"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2017. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


Full Immersion Clinic Update- Spots Available

Hello everyone! This is an update for our scheduled Full Immersion Clinic June 10-12 (Fri-Sun.) Because of the EHV-1 breakout in the West people have become a bit weary to travel from far with horses. Several clients from the eastern US who had committed to participating in the first clinic have decided to put those plans on hold.

So in our attempts to get creative, be safe, and still hold the clinic, we have decided to offer up the open spots to either those people who have had their horses at home/private facility (with neg coggins and health certificate) OR for those of you who may not want to bring your horse, but would like to participate, we now have access to several local horses to use for the clinic. If you’ve ever wondered “What exactly does Sam do?” or are thinking, “How would I get as much out of the clinic without using my own horse?” Let me offer you “the sales pitch.”


The clinics are not designed to be “just another horsemanship clinic.” We don’t sit for hours on end in the saddle waiting on another participant and each participant does not “do the same exercise.” The points of these clinics are to raise people’s awareness, understanding, recognition, timing, and fine tune their communication with any horse. This could be your horse or someone else’s.

Too many people get distracted by unwanted or “unmanageable” physical issues in their horse (browse through the hundreds of Ask the Trainer Q&As on the website)- but not a lot of people spend time focusing on their horse’s brain. We have individual time, group time, LOTS of discussions, cover tack fitting, etc. Each session is to be used as the stepping stone for the next session. Each participant will “participate” at an appropriate level that they are comfortable with- all level riders/ages are encouraged to participate. This is supposed to be a safe and fun learning experience- for you and the horse.


So what is the concept of these clinics? Let me put it into people terms. If I were to give you a task and asked you to just physically act quickly, without any mental participation, your physical actions would probably be sloppy and unspecific without much clarity or intention. The same goes for when we ride our horses. How many people get on their horse and just start “riding?” Then they wonder why their horse doesn’t have a clue as to where they are going, with how much energy, and what the “plan” is. Instead if we all rode like we drove our vehicles (hopefully) – first we make a decision as to where we are going, then we start to commit GRADUALLY by turning the steering wheel, and THEN we add gas (slowly) to get to where we want. Let’s exchange that car for a horse and what do you most often see? People adding the “gas” first, then turning the “wheel” without much clarity as to where they are going, and then eventually LOOKING! Yikes. No wonder our poor horse has to keep guessing at what we want, until eventually they get tired of always “getting it wrong” and start ignoring our aids. Instead of addressing the horse’s brain, we reprimand the unwanted actions with foreign devices- harsher bits, spurs, tie downs, etc. Because we tend to ride in a “rush” just as we address most other things in life, people tend to focus on “fixing” the symptoms rather than the addressing the issues themselves that are the real CAUSE of the unwanted behavior.


Why should you really participate? In a clinic here you’ll learn to start to assess your horse before you ever catch him. You’ll start to recognize how and when you can begin influencing the quality of the ride as you’re leading him in from the pasture. You’ll see the “signs” of your horse “telling you” if he’s going to be “heavy,” draggy (not thinking forward,) resistant, etc. and then learn how to influence a change in your horse’s brain to set the tone for the upcoming ride. We’ll talk about YOUR brain, energy and intention. Through lectures, hands on participation, and watching others- you’ll start to have those “Aha” moments when you’ll connect the “pieces.”


How does this apply to you if you don’t have your own horse here? I often switch horses and people are amazed to start to see “the same problems” that their own horse usually displays surface with their “new” horse. So is it really “your horse” that has the issue, or perhaps maybe your own lack of awareness, clarity and understanding?


Every year people say “next year.” Or they say, “yeah, but that’s not the sort of riding I do.” I do blur the lines. From my cutting students to my trail riders, from my dressage enthusiasts to my “working horse” riders there are many, many parallels in regards to the BASICS. Yes, the basics. Many people may have ridden for years, just as many horses that have a lot of “miles” and “exposure,” and yet all too often there are major “holes” in both the person and the horse’s education. So here at TEC I try to create a “safe” and nonjudgmental environment (we leave our egos at the door) where people and horses get to “experiment” outside their “normal” routines and comfort zones, in order to find perhaps an alternative way of viewing and interacting (Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey) with their horse- or any horse for that matter. If you keep doing the same thing, your horse will keep offering the same response. Instead learn how to change your perspective, and watch your horse let down, relax and appreciate your newfound clear perspective and communication.


