Falling Off- Humurous Perspective

The following was recently sent to me in an email... Enjoy!

Stage 1: Fall off pony. Bounce. Laugh. Climb back on. Repeat.

Stage 2: Fall off horse. Run after horse, cussing. Climb back on by shimmying up horse's neck. Ride until sundown.

Stage 3: Fall off horse. Use sleeve of shirt to stanch bleeding. Have friend help you get back on horse. Take two Advil and apply ice packs when you get home. Ride next day.

State 4: Fall off horse. Refuse advice to call ambulance; drive self to urgent care clinic. Entertain nursing staff with tales of previous daredevil stunts on horseback. Back to riding before cast comes off.

Stage 5: Fall off horse. Temporarily forget name of horse and name of husband. Flirt shamelessly with paramedics when they arrive. Spend week in hospital while titanium pins are screwed in place. Start riding again before doctor gives official okay.

Stage 6: Fall off horse. Fail to see any humor when hunky paramedic says, "You again?" Gain firsthand knowledge of advances in medical technology thanks to stint in ICU. Convince self that permanent limp isn't that noticeable. Promise husband you'll give up riding.

One week later purchase older, slower, shorter horse.

Stage 7: Slip off horse. Relieved when artificial joints and implanted medical devices seem unaffected. Tell husband that scrapes and bruises are due to gardening accident. Pretend you don't see husband roll his eyes and mutter as he walks away.

Give apple to horse.

Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey: Breaking down the philosophy and training theories in Ask the Trainer Q&A

Over the past two weeks as the weather has warmed in most parts of the world, I have received an increase of varying Ask the Trainer “problem situations” regarding horses offering unwanted behavior and their owners at a loss as to what to do. Typically horse owners who write in asking for help with their “problem” horse are doing so from a mainstream perspective searching for a “how to” or quick fix answer to change their horse’s behavior. This means that generally the questions are asked with a sole focus on the unwanted behavior these horse owners are seeing, experiencing, or trying to change. They are trying to STOP the unwanted physical action of the horse. Sorry but I’m the wrong person to offer what I call the “McDonald’s Fix” solution- in my mind, you cannot work with horses in a “standardized” manner with a step by step solution.

I have included several of the Questions sent in to me. As you read through each of the presented scenarios I want to preface your thoughts with the core of my philosophy and training style.

If you notice I have termed my philosophy as Alternative Horsemanship- this is because what I offer is not to address the horse’s unwanted behavior, but rather to get people to open their minds to begin a search for how they can communicate clearly in order to influence their horse’s mind. If you can get your horse to THINK about what you are asking of him, he will physically address and “try” whatever scenario you have presented to him.

Too many times though, in all of the cases included below, the person is attempting to STOP an all ready occurring behavior. This means the person is trying to “fix” the symptom rather than the real issue at hand. By the time a horse is responding dramatically- biting, kicking, resistant to going forward, difficult to handle/ride, etc. the horse has already spent a long time asking for help. In too many cases horse owners have either missed, ignored or not correctly translated all of the times their horse did ask for help in a “reasonable manner.” The more the horse was ignored, the more he felt he was “alone” when having a problem. Eventually confirmed that people are not “there” to help him, he will then resort to any “naturally” defensive behavior that may help “protect” him in his mind. A horse’s unwillingness to participate reasonably, respectfully and confidently with/towards people is because people don’t make him feel GOOD about life.

The first priority needs to be for horse owners to assess their own mental clarity, patience, and persistence in order to “play detective” with their horse in order to search for the ROOT CAUSE of the real ISSUE that is creating the unwanted, dangerous, disrespectful behavior that they are experiencing from their horse.

Whether you are the person who wrote in one of the questions below, or a fellow horsemen enjoying this article, take a moment and attempt to assess each of the questions/scenarios presented and try to “dissect” the so-called issues (which are really symptoms) into what might be the real issue at hand.

Until people learn to address the horse’s brain FIRST, they are only being “hopeful” about getting a change in the physical behavior/action of the horse. Instead of offering a step-by-step “Answer” to the questions submitted, my goal is to stimulate horse owner’s thinking, raise their awareness, and encourage them to step back and re-evaluate the relationship they have with their horse.

There can be many ways to influence a change in a horse’s brain- depending on the confidence, experience, and clarity of communication from a person using spatial pressure, physical pressure or in some cases vocal pressure.

But the real foundation comes from a person’s ability to “ignore” the flamboyant and distracting movement the horse is offering (which is the horse’s most natural defense when not sure, worried, or insecure) and look at all the signs in which the horse is TRYING to communicate with the person.

