"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.


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

Grizzly & Horse Encounter- MUST READ

*Rich Landers* The Spokesman-Review

September 18, 2011 - Updated: September 20, 1:25 p.m.

Grizzlies are high profile this year.

A lingering winter and late berry crop kept bears in proximity to humans longer than normal, perhaps contributing to a stream of headlines about grizzlies killing people and people killing grizzlies.

Meanwhile, a young lady on a big horse charged out of the pack of grizzly stories near Glacier National Park. In a cloud of dust, the 25-year-old wrangler likely saved a boy’s life while demonstrating that skill, quick-thinking and guts sometimes are the best weapons against a head-on charging grizzly.

On July 30, Erin Bolster of Swan Mountain Outfitters was guiding eight clients on a horse ride on the Flathead National Forest between West Glacier and Hungry Horse, Mont.

“It’s the shortest ride we offer,” she said Wednesday, recalling the incident. “We’d already led two trips that morning. It’s always been a very routine hour-long loop, until that day.”

The group included a family of six plus a vacationing Illinois man, who’d booked the trip for his 8-year-old son’s first horse-riding experience.

The young boy was riding Scout, a steady obedient mount, following directly behind Bolster, who was leading the group on Tonk, a burly 10-year-old white horse of questionable lineage.

Tonk isn’t the typical trail mount. Best anyone knows, he’s the result of cross-breeding a quarter horse with a Percheron – a draft horse. Bolster is 5-foot-10, yet she relies on her athleticism to climb into the saddle aboard Tonk.

“He was one of the horses we lease from Wyoming and bring in every year,” Bolster said, noting that she’d picked him from the stable in May to be hers for the season.

“He’s a very large horse – 18 hands high. That intimidates a lot of riders. But I’ve always loved big horses. He’s kind of high-strung and spooky, the largest of our wrangling horses. I like a horse with a lot of spirit, and I was really glad to be on him that day.”

Bolster has accumulated a wealth of experience on and around horses of national and even world class. She started riding at 4 years old, became a pro trainer at 15, graduated from high school at 16 in Roanoke, Va., and ran a riding academy for several years.

Seeking a more laid-back lifestyle, she wrangled in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic before moving to Whitefish three years ago to guide tourists during the summer around Glacier National Park and ski through winter.

“It’s the country, the mountains and the idea of seeing lot of wildlife that appealed to me, ironically enough,” she said.

Bolster quickly racked bear experience, too, although until July 30, it was always at a distance.

“At the peak of the season, we were seeing bears daily,” she said. “The wranglers name them so we can let each other know where they are. Usually the bears just keep feeding in the distance or they run away when we come.  Just seeing them is a treat for us and our guests.”

Because they guide around Glacier Park, bear awareness is part of thepreparation wranglers get when hired by Swan Mountain Outfitters.

“We go over a lot of wildlife scenarios in our training,” Bolster said. “We learn to watch our horses for signals of possible trouble so we can steer clear.”

That’s the key, she said: Avoid trouble with a moose or a bear.

“We can’t use pepper spray when we’re riding because that could blind the horse,” she said. “And using a gun would spook the horses and probably produce more danger than safety.”

That’s how she went to work that day: a young but seasoned pro rider on a new, huge and spirited horse, unarmed in the wilderness with eight dudes.

“It was a pleasant ride until we came around a corner on the trail and my horse stopped firm and wouldn’t move,” Bolster said. “He never refuses to go, so that caught my attention quick.”

But not fast enough to avoid the spike white-tailed deer that burst out of the brush and glanced off Tonk’s left front shoulder.

As Tonk spun from the impact, Bolster saw a huge grizzly bear crashing through the forest right at the group in pursuit of the deer. Horses panicked and guests grabbed saddle horns for the ride of their lives.

“No amount of training could keep a horse from running from a 700-pound charging bear,” she said.

Seven of the horses sensed the danger, scrambled around and galloped back on the trail toward the barn.

But Scout bolted perpendicular to the trail into the timber packing the 8-year-old boy.