Whew- okay enough of the sales pitch. If you’re revved up and would like to come out and spend three fun fill days that will change a lot of what you thought you were clear on and make interacting with the horses fun again- please email or call me ASAP.

Samantha Harvey
The Equestrian Center, LLC

Flying with Horses: Link to Article

Even if you'll never be one of those people who needs to have a horse flown to/from a destination- have you ever wondered how it's done?  This is a quick read article that was sent to me recently and might cure your curiosity!
http://www2.equigaia.com/horse-transport-by-air/

Enjoy!

Unwanted Behavior: Horse Grazes Constantly while on Trail Ride

Topic_Info: Grass eating on trail
Website_Info: yahoo
Location: TN
Date: May 13, 2011
Question:
I have a 7 yr. old TWH, who is having only one problem. That is when we start out on trail, he ABRUBTLY, without prior notice, stops and starts eating grass. It's a fight to get his head back up, and when I finally do, he may take 10 or so steps, and again without notice, stops and eats. This is the only bad habit he has. He out in pasture from 4:00 pm until 6:30 am and then put in his stall.

He is not under-fed. Most times other riders are back at least a horses length from me, and his quick stopping usually ends up in a rear end collision.

Vet says I need to use spurs on him. Others say, carry a crop and smack him when he does this. I'm not into smacking him. What can I do?

Thank you for your time.

Bruce


Answer:
My philosophy is that a horse's actions are a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state. If he THINKS about something he can then physically commit to it. Right now your horse is displaying signs that his brain is "unavailable" and more committed to thinking about the grass on the trail, therefore his body tries to go after the grass. Keep in mind the trail grazing is a symptom, not the issue, which is lack of clear communication from you and therefore a lack of respect from your horse towards you. My guess is that this is not the "only" unwanted your horse offers, but rather, this is the only seemingly "unmanageable behavior." I'd say you might have assess the standards and quality of what you ask and what your horse really offers before ever thinking about the trail/grass symptom. Waiting for the moment your horse is offering you an unwanted behavior is too late, instead, you'll need an effective set of "tools" when you ride that offer clear communication so that as your horse starts to show signs of mentally checking out, you can influence his thoughts away from things such as grazing on the trail, rather than waiting until he is committed and then reprimanding him for it.

Your goal for when you ride is for your horse to offer "What would you like?", rather than displaying his current, "Why should I?" attitude. Physically trying to "force" a thousand pounds of horse forward and not to graze is not going to happen. Crops, spurs, etc. and other "training" devices may temporarily help, but your horse will eventually learn to "tune out" and resist those foreign aids too.

Horses are herd animals, so when they aren't getting "what they need" from people, their brain tunes them out. Too many times people get distracted by unwanted physical behavior (such as the grazing), rather than slowing down and assessing where the horse's brain is. If the horse understands, trusts and respects you, he'll mentally be "with you" and therefore physically participate in a "happy" manner.


The physical signs of resistance such as prioritizing eating versus paying attention to you are ways of your horse telling you he is having a problem. Typically horses show small signs of resistance before they reach a point of physically completely ignoring you, but if they have been ignored by a rider who "pushes" them on without recognizing the horse is asking for help, even if he isn't physically acting out - yet the horse soon learns to tune out the rider. The horse starts to learn that his pleas to be addressed and not just reprimanded will be ignored, so he mentally and then physically "shuts down" and becomes more resistant in listening to his rider's aids.


You'll need to step back and review the basics to find where the lack of clear communication between you and your horse starts. I would say as of the moment your horse is displaying symptoms that show that he is pretty convinced he can "tune you out" and continue with what he'd like to do. Keep in mind horses don't "just randomly" do things.


Finding a "safe" place such as a round pen and starting while working him from the ground you're going to need to re-establish clear communication using effective "tools" that you will eventually transfer over to using when you are riding. You may work at liberty (with your horse loose) and/or you may work with your horse on the lead rope (using the rope as if it were like a rein when you ride.) When you do something, it must MEAN something to your horse. If you are hopeful (meaning you ask something and then wait and see if your horse eventually addresses you after he has quietly tuned you out) when you communicate with him and allow for him to ignore or "take advantage" of you on the ground, the same behavior will continue in the saddle.


