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From the Client's Perspective: "Not Knowing What Was Missing..."

This post comes as a result of a recent client's feedback.  She'd initially brought her horse for some specific training, thinking that his foundation and basics were up to par and that he was "such a good boy."  He was young but very willing and very mature for his four years.  He'd injured himself superficially on his hind leg and was a saint about being "tended to."  Didn't care about other horses coming or going, tied, ground tied, bathe, fly spray, etc.  Quiet while he was tacked up and so on.  But...

He was a quiet version of "knowing" the routine or pattern that was expected of him.  Basic things like come over and present yourself to be haltered, rather than just turning and facing me were a little shocking.  The round pen to him was just a place to brainlessly move- even if he wasn't dramatic about it- he still was mentally unavailable.  When I got him, as much as he understood look, then step, once there was forward movement, his brain checked out and he just "meandered" through the motions, rather than stepping with intention.  As soon as he started moving at a faster gait, there was only one energy level within the gait.  If he started moving more quickly, the quality of his brakes deteriorated rather quickly. 

None of  his movement or behavior was malicious, just rather a result of being unclear or not having been presented with "boundaries" of what behavior works and that which does not when interacting with a person.

Three weeks later his owner came out to ride and work with me and her horse to "get on the same page."  I rode around and she said, "I've never seen my horse look like that..." Which is a nice compliment, but for me, the goal is not for the horse to perform for me, but rather that the owner can achieve the same results with her horse, because when they get the horse home, they are going to have to understand what tools and clear communication is needed to not only maintain but also expand quality sessions with their horse.

So the owner hopped on and I gave a very brief overview of increasing and decreasing your energy, visualizing riding "straight" as if you were on a tightrope- this does not mean not turning, but rather riding a straight line on a turn which begins with your horse thinking around the turn then physically moving. We talked about having intention when you ride, although every few steps your specific direction may have to change.  We talked about not adjusting to our horse constantly, but rather through slow, specific and intentional mental and physical steps to establish clear communication using our seat, hands. legs, energy and brains.

The owner was in totally shock by the simple act of just changing the energy within her posting how much of a change her horse offered her. She also started to recognize when her horse would get mentally distracted and how she could simply tune his brain back in by wiggling a rein.  The concept of"taking the horse for the ride" rather than just "going for the ride" where the horse dictates what happens helped her to assess and make decisions to influence the horse before he was committed to an unwanted behavior.

Day two of her working with her horse gave her even more confidence that she could be "believable" and that whatever she wanted to ask of her horse, he could offer it immediately rather than with the "slow" and "teenager" like delayed response.

A week after she brought her horse home she sent me the following note:
"Thanks again for everything you've done with me and my horse.  Riding has become more fun rather than a battle.  I now look forward to going out to ride, rather than wondering what might happen."

Initially, when this client brought me her horse, she didn't even recognize that she was "battling" him when she rode.  It wasn't until the "standard"was raised that she then could realize how much had been "missing" in the communication and intention between she and her horse.

For those of you who've read some of my Ask The Trainer answers, many times you'll see that I sound like a broken machine repeating myself in saying that the "issue" the person has written about with their horse is usually a symptom of an issue, rather than the real problem itself.  The same goes with the above mentioned horse.  I could have given you a list of ten physical behaviors that most people would have considered "issues"- but instead, by addressing the horse's brain with clear communication through using "tools" I could change the unwanted behavior by engaging the horse's brain to slow down, think, commit and have a "standard" in his mental and physical participation.

As you know riding and our relationships with our horses is an ongoing journey.  To me, it's exciting that there is no "end point"-there's always room for improvement and expansion in just how far we can create a quality and lasting partnership with our horse.

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