“The deer peeled off and joined the horses sprinting down the trail,” Bolster said. “So the bear just continued running right past me. I’m not sure the bear even knew the roles had changed, but now it was chasing a horse instead of a deer.”

The grizzly was zeroed in on Scout and the boy – the isolated prey in the woods.

Adding to the drama, the boy’s father, an experienced rider, could not convince his horse that it was a good plan to ride to his son’s rescue.

“The last thing he saw over his shoulder as his horse ran away was the grizzly chasing his boy,” Bolster said.

With the bear on Scout’s heels, Tonk’s instinct was to flee with the group of horses. But Tonk responded to Bolster’s heels in his ribs as she spun the big fella around. They wheeled out of a 360 and bolted into the trees to wedge between the predator and the prey.

“The boy was bent over, feet out of the stirrups, clutching the saddle horn and the horse’s neck,” she said. “That kept him from hitting a tree limb.

“But all I could think about was the boy falling off in the path of that grizzly.

“I bent down, screamed and yelled, but the bear was growling and snarling and staying very focused on Scout.

“As it tried to circle back toward Scout, I realized I had to get Tonk to square off and face the bear. We had to get the bear to acknowledge us.

“We did. We got its attention – and the bear charged.

“So I charged at the bear.”

Did she think twice about that?

“I had no hesitation, honestly,” Bolster said. “Nothing in my body was going to let that little boy get hurt by that bear. That wasn’t an option.”

Tonk was on the same page.

*With a ton of horse*, boulder-size hooves and a fire-breathing blonde thundering at it, the bear came within about 10 feet before skittering off to the side.

But it quickly angled to make yet another stab at getting to Scout and the boy – who had just fallen to the ground.

“Tonk and I had to go at the bear a third time before we finally hazed him away,” she said.

“The boy had landed in some beargrass and was OK. Scout was standing nearby.”

Bolster gathered the boy up with her on Tonk, grabbed Scout’s lead and trotted down the trail.

“The boy was in shock,” she said. “I looked back and could see the bear had continued to go away through he woods, but I had another five or 10 minutes of riding before I got back with the group.”

Not until she reunited with her riders – all OK and standing in various stages of confusion with their horses – did she start to shake.

“I looked at Tonk, and he was wet with sweat and shaking, too,” she said.

She was especially concerned for the boy’s father, who probably suffered the most terror in the ordeal.

“He was fine, and I got my biggest tip of the season,” Bolster said. “My biggest hope is that the boy isn’t discouraged from riding. This was a one-in-a-million event.”

*For the next few days*, the outfitter shut down the trail rides and Bolster joined other wranglers and a federal grizzly bear expert to ride horses through the area looking for the bear.

“They tracked it for a long way and concluded that it kept going out of the area,” she said. “Judging from the tracks and my description of how high the bear came up on Tonk, the grizzly expert estimated it weighed 700-750 pounds.

“This was a case of us being in the wrong place as a bear was already in the act of chasing its natural prey. He was probably more persistent because he was really hungry.”

Bolster and the other wranglers vowed to have bear spray on their belts to make sure they can defend their guests during breaks on the ground.

“But when you’re riding, the horse is your best protection, if you can stay on,” she said.

“Some of the horses I’ve ridden would have absolutely refused to do what Tonk did; others would have thrown me off in the process. Some horses can never overcome their flight-animal instinct to run away.”

*In those minutes *of crisis, the big lug of mongrel mount proved his mettle in a test few trail horses will face in their careers.

Tonk’s grit moved Bolster. She wasn’t about to send him back to Wyoming with the other leased horses.

“Two weeks ago, I closed the deal and bought him,” Bolster said as she was wrapping up her 2011 wrangling season.

“After what he did that day, he had to be mine.”

Don’t Embrace the Brace

Have you ever felt any of the following when you work with a horse:
Heavy on the lead rope- as you were dragging the horse around?

Loading or unloading a horse from the trailer/lorry and feeling that you couldn’t “stop” or “move him” to a different place from what he was offering?