You'll need to be able to "break down" asking your horse to first look (literally) at different "things" without moving. This is asking for a mental commitment. He'll need to learn that ignoring or tuning you out when you're specific, doesn't work and that he must address you mentally. Then you'll need him to understand to "mimic" your energy so that as you increase or decrease your energy so should he. If he can first mentally address, and then physically "softly" move towards what you've presented, you're on the right track for creating a quality ride.


He'll need to understand to change his energy by either a physical aid (such as bumping the stirrup by his side) or a movement from you. Most people stand still or sit still in the saddle hoping the horse will figure out what speed they want. Instead, you must "take your horse for the ride" by offering what you want him to do. I tell people within each gait there should be ten different energy levels. This should first be established from you working your horse on the ground. If he's unclear with you on the ground, he will not just "figure it out" when you're in the saddle.


Too many people are unclear in what, where and how they communicate with their horse. They "challenge" the horse into guessing what they want; reprimanding the horse every time he can't figure it out. Or they present the same manner of communication repetitiously driving the horse bonkers until he accidentally figures out what the person is asking. The more the horse has to "guess" at what the person wants, the more they tune out the person's aids or communication.

The more specific YOU can mentally be in presenting literally one-step-at-a time scenarios, the more your horse can "get it right." The more he realizes he can be successful when addressing you, the more he'll want participate and offer you. One quality step will turn into three and then 10 and then eventually a whole circle and then the entire ride. But it takes clarity and awareness of riding every single step to "help" your horse find the right answer, rather than forcing him to guess. The more clear your communication is, the more your horse will respect your aids, the less effort it will take from you to get him to happily participate.


Good Luck,

Sam

Getting my horse on the bit- NOT a bit/equipment issue

Topic_Info: getting my horse on the bit

Location: Australia
Date: May 05, 2011

Question:
I go to pony club on a 15yr old appy mare and I been riding since I was 7 now I am almost 18. and every time I go to these shows I never get anywhere as my horse will not go on the bit. She can do it in walk to trot but not neatly and not in canter. everyone else has a Pelham bit with a double bridle they all tell me to use one but I want to know if it would work I'm always soft and caring towards my horses and I know Pelham bits are hard on them but I want to know if it would work with practice.


Answer:
Thanks for writing! Many times people work with horses to try to create an outward appearance of what the person visualizes as the "ideal" look in how their horse bends, engages or uses his body. Everything physical you see your horse doing with its body is a reflection of what it is feeling on the inside. The easy fix is to use stronger or more severe training aids to get the "look" a person would like to see in his horse, but over time this creates a resistance in the horse. The person then needs to use harsher aids to get the same "job" done.


Let me put this into people terms. Let's say you were stressed from your job. Every day you woke up with a certain amount of tension in your body day after day because of the consistent stress. You have a friend who is a masseuse who can see your body is compensating because of the tightness caused by your stress at work. Your friend could physically work on your body, and you might relax by the end of the massage. You might have even loosened up in some of your tight spots (your neck, lower back, etc.). But if you went home that evening and started thinking about work and feeling the emotional turmoil caused by your job, how fast do you think your muscles would reflexively tighten up in the areas that had just a few hours before been relaxed? Now let's imagine instead of your friend giving you a massage, your boss called you in to acknowledge what a great employee you were. Your boss had noticed your job was quite stressful, and she wanted to discuss how she could lessen your work load to decrease your stress. In each of the scenarios you could perhaps relax and release some of the emotional tension, which would then relax what you were physically feeling, but one of these ways might offer you a more long term and influential change.

The same goes for when we work with our horses. We can use different bits, aids, "training devices," etc. to attempt to change the way our horse is physically moving or carrying herself. I would offer instead for you to work towards influencing your horse's emotional and mental status that will then be reflected in her outward movement. The act of "relaxing the poll" is one of many behaviors we would like to see in our horses.

But let's step back to when you first greet your horse. Was she relaxed then? Keep in mind there is a difference between a relaxed horse and a tolerant horse. Horses can "deal" with things for along time that might be disturbing them until one day "out of the blue" they blow up or have a melt down. First, does she live in a "happy place" or does she struggle to live in a stall or find his rightful place among the other horses? Does she have plenty of "free time" during each day to move about a large paddock or field? Is there tension in her before you arrive? Is she happy and relaxed when greeting you? If tension has already developed by this point, I would say this is where the outward "resistance" has started.


