing office work, banking, blogging/website editing/updating, etc. I head out around 8am and start working horses.  In between or while working with horses things such as cleaning the waterers (hiking up the hill to do so,) mending fences/hot wires, dragging the pastures/infields to break up manure, cleaning out the tack room, pulling weeds or spraying, gathering newly upturned rocks, cutting back the hedges, moving the jumps so that the grass in the arena isn't killed from them sitting in one place too long, picking up trash/bailing twine, raking loose hay from the feeding area, riding through the "beginner" trails assessing what branches need to be cut back again, or what paths need mowing.

Most mornings have me working with four to six horses before noon... and then teaching lessons in the afternoon.  Usually a quick lunch, during which in between mouthfuls I'm again doing more computer correspondence, returning phone calls- which reminds me, I need to call the hay guy and order another ton, set a date with the farrier, confirm with the vet for the health and coggins paperwork, call the bank regarding an error, talk to that client about when they are taking their horses home...

Between the office work, website work/promotion, property maintenance (about 20 hours/wk between mowing on the riding mower, with the tractor and using the weed eater,) I could be getting paid for each of those three jobs alone.  A lot of folks say, why don't you just hire someone to do that work? But as with most things, it's hard to find quality people employees who do "above and beyond" in their work.  It's far more stressful for me to watch the guy on my mower (please don't run over anything or break the mower as I can't afford the time without it or the money it'll take to fix it) than to just wind up doing the job myself.


Then again, as I went out to feed this morning there were seven deer in the yard.  And a few days back a young black bear was playing around inspecting the ant hill piles I have yet to remove. 




Oh and there was that young moose that came crashing through the woods last week.  Never mind the ever present turkeys. 


Plus the pleasure of looking out in the field and seeing horses of assorted colors and breeds cruising around playing, grazing and just being horses!



Yes it's not a 9-5 job, and there is NO guaranteed salary or income or profit, BUT the opportunity for simple pleasures, appreciation of the little unexpected moments and NOT ever worrying about sitting in traffic, dealing with a boss or not having an office window make it all worth it!

Humans, Horses and Common Sense- Don't always go together

People are dull.  We trip, we misstep, we are clumsy, we are slow, we forget, we get distracted, we are inconsistent, we are unaware, we are insensitive.  We have lost our ability to think, smell, taste, and breathe clearly and with intention.   We make decisions usually within different shades of "gray" rather than seeing things in either black or white.  I could go on and on.  Because of this "gray" in many aspects of our life, people tend to be physically crooked or tight.

Let's look at the horse for a moment.  We watch a foal born. Within minutes the newborn is "in tune" with its instinct to stand.  Within days it's running in the field.  At several months that young horse is doing beautiful flying lead changes, roll backs and sliding stops... Then we add the human factor and what happens to all that flowing, natural movement, balance and grace?

Fast forward several years later in the young horse's life and suddenly the horse starts losing all of its "natural" abilities that had once come so easily to it.  It becomes slow in its movement, its curiosity and enthusiasm dwindles as the human "teaches" the horse things.  Scenarios that the young horse originally tolerated or tried with the human's urging "suddenly" cause the horse to become dangerously "reactive," aggressive or even fearful.

Fast forward a few more years and (thanks to all the tack and "tools" on the market) we now are wondering why our horse is fighting the bit, heavy on our hands, doesn't really have a whoa, won't pick up his right lead, bucks after the jump and doesn't want to be caught.

So what happened?  Now first I know many people start a lot of young horses and don't have "bad" experiences.  The problem with my profession is that most people come to me AFTER things have gone really wrong.  Therefore, I tend to see the "worst of the worst" rather than a lot of quality human-horse relationships.  As with most things, people tend to either not be honest with themself or are unaware just how fast and how "bad" things can get with their horse.  How many times have I overheard someone saying, "My horse... My horse.... My horse..."

Let's make one thing clear, no matter how "nice" or how much you "love" your horse, your horse has two to three priorities in life- breakfast, dinner and perhaps mating.  That's it.   There is NO horse that is going to lift his head from grazing to instead participate in working on the quality of his 20 meter canter circles, or to long trot miles to gather cattle, or to climb that steep switchback 3,000' mountain to "enjoy the view."  No matter how deep his stall shavings are, how green his pasture is, how many blankets you offer him on a cold winter day, your horse was not born with a "need" to work nor does he feel "guilty" about not working.  His priority is to survive.

There is no doubt horses offer humans more than we could ever offer them.  They can emotionally "help", heal, offer a shoulder (literally) to cry on, give joy with the magnificence of their movement, save us in a moment of danger, and so forth.  But what do we offer them?

Most horse enthusiasts I have met started riding as something to do "for themselves."  Whether it was  stress relieving, a distraction from "reality", etc. I've heard many times that novice horse people think that trail riding is going to be relaxing.  And it is- until it SUDDENLY isn't.  That is the day we realise our relationship with our horse has been based on "hoping" the horse will take care of us.  Without us offering anything to our horse except complaining if he doesn't just "go along" with what we want.

Now I'm not "picking" on trail riders, it's just a common scenario.  I schooled FEI level dressage horses, experienced international show jumpers, rode young race horses, competed all over the US in Three Day Eventing and not ONCE out of the hundreds of horses I rode did I EVER consider the horse.  I know it sounds kind of obvious but really I didn't.  I had goals, certain expectations for performance or results and that was all that mattered.  I never noticed if the horse I was riding took a deep breath.  Or when he blew his nose and let down.  I noticed if he swished his tail, but don't they all?  Yeah this horse grinds his teeth, so we ought to change the bit.  Yeah this horse needs someone to hold it so I can mount it.  Yeah that horse I don't walk around the barn aisle on a long rein because he bolts outside of the dressage arena.  Yeah my cross country horse has NO brakes, but hey we only had one bad fall last season, so let's move up to the next level.  Yeah that horse is a bit hard to catch and you have to keep a cage on its mouth when you work around it so it doesn't bite at you.  Oh and that one needs to be sedated for the farrier.  And to trailer.  And to compete.... Hmmmm.

And nobody said ANYTHING.  These were accomplished horses competing at the international level.  So what if they had their little "quirks."  The professionals who showed the best way to "handle" these sort of horses was to "work around them" were setting an example for everyone else to follow.  So what actually causes someone to "change" how they mentally and literally approach working with their horse?


It took a long time to "undo" everything I had spent years and thousands of dollars learning how to "do."  Nowadays I have to admit I can't even really remember how "bad" it all used to be.  The stuff I could ignore.  Now I walk up to a warm up arena at a show, and I nearly have a melt down trying to understand why these amazingly athletic and strong creatures tolerate all the crap people do to them.  So, here is what I ask of you- for your horse's sake- so that he doesn't end up being  one of "those" that get brought to a trainer like me...

Take a moment for a self evaluation.  Why do you ride? What are your goals? What are your current "issues" with your horse? What would you change in your relationship with your horse? 
Then assess your answers with the following questions:
1) Are any of your answers appropriate or fair to "put on" your horse as his responsibility?
2) Does your horse "care" about any of your answers?
3) Why are your answers what they are?
4) Based on both you and your horse's current abilities, is it fair to want your answers stated above?

So many of the troubled horses that arrive here at my facility for re-education could have been prevented had the owners quit trying to "do what everyone else was doing," and used a little more common sense along with staying aware of and  trusting their gut instinct.

Good luck,
Sam