The horse was to move out of your personal space when working from the ground?

The horse was resistant to transitions whether being worked from the ground or in the saddle?

The horse is pushing, leaning, heavy or dragging on the bit/bridle?

When you are trying to turn in one direction and having your horse slowly “leak” the opposite way?

When you tried to ride a straight line feeling that your horse is constantly “throwing” or “locking up” his shoulder or hip towards the opposite way from which you are traveling?

Picking up the reins and feeling a general “lethargic” response from your horse?

The list could go on and on… All of the above mentioned “issues” are a result of your horse’s resistance, which I will refer to as a brace.  The brace starts mentally.  The horse is mentally unavailable to “hear” what you are offering (your communication with him.) 

There are different “levels” of resistance/brace a horse can display.  For most riders “good enough” is accepted, which is when the horse offers a  level of try that he thinks is “good enough,” and the rider accepts it, whether or not it was the ideal quality the rider had originally intended.  Most people ride being “polite” to their horses, accepting good enough attitudes in their horse, because they translate in this acceptance as being “nice” or “kind” to their horse.  The truth is, when a horse carries any level of brace in him, mentally, emotionally and physically, “being kind” and leaving him there, is not an actual “nice” act.  It really leaves your horse in a spot of turmoil.  Horses do not have the rationally to say, “I don’t feel good when I think/act like this, so let me change what I’m doing.”  So it is up to the human to help the horse get to a “better” spot emotionally, mentally and physically. 

The horse’s nature causes him to constantly search for that “feel good spot,” whether it’s when he’s in a herd of horses or with his human handler/rider.  The problem is humans typically live in the “gray” areas as far as decision making, clear communication, their intentions, level of awareness, etc.,  whereas horses live in the “black and white.”  They search for what behaviors are acceptable and those that are not. 

We’ve all seen such clarity and “boundaries” displayed within a herd;  the lead horse swishing its tail or flipping it’s ears back towards a horse lower in the pecking order when that horse gets too close.  Or the mare sending her colt “away” from the herd as a disciplinary action, until the colt changes his approach, he is not allowed back into the herd. 

But most people don’t realize that they aren’t aware, assessing and are misinterpreting what their horse is asking of them, therefore, they cannot offer their horse clear “boundaries” of what behaviors are acceptable and those that are not.  The more “gray” the human is when communicating with the horse, the more “lost” the horse is.  The lost’ness’  causes the horse an uneasiness because he is not clear of what is expected of him, therefor he becomes mentally defensive and prepares for “the worst.”  The mental and emotional defensiveness of the horse translates into a physical resistance or BRACE.  This is when the person experiences the scenarios listed at the beginning of this article.

Now as with anything there are different levels of brace, from the glaringly obvious, such as the horse that plants his feet and will not move forward to the horse that may offer some of the following scenarios…  The horse’s brace may appear as him trying what you asked “once” and then “giving up” or resisting if you ask for a different response from him.  Or your horse could be “going along fine” but always adds an extra step or two, such as in a transition.  This could be your horse offering you a lateral movement, but if you ask him to offer a bit softer, more balanced or rhythmic movement you feel like you literally are sitting on or have put your leg against a “brick wall.”  Again the list goes on and on…

My point is most times people offer either “too nice” or too aggressive communication, it’s because they are feeling a resistance, a brace, in their horse and are unclear on a.) Where, when and what is the root cause of the brace to start, and b.) Are unclear as to what “tools” are necessary to communicate clearly with their equine in order to get a change in their horse’s mental, emotional and physical state.

Because of this lack of understanding in the human, people get distracted by the unwanted behavior their horse is offering, which is the symptom, rather than getting to the “root” issue.  They also do not understand that the physical behavior offered by a horse is a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state.

Put it into people terms; how do you physically act if you are mentally and emotionally unclear, insecure, worried, fearful, defensive, etc.?  The same goes for the horse.  Influence a mental and emotional change in your horse, and you’ll achieve the ideal physical response.  Now obviously this is not the “quick fix” solution and requires a huge “responsibility” on the rider’s end to first address them before they ever worry about their horse. 