If she is relaxed from when you first approach her, will she voluntarily come to you from a distance of 20 or even 50 feet? Do you have to catch her or go to her? If she's in a stall, will she turn to face you and walk to you, or do you have to go to her? If she comes on her own willingly, can you notice if there is a certain point during your grooming and tacking up that starts to indicate or initiate discomfort in her? Does she paw, fuss, breath inconsistently, etc. or do anything but stand quietly?


Example: A horse came to us with the explanation that she had terribly sensitive skin and the previous owner's instructions were to use only the softest brushes on him and to use them in a light manner. If you used a curry comb or hard brush, the horse would pin his ears, shake his head, bite at the air, paw and show an overall discomfort. We quickly noticed that if you groomed him after a ride, he would stand completely relaxed and half asleep no matter the severity of the grooming tool. His outward physical appearance of anxiety towards grooming was really a reflection of his anticipation of the upcoming ride. As soon as the ride was over, he could relax mentally and emotionally and therefore stand quietly for his brush down. We changed how he felt about being ridden and now he stands peacefully for grooming before and after a ride.


Will she ground tie and stand without fussing as you groom and then tack her up? Does she stay relaxed until you step in the saddle? Can you start to recognize subtle areas of resistance when you lift your right rein and ask her to think, look and step to the right? If you ask her to halt, does she offer to halt by shifting her weight onto her hindquarters to stand square and relaxed, or does she try to push through the bit forcing you to "hold her" to maintain the halt with her weight on the forehand?


When riding, all of these little areas influence the quality of your ride when asking more difficult movements. That's why we talk about "back to basics." If you are having a lack of clarity and communication between you and your horse while doing the "small" tasks, you have not created enough relationship to ask more difficult maneuvers of your horse. The true quality ride comes from recognizing the almost undetected communication between horse and rider in order to create a two-way conversation to create the ideal fluidity in a ride.


You might need to step back and offer your horse a "clean slate" with no expectations as to what she may have been able to do or had accomplished in the past and revisit some of the "basics" when riding. As she regains a confidence in you as her partner first with your ground work and then during the ride, her trust will increase which will cause her mental, emotional and physical availability to try what you are asking when you ask for more difficult movements and collection.


Finding a "safe" place such as a round pen and starting while working her from the ground you're going to need to re-establish clear communication using effective "tools" that you will eventually transfer over to using when you are riding. You may work at liberty (with your horse loose) and/or you may work with your horse on the lead rope (using the rope as if it were like a rein when you ride.) When you do something, it must MEAN something to your horse. If you are hopeful (meaning you ask something and then wait and see if your horse eventually addresses you after her has quietly tuned you out) when you communicate with her and allow for her to ignore or "take advantage" of you on the ground, the same behavior will continue in the saddle.

You'll need to be able to "break down" asking your horse to first look (literally) at different "things" without moving. This is asking for a mental commitment. She'll need to learn that ignoring or tuning you out when you're specific, doesn't work and that her must address you mentally. Then you'll need her to understand to "mimic" your energy so that as you increase or decrease your energy so should he. If her can first mentally address, and then physically "softly" move towards what you've presented, you're on the right track for creating a quality ride.

Too many people are unclear in what, where and how they communicate with their horse. They "challenge" the horse into guessing what they want; reprimanding the horse every time she can't figure it out. Or they present the same manner of communication repetitiously driving the horse bonkers until she accidentally figures out what the person is asking. The more the horse has to "guess" at what the person wants, the more they tune out the person's aids or communication.


The more specific YOU can mentally be in presenting literally one-step-at-a time scenarios, the more your horse can "get it right." The more she realizes she can be successful when addressing you, the more she'll want participate and offer you. One quality step will turn into three and then 10 and then eventually a whole circle and then the entire ride. But it takes clarity and awareness every single moment you interact with her in order to "help" your horse find the right answer, rather than forcing her to guess. The more clear your communication is, the more your horse will respect your aids, the less effort it will take from you to get her to happily participate.


