"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.


Our journey of Horsemanship: Leaving Room for Interpretation

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

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

Did you think of using rein pressure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sam

How to decrease the stress of trailering/hauling horses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam

Riding with Sam- Assessment, Awareness, Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

· What: What are your riding goals? For:

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


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


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

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

Who: You -- Attitude Attention Emotion Physical condition

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

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

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

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

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

When and where should the assessment begin?

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

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

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

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


Why do we assess?


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

When we get on…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· Responsiveness- reaction time to an aid

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

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

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

· Effective- promptly getting the reaction you asked for

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

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

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

· Preparing- always expect the unexpected

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

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

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

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

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