For most scenarios that people “present” or ask a horse to address the horse could care less about. In fact, most scenarios people present only make their horses feel worse about life. So in order to build that ideal trusting partnership based on clear communication that both you and your horse can enjoy you’ll need to SLOW DOWN- STEP BACK- EVALUATE (you, your horse, your aids, your intentions, your standard, your clarity- physically and mentally in how you interact with your horse, etc.) and you’ll most likely be able to start to find the missing or skipped parts in your horse’s education or lack of understanding.

People need to raise their standards- first within themselves and then for their horse. The ride begins when you THINK about going for a ride. Every moment, every step, you are setting the “tone” for your interaction with your horse.

When you go to catch your horse (from pasture, stall, etc.) does he come to you? Does he lower his head for the halter? Does he get heavy on the lead rope as you walk off? Does he move at whatever pace you set? Does he stay out of your personal space as you stop, turn, walk off, open/close the gate? Does he stand quietly tied? How is he when he is groomed, tacked, led to where you will mount? Does he look to participate when you climb aboard- i.e. line up for the mounting block, shift his weight so he is standing balanced when you climb on, etc. Can he stand quietly with you sitting on him? Can he literally look towards a direction (whether asked from the ground with a lead rope or in the saddle with the reins) without having to just “move” without mentally committing to where he is going? Do you understand that liberty work in the round pen or your ground work should be a MENTAL warm up/exercise not a physical “burning off of energy”- there should not be brainless movement with your horse running round and round. Can your horse look and take ONE step at a time? Does he respond to your energy in the saddle? Can you have varying degrees of energy within each gait? Does your horse anticipate the “routine” of your ride? If your horse is distracted can he “let it go” with just a wiggle of the rein or lead rope from you? If your horse is having a problem- does he react and move “big” or can you ask him to stop and literally look and address what is bothering him? Can you ask everything you’d want when riding your horse from the ground first? Do YOU understand the relationship in preparing your horse from the ground (a safe place) and how and the way in which you communicate should translate to when you are asking the same things from in the saddle? Do YOU understand the bit does not stop the horse? Do you realize that a horse feels a fly land on him- so every move you make when you touch your horse, from your breathing, to your aids, to your mental intention your horse FEELS? Lazy horses, horses without “work ethic,” dull horses, etc. are the same as horses that cannot stand still- they are all insecure about what will be asked of them- one group “avoids” going forward to not “feel bad” and the other wants to “hurry up and get it over with” so they can quit feeling bad. Spurs, whips, tie downs, martingales, etc. do NOT help give you better “control” of your horse- only the false illusion that you have control until the “dramatic” moment you find out they don’t work. Do you recognize that every aspect and level of quality you get from your horse starting from first catching him is setting the “tone” for the upcoming ride? Do you use every “opportunity” you can to HELP your horse or do you demand his participation without true quality communication and support from you? Your horse’s general attitude towards you is a reflection of his mental and emotional feeling about his history of working with you- if he comes away from each sessions feeling “defensive,” it sets the tone for the next session for him to anticipate another worrisome experience.

The list goes on and on. Trailer loading, crossing water, standing on the tarp, desensitizing to the plastic bag, pulling back, misbehaving for the farrier, ground tying, jumping, chasing/roping cattle, lateral movements, leaving the herd, trail riding spookiness, rearing/kicking/biting, and many more “problems” people have with their horses come from HOLES in the foundation of the horse’s education (and the owner’s) and therefore neither party has clear quality “tools” in order to communicate effectively (when you do something, it must mean something to the horse) in order to influence the horse’s mind to get a change in his physical action.

Horses don’t “randomly” do things. Nor do they do things “all of a sudden.” Believe your horse when he shows any sign of concern, worry, fear or that he might be having a problem. Put yourself in your horse’s spot- if you were having a major problem, worry, fear, etc. and every time you asked for help you were not only ignored but reprimanded, how would you start to feel or react? They are operating with two motivating priorities in life- survival and eating. Horse’s are herd animals- they NEED a leader. When you and your horse are together you create a herd. Guess who needs to take responsibility as the leader? YOU DO. Don’t try to “be nice,” “love your horse,” or be “hopeful” when you interact with your horse. Instead, be clear in what, when and how you offer communication with a priority on your horse’s brain and you will create the desired physical change.

Lastly- don’t let people’s concept of “time” influence how you work with your horse. Look how many years it takes to educate people. The same goes for horses, it’s a lifelong journey. It’s a constantly evolving process. I always say ten quality minutes versus an hour of mediocre can make all the difference.