Good Luck,
Sam

Ask the Trainer: Panic Problem & Dangerous Behavior

Topic_Info: Panic Problem & Dangerous Behavior
Location: Alabama
Date: April 08 2011
Question:
I bought a new horse about six months ago and he is a super sweet boy. He is five years old and there is a good chance he was abused before I bought him. The only problem he had when I bought him was that he would stiffen his front legs and panic when you tightened his girth. I found that if I took my time, left him untied, and walked him during the process he would do fine. Last week, I was taking him to a trail ride and when I started to load him, he pulled back, panicked and threw himself over on his back. He has done this one other time also, when he was tied to the trailer. Panic, then right over backwards! I really love this horse but I'm starting to get afraid that he will panic and flip over under saddle. This is a hard problem, do you have any advice?
Answer:
Your horse is mentally "checking out" when his stress, panic, worry, fear, insecurity, etc. takes over. Horses don't just randomly one day start acting out dramatically, so my guess would be he probably showed signs of stress that you either didn't recognize or were not addressed in a way that made him feel better so that he could mentally and emotionally "let go" of the worry and replace it with confidence. The scenarios such pulling back when tied, panicking when the cinch was tightened, etc. present that your horse is having issues with pressure- towards him, on him, around him, etc. The issue itself is not dramatic or unwanted behavior, but rather why his brain is getting so stressed that he's acting out as he is.

Horses are herd animals, and especially with young ones, they need a confident leader in you who offers them clear communication to help them mentally slow down and address any concerns they have. Naturally they physically react to something, then stop and mentally address. For the sake of both our and their safety, and in teaching our horses to be reasonable when they are having a problem, we need to teach them to stop, address, think and then move.

Right now your horse is mentally unavailable to "hear" you and does not currently ask "What would you like?" Instead he "takes over" in a situation as a matter of self preservation- not because he is trying to be "bad."

If your horse has felt "ignored" by you or other people in his past, he now makes decisions on his own with no mental availability towards you when he is having a melt down moment. A horse's physical actions are a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state. The more "warm and fuzzy" he feels on the inside, the more he'll look relaxed on the outside. The more stress he is carrying inside of him, the more stress you'll see in his physical behavior that can lead to dangerous behavior.

Your horse does not want to reach a point of "panic" but he's probably pretty convinced at this point that people are not there to help him through a stressful scenario. The more dramatic the behavior, the worse the horse is feeling.

I'd say you're going to have to go back and revisit the basics and assess the quality of clear communication you have with him (or the areas that may be lacking) so that you can establish effective "tools" when you work with him. You're going to have to offer him a "clean slate" and assume he knows nothing so that you can find the "holes" in his training and address those in order to get him mentally, emotionally and physically feeling better about life.

Trying to address your horse the moment he is physically exploding is too late and after the fact. You're going to need to be able to influence his thoughts, energy within his movement, respect of personal space, etc. You're going to need to recognize when your horse starts showing the slightest signs of being stressed and stop and address them. Many times people "push" a horse through a situation they think is "no big deal" not realizing even if the horse "goes along" with being forced through it, that he is still carrying a lot of internal stress that continues to build until he can no longer handle it. This is where you hear people say "he blew up all of a sudden." Well no, it wasn't all of a sudden. The stress may have started a month ago, last week, or this morning, but because it wasn't addressed in a way that the horse could diffuse and let it go, it had to come out at some point- like the "needle that broke that camel's back."

You want to be able to influence your horse ahead of time, rather than being reactive towards what he offers and always reprimanding him for getting something wrong. People who try to be "nice" or "loving" to their horse create a "gray area" in communication- the horse operates in the black and white. He needs to learn where the boundaries are so that he can operate within them. If you're not consistent, then he'll always have to be searching for what you want, which will lead him to soon ignoring you. The more you are clear, specific, and intentional by addressing every step with him, the better he'll feel about life. The more his confidence will increase and the dramatic and dangerous behavior will dissipate on its own.

Finding a "safe" place such as a round pen and starting while working him from the ground you're going to need to re-establish clear communication using effective "tools" that you will eventually transfer over to using when you are riding. You may work at liberty (with your horse loose) and/or you may work with your horse on the lead rope (using the rope as if it were like a rein when you ride.) When you do something, it must MEAN something to your horse. If you are hopeful (meaning you ask something and then wait and see if your horse eventually addresses you after he has quietly tuned you out) when you communicate with him and allow for him to ignore or "take advantage" of you on the ground, the same behavior will continue in the saddle.