So the more common alternative, mostly due to a “distraction” of the unwanted physical behavior is to “fix” the more blaringly obvious “brace”- the physical one.  The clearest evidence of the number of riders that experience a brace in their horse is displayed in any tack magazine or catalogue.  What percentage of the equipment is offered to “fix” a problem with the horse’s physical behavior?  Bits, spurs, whips, martingales, tie-downs, draw reins, etc…

This all comes back to quality horsemanship before you ever get into saddle and taking the time to honestly look at the clarity of communication you have with your horse from the ground before you “expect” quality in the saddle.

Good Luck,

Sam

Lifting the blinders: "Over-educated" horse owners can often lead to underthinking horsemen

Clients that work with me often realize that many horse owners (usually them self included ) seek "help" from a professional only AFTER something has gone terribly wrong in their relationship and/or interaction with their horse.  And most would admit that they could have "seen it coming" way before the actual dangerous or dramatic event occurred.  For some reason though, people never really believe how fast or how bad a situation with a horse can get, until they've reached that point.
I was working horses the other day and non-horse person happened to be watching while his granddaughter was doing a lesson on a pony with another instructor.  He was watching what I was doing (working a mare at liberty) and watching a client "catching" her horse in the pasture- but using my "hot wire" technique to help support that mare to try all of her options until she decided she wanted to come over and present herself to be caught.  I mentioned a few general theories as to what he was seeing and why we were doing what we were with the horses.

As the gentleman was standing watching both of us he casually made the following remarks:
"Why would someone want to impose them self on a horse to be caught in order to work with it?"
"Why force a horse to do anything, wouldn't it get really upset if you do?"
"The bit really doesn't stop a horse does it?"

Over the years I've encountered these scenarios more than a few times.  The horse "ignorant" person can make crystal clear and almost overly simplistic assessments and literally "see" what is happening with the horses. 

On the other hand, all too often, the "over-educated" horse person has accidentally developed the "mainstream horse world's" imposed blinders created by too many avenues of generalized information causing a lack of clarity in understanding. Years of accepting things because "that's how everybody else does it" can lead to a lack of self imposed honestly, awareness, sensitivity and thinking therefor hindering clear communication with their horse. 

The other major negative created by these "blinders" is that it consistently seems to "push down" that little voice in the back of a person's head that says things like, "Doesn't that seem like a bad idea?" therefor causing the horseman to either have a false sense of security or to ignore their instincts to NOT do something.  By dismissing that voice,  all too often a traumatic incident for either horse and/or rider occurs.  Then the now scared, injured, frustrated, traumatized person and/or horse finds someone like me and say "please fix us." I wish these "blinders" could be removed BEFORE things get to extremes, but somehow the "hopefulness" people carry with them when they work with horses seems to outweigh the general common sense.

We always joke that hindsight is 20/20; but really for me, most incidents, issues, "vices" or dangerous behavior can usually be tracked to down to an initial point where they horse tried to communicate with the person and either was ignored, not addressed, or addressed but not helped to "let down" from what was bothering it.  Too many times all three of these options occur because instead of equine "professionals" slowing down and "breaking down" and explaining what exactly is going on, why, and then offering bits and pieces in how to address it, they tend to offer a "faster" alternative with less of a standard for both the owner and their equine partner. 

Without the clarity, understanding or a standard people usually 1.) don't understand what is really going on when their horse is offering unwanted behavior- i.e. they get distracted by the "big" physical movement rather than seeking to influence their horse mentally and emotionally, 2.) cannot assess why their horse is offering what he is, and 3.) do not have quality and effective "tools" in order to influence a change in their horse.

So the next time you watch something and don't understand it, don't just accept it.  The next time you offer your horse something and you don't know why, stop, and figure that out before you try with your horse.  The next time that little voice starts to pop up in your head, leave "society's opinions" at the door and trust your instincts.

Keeping things simple, honest and real will bring the fun back into your ride and will remove the "surviving the ride" feeling- I promise!
Sam