No matter what, where, how, when or why, if I ask something of my horse he needs to mentally address me and offer a mental and physical effort or “try.” He may not be great at what I ask, but I’m looking for the mental participation- this will lead to building confidence emotionally that will lead to physical relaxation which then creates the “ideal ride.”

Good Luck,

For more “detailed” answers please visit my Ask the Trainer page. To find out about Sam’s Full Immersion Clinics or bringing her to your facility to teach her philosophies and theories please email her directly.


Topic_Info: Shetland stallion behavior change
Website_Info: By accident
Location: Scotland
Date: April 04, 2011

26 year old Shetland stallion. Outlived his purpose & was to be p.t.s so I took him in. Background history: very nervous, wont tie up for grooming, never had a rug on, never had feet trimmed properly. Had he for 5 months now, managed to get anti midge rug on him after a very bad bout of lice & sweet itch? Trusted me explicitly, managed farrier twice with me holding a feed bucket of carrots whilst getting done. This month his behavior has changed. He pushes at me in stable, moves sideways and bolts backwards when I groom him and overall very fidgety and impatient. Still cannot tie him up as he panics and working with him outside is a certain no (even grooming). He feels safe and secure in his stable. He is on no hard feeding now that the spring grass is through. In at dawn and dusk for midges, ad lib hay when stabled. Behavior change was sudden. I have never owned a stallion and wonder if it’s to do with breeding time? Has pastured on his own (fights with other ponies apparently) strip grazing paddocks, no other ponies nearby, grass is short and sparse due to rotation frequently

Topic_Info: Riding problems
Website_Info: searched for it
Location: TN
Date: April 02, 2011

I just recently got my quarter horse, thoroughbred cross mare broke she is about 3 years old, she rides well but refuses to gallop or trot when I kick her or ask her to do it. She throws her ears back and stops and some times tries to kick; this is something recent she has started to do... She also does this when I try to exercise her in the round pin she doesn't like to pick speed up, I know she can run because she does with her mom, but she will not for me. I think it is because her mother, whom she is in the field with she acts badly all the time. I was wondering if I took her out of the field would she act better when I ride her. She is a sweet horse and this is a concern.


Topic_Info: ground work
Website_Info: internet
Location: Google
Date: April 02, 2011

I wanted to free lunge my new mare the way I do with my other two horses, but when I took the whip to the center of the arena to use as a prop, she moved right up next to me. It was as if she was trained to do that. I don't know very much about her and can't ask the owner, so her behavior is a bit confusing to me and I want to understand her behavior. Is this training you are familiar with? My other horses are trained to move away from the whip, she moved into the whip? In fact, I can't get her to move away from me?


Topic_Info: She’s inexperienced
Website_Info: Google
Location: Port Hope ON CA
Date: April 02, 2011

I have just started riding at a new barn and the horse I have chosen to part-board is inexperience and only has a few miles riding time on her. She isn’t dangerous or anything, in fact she has a very kind heart, but I wanted to know if there were any trust building exercises other then join up as we have already had success in that. Thanks!


Topic_Info: Horse anxiety
Website_Info: Google
Location: MI
Date: March 31, 2011


My horses have separation anxiety, and today it had gotten so bad that my horse had almost gotten hit by a car. I was riding one horse while the other was tied on a lunge line where the horse I was riding could see it. Well, the tied horse purposely broke the rope, and ran out to the road, causing the horse I was riding to buck so I could not climb off safely. What should I do to prevent this from happening? I have tried everything and nothing is working.

Topic_Info: biting and disrespecting people
Website_Info: just typed in a question on internet browser
Location: Ontario
Date: March 29, 2011
My 2 year old paint gelding is constantly biting, I bought a grazing muzzle for him, tried disciplining him, have a trainer that has been working with him for 2 months and he isn’t getting any better. Last night he tried to bite me with the muzzle on so I slapped him which makes him rear, strike and threaten me...tried everything don’t know what else to do


Topic_Info: bad attitude
Website_Info: search
Location: Bakersfield
Date: March 17, 2011
I have a Morgan quarter horse cross; I have only had her about 3 months. She is terrible on the lead rope bucking jerking trying to bolt. She always acts like she is in a bad mood, and it’s a fight to get her to do anything. She is 15 years old. I have done a lot of ground work with her, including round pen work. I was able to get her to "pony up" after a month of hard work. She jerked me so hard on the lead rope the other day that it felt like I bruised a rib, I made her back up (the circles make it worse tried that too) and she quit for a brief moment then starting crow hoping. I need help I love her but I don’t want her or I to get injured. Please help


Topic_Info: riding problems with new horse
Website_Info: Search Engine
Location: Val
Date: March 16, 2011
I have a Tenn. Walking Horse who I cannot get to move forward without another horse in front of him. I have tried starting with a squeeze from my legs and working up to kick and I still can't get him to go. If other horses are tied at the end of the arena he will just stop. When I try and turn him he will toss his head and side step. Should I try reinforcing the cue with a tap with a crop behind my leg? Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Topic_Info: horse training
Website_Info: just looking around
Location: Kansas
Date: March 16, 2011

I have a very lazy horse and every time I want him to trot or canter behind me- just following me, he will pin his ears the whole time but he will still do it. I know it’s a respect issue but how can I get his respect in this area? He'll do everything else I want him to do just fine...