You'll need to be able to "break down" asking your horse to first look (literally) at different "things" without moving. This is asking for a mental commitment. He'll need to learn that ignoring or tuning you out when you're specific, doesn't work and that he must address you mentally. Then you'll need him to understand to "mimic" your energy so that as you increase or decrease your energy so should he. If he can first mentally address, and then physically "softly" move towards what you've presented, you're on the right track for creating a quality ride.

He'll need to understand to change his energy by either a physical aid (such as bumping the stirrup by his side) or a movement from you. Most people stand still or sit still in the saddle hoping the horse will figure out what speed they want. Instead, you must "take your horse for the ride" by offering what you want him to do. I tell people within each gait there should be ten different energy levels. This should first be established from you working your horse on the ground. If he's unclear with you on the ground, he will not just "figure it out" when you're in the saddle.

Too many people are unclear in what, where and how they communicate with their horse. They "challenge" the horse into guessing what they want; reprimanding the horse every time he can't figure it out. Or they present the same manner of communication repetitiously driving the horse bonkers until he accidentally figures out what the person is asking. The more the horse has to "guess" at what the person wants, the more they tune out the person's aids or communication.

The more specific YOU can mentally be in presenting literally one-step-at-a time scenarios, the more your horse can "get it right." The more he realizes he can be successful when addressing you, the more he'll want participate and offer you. One quality step will turn into three and then 10 and then eventually a whole circle and then the entire ride. But it takes clarity and awareness of riding every single step to "help" your horse find the right answer, rather than forcing him to guess. The more clear your communication is, the more your horse will respect your aids, the less effort it will take from you to get him to happily participate.

Good Luck,
Sam

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.

Unwanted Behavior: Lowering Head At the Lope

Topic_Info:    lowering his head at lope
Website_Info:  google
Location:      Sedona AZ
Date:          May 03, 2011

Question:
How do I prevent my horse from lowering his head while loping?

Answer:
When a horse carries his head at an unusually low height while moving it is typically a sign of them "avoiding" what is being presented... It can mask insecure or worried feelings and so instead of looking ahead with intention as to where the horse is about to move, he is "going through the motions" without mentally participating in what you are asking of him.  A horse's physical behavior is a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state.  When your horse feels good about what you are asking of him, he will move in a fluid, balanced and natural manner.  When he is worried, concerned, unclear or fearful he will move in an unnatural state.  Also you need to realize that most unwanted behaviors are not the issue themselves, but rather a symptom of an underlying issue.  In this case your horse's lack of thinking and participating to move forward may be the issue, and his low head carriage the symptom.

I would slow down and review the quality of your walk, jog, trot and transitions.  You should be able to get multiple different "energies" from your horse within each gait.  You'll want to assess if you increase the energy at one gait, does your horse start to show signs of stress which could include: shaking his head, "grabbing the bit," swishing his tail, grinding his teeth, taking short and fast "sewing machine steps" as oppose to quality forward steps using his hindquarters to push him forward, etc.  As you gradually increase or decrease your energy in the saddle, he should match the change in his energy willingly and without any abruptness.  Horses who are avoiding thinking and literally looking forward as they move tend to react as if they are being "pushed" forward.  This may be from a rider's heavy hands, inconsistent aids, fear of speed when ridden created in the horse from not moving balanced, and a multitude of other factors.

First a horse must be able to offer relaxed, fluid and consistent changes of energy within a gait, then quality transitions from one gait to another and then I start asking for more energy in the faster gaits.  If the horse starts to "dive" down on the bit or forehand as I increase my energy in the saddle (this does not mean kicking him forward or relying on spurs or whips as an aid,) if I just pull back on the reins I'm offering him something to resist- the bit.  If I offer a "consistent resistance" challenging my horse to a game of tug-o-war guess who will always win?  The horse.

Make sure as you ride that your intention in your own mind is clear and that you are "taking your horse for the ride" as oppose to waiting to see what he'll offer you and then telling him if he's reacting wrongly.  Your goal is to get your horse to think forward, then he'll move forward.  It's a bit like the child's game of "hot and cold."  You'll need to quickly and effectively convey to your horse that his reaction to thinking and then moving forward cannot be addressed by his diving downwards as you increase your energy.  The faster you can communicate that when he tries to dive that his behavior will not work, the faster he will "let it go" and quit diving on the forehand.

There are many ways to communicate that "a behavior your horse is offering isn't going to work," and it comes down to clear and effective communication.  Again a foundation of clear aids or "tools" needs to be established so that when you need to show your horse that something he is doing isn't going to work, he can understand and accept the aid, rather than becoming defensive towards the aid itself.  Too many times people think they are correcting a horse, when in reality they don't have enough tools to work with to clearly communicate with their horse.  So when they try to reprimand the horse, it just creates "another issue" that adds more confusion to the horse, which typically creates a defensive demeanor in the horse towards the person.

One such example of showing a horse his behavior is unacceptable (assuming there are quality tools established ahead of time) is by using an indirect inside rein.  If the aid is used correctly with accurate timing and an appropriate energy of the rider's hand, the rein will "tap into" the horse's brain and ask him to shift his weight and rock back onto his hindquarters.  In order to do this, he will lift his withers and lighten his weight off of the forehand.  As he moves in a more balanced state, he will then offer to carry his head at a more normal and natural height.

The problem is, too many people do not understand all of the many options in how, when and why they use their reins.  They do not asses their own sensitivity (or lack of) when trying to communicate to the horse.  They do not understand the difference between a direct and indirect rein.  They do not understand when to recognize and accept a "try" or effort from the horse, and when to ask more.  So too many times people wind up "picking a fight" with their horse when they are trying to correct an issue. 

Good Luck,
Sam

Balking in Young Horse When Ridden

Topic_Info:    Balking
Website_Info:  google
Location:      Bulverde TX
Date:          May 02, 2011

Question:  I have been working with a young horse for the past year (Just turned 4 last week).  I feel like I have moved very slowly with him.  I worked for approximately 6 months in the round pen before mounting him.  I started riding him about 4-5 month ago.  I was still lounging 2 to 3 days a week and riding him on the weekends after about a 10-15 minute lounge.  I was at my trainers about 2 weeks ago and we had moved from the round pen to riding in the large arena.  He did wonderfully and we had just finished up and I was walking him out when he suddenly stopped.  He just would not move.  The trainer even came over and tried to hand walk him and nothing.  I dismounted and walked him out of the arena not thinking much about it.  A few days later, I lounged for about 10 minutes and mounted and he would not move.  He drops his head to the ground and would not move a muscle.  You can pull his head from side to side but the hooves do not move.  I took him back to the trainers this past weekend and same thing.  He lounged beautifully and once mounted, he just feels like the life has been sucked out of him.  I can not imagine that he was pushed too far...I must have worked basic walk/trot skills, spiraling in and out on the lounge line for over 3-4 months before even asking for the canter.  The first time mounted, he was wonderful.  The trainer was there to hand walk him.  We gradually proceeded to to a lounge line while mounted and within about 2 weeks~ we started riding in the round pen on our own. I am complete lost!  I have put him up and thought maybe I need to give him a break and see what happens in about a month.  I have never run across this before and really don't know what to do.  I thought I had built up the respect with all the lounge work.  He listens to all my verbal skills and is really well mannered.  He is such a sweet horse but I fear that I have really gone wrong and am fearful of creating a habit so I am at a stand still.  I would appreciate any help or suggestions that you might have.  Brandi

Answer:
Many times horses are willing to do something the first time or two that we ask them, but then when they realize what something is going to be like, they learn if they are defensive and prevent a rider from asking they can then "protect" themselves from an unwanted experience.

I'm glad to hear of someone who really took their time with their young horse.  But from what you've said, I'm gathering that your horse has become "patternized."  He has learned to expect the routine of what will be asked of him in the round pen, with the lounge line, etc. and has learned to offer a conditioned response to your verbal cues.  The problem with this is when you change what you are asking, such as when you are trying to ride, your horse is not mentally available to hear, think, or offer a physical try.  Now that you've changed the pattern and want to ride him, he is saying "This isn't how we do it..." and therefor has become both mentally and physically unwilling to participate and address the "new" scenarios you are presenting.

Here are a few thoughts:
Lounging typically teaches the horse a conditioned behavior and winds up being a physical exercise as oppose to a mental one. In my opinion the point of the round pen is not to physically exert the horse, but rather it is a safe place to teach a horse to become mentally available as if he were saying, "What would you like?" 