Rearing- NOT a physical resistance


Have a 6 years old Arab paint horse she was a harness horse. She has good ground work but when you get in the saddle she will go so far then she will rear up.  When you ride back to the barn she goes with no problem. What am i doing wroung.Thank You or your Help.

My outlook is that I treat horses emotions and mental stability similar to that of humans. The more I get a horse or person to trust me, the more confidence they gain and the increased "try" they will have when addressing whatever I may present. Their respect will increase as they find that the "risks" they are willing to take in "trying" new things or actions help them wind up in a better place mentally, emotionally and physically.

You mentioned your ground work was "good" but you may have to go back and assess just how clear your communication is with her from the ground. Everything you'd ask of her from the saddle should be established first on the ground. Here are a few things to consider in your evaluation:

Beginning from the ground I would start to make assessments of your horse. Is she happy to greet you when you catch her? Does she stay respectfully out of your space as you lead her or does she barge past you? When being groomed or tacked up, does she stand relaxed and still, or is she constantly fidgeting, fussing, and moving side to side? Is there a change in her demeanor when you bring out the tack? Do you wind up working her in the same "routine" (same time of day, ride in the same place, etc.)?

I personally hate using the word "dominance" because it has a negative canatone. I'd rather you think of your time with your horse as the same balance she would find if she were in a herd. There is only one leader in the herd. So you have the option that either your horse or you can "lead." If your horse leads, her priority sounds like it would be for her to return to the barn. But, if you give your horse clear scenarios presented in a "safe" setting such as a round pen, where she can start to learn what behaviors will work and those that will not when she interacts with you, she will start to mentally learn how to "learn" and "try" to address what you are asking of her.

Remember horses are big and strong animals, but their emotions and mental stability are just as sensitive as it is with people. Also as with people, your horse's actions are a reflection of her mental and emotional status. IF you can get your horse to slow down and "think" her way through something, her body will stay far more relaxed and compliant. But, if you physically try to dominate the horse and push or force her through something you will never change how he feels about what you have asked her to do, and so each time you present the same scenario she will become increasingly resistant. By the time a horse is rearing, they have tried other "quiet" ways of asking for help and were usually unintentionally ignored, so they have to resort to dramatic, dangerous behavior. The rearing is a symptom, and not the issue. If instead of focusing on the rearing, you can instead influence your horse's worries, insecurities, misunderstandings, etc. that CAUSES the rearing, the act of rearing will disappear when she learns how to deal with her stress in a more reasonable manner.

If you try to use force to get your horse to comply, which you may be able to do for a while, over time it will take more and more artificial equipment (open any magazine or go to any tack store and you'll see thousands of "short cut" aids) to get your horse to do what you would like. Even if she starts to "give in" and may not act "huge" or dangerous anymore, there may still be an internal resistance and frustration inside of her that will increase every time you interact with her. It may be a month or years later, but she will reach the day when she can no longer be "forced" to do what you have asked and will "all of a sudden" freak out or act up.

It will take clear communication, patience, effort, availability and time from you in the beginning to build a quality foundation with your horse, but it will affect her entire outlook towards interacting with humans. Instead of having the teenager perspective of "Why should I?" which is how most horses operate, with trust and respect your horse will offer you a "What would you like me to do?" attitude which will be safer and more rewarding for both of you.

Once your horse's brain is with you she will have to learn how to take (literally) one step at a time. Especially racehorses, harness horses, etc., their brains anticipate what is about to happen, so many times you ask for one small response and they give you an over-the-top reaction. Instead your horse will have to learn to have a sliding scale of energy in her movement (reflective of how much energy you have in your body- whether from the ground or in the saddle.) The more available your horse is to hear what you are offering, left, right, slow, fast, wait, etc. the more he will be able to physically comply with what you are asking AND feel good about it.

Good Luck

If you're a horse enthusiast here's an opportunity to help you: Understand how your horse's thoughts influence his...

Posted by Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach on Monday, October 26, 2020