Horse's physical actions are a direct reflection of their mental and emotional state.  If a horse is feeling warm and fuzzy he'll be physically relaxed on the outside.  If he is stressed, worried, insecure, etc. you'll see dramatic or resistant physical behavior.

Your horse is not being stubborn, dull, or disobedient.  Rather he is asking for help.  Somewhere along the way, your aids in teaching him how to yield and respond to both your energy and physical pressure on the ground were unclear, therefor by the time you mounted him, his understanding decreased even more.

A horse can feel a fly land on him, but what you do has to MEAN something to your horse.  Right now it seems there is a lack of clear communication and so when your horse is unsure, he is "doing nothing" (by physically balking and not moving forward) because he is mentally unclear.

Also keep in mind people's timing in how, when and what aids they use rarely make clear to the horse when he is "getting it right," (it being what ever you are asking of him,) and when the horse is offering the wrong behavior or action.  Too many times people don't assess what they are doing (how, when, why and with what level of energy,) and therefor cannot make a change in themselves which then prevents them from getting a change in their horse.

Also keep in mind the physical resistance you are feeling is a direct reflection of a mental lack of understanding, it is not your horse being bad.  He is trying his "options" when unclear, and his "balking" is the result.

watch" you when you are on the ground, what happens when you are in the saddle trying to communicate with him?  These are all scenarios that allow you to assess the true quality of your relationship before you ride.

The good news is you haven't "wrecked your horse," you just need to review the quality and clarity of the basics in how you are communicating. A consistent concern I find with those horse people who try to "go slow" for the horse's sake is they wind up becoming hypersensitive and too "nice" in how they interact with their horse, causing their communication to drift into the "gray" area, rather than what I call the black and white.  Horses are herd animals, they are used to "rules" in the herd.  They need to know the "boundaries" of what behaviors work, and those that do not,  in order to "operate" successfully within the herd.  With people, when we get too polite with our horse, which in our mind is being "nice" or patient, we tend to accidentally let our lack of clear communication cause our horse's understanding to drift into the gray area.  When the horse isn't sure, he has to start guessing at what we want.  The more he has to guess, the more he "takes over" mentally and then physically, which leads to unwanted behavior towards the rider.

So as much as you are interacting with your horse slowly, there may not be the level of quality that you need to establish in order to build confidence for when you ride him.  You'll need to start assessing you first, experiment with whatever you're asking of your horse from the ground and watch for a change in your horse's behavior.  If he ignores your changes in energy, he's telling you he's unclear.  If he is "helpful" by doing a task "ahead of time" (or before you have asked him to) he is taking over and making the decisions, which can lead to trouble later.  If he is "slow" in his response, he is lacking understanding.

Your horse will tell you when "you're doing it right" by the softness and lightness of his response to your aid.  Too many people are "going for the ride" and are "waiting to see" what they horse offers, then they try to convey to the horse if they like it or they don't.  But this is "after the fact" and too late.  I want to "take my horse for the ride" by offering and influencing the ride ahead of time with my communication.  But this requires me to mentally and physically ride every step.  Most riders mentally check out until "all of a sudden" their horse is displaying unwanted or dangerous behavior.  Nothing happens with horses all of a sudden, most riders just tend to miss the initial calm and slow display of mental and then physical resistance.

By creating clear communication you'll build confidence in your horse that will encourage him to want to participate mentally and physically and will make a rewarding ride for both of you.  In the beginning you may be riding only a few quality steps and then leave your horse alone.  Each time he realizes that you are acknowledging a quality effort from him, the more effort he'll offer your when you present something new.  Instead too many people tend to take "advantage" of a young horse's efforts and cause the horse to feel like no matter how much they try they can't "get it right" and therefor the horse mentally and physically checks out.

One last comment which again is a personal opinion is voice commands.  I don't like to teach my horses conditioned responses because it creates a level of anticipation and mental "shut down."  With a green horse, I'm looking that the horse is responding to my energy (if he will not address your changes of energy from the ground first, it will be even more difficult to get a change from when you're in the saddle.)  Until my horse's brain is saying, "What would you like?" he is mentally unavailable.  If he is mentally unavailable to address what I'm offering, he will be physical resistant and offer unwanted behavior.

Good Luck,
Samantha Harvey
The Equestrian Center, LLC