I haven’t ever really fit “the mold” in the horse world, and to this day people are stumped when they ask what it is that I do, and I answer that “I work with horses and their owners.” “But what discipline?” they ask. “All of them,” I say. Of course this answer usually gets a “so you don’t really specialize in anything or know much about anything” sort of facial response. Which is fine with me, because it allows me to see someone’s perspective on the “horse world.”
Opening a horse facility in remote northern Idaho was not exactly a way to attract “big” clientele, but it definitely sorted out those who were “committed” and those that wanted it “easy.” There is no judgment at the facility, no “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality, just humble horse owners looking to further their horse experience in a positive and safe place. Last week I had three new students all driving two hours or more just for an hour lesson!
Yesterday I had a gaited horse learning to jump, a young colt being started, an ex-rope horse learning how to just “be” a horse, and an endurance horse learning that he had really did have brakes and felt better about life if he wasn’t going either 0 or 90mph.
My human students range from youngsters who ride better than they walk to older folks, who now also their bodies are slowing down, also ride better than they can walk! Students range from those who have never ridden to those with 30+ years in the saddle. The variation keeps it fresh and exciting for me and I never know what to expect; there is no routine or normal here at my facility, in my lessons or my training. And I’ve worked very hard to keep stimulating curiosity, commitment, dedication and persistence in both humans and horses.
This brings me to the topic of today’s impromptu blog. Most adult riders are happy these days just to “keep a leg on either side,” but with kids it can be a very different mentality. With kids even though most of today’s children don’t know who Annie Oakley was, she seems to have “inspired” their imaginations creating a zeal for horse adventures at high rates of speed, with the child envisioning their horse is loving it as they gallop through the fields. Of course reality offers a very different version of “going for a ride” for many kids.
Over the past 22 years of teaching I’ve probably taught close to 300+ children. That is a lot of kids. What inspires me most about kids is their “black and white-ness” in what information they accept, how they respond to it, and how in turn they communicate it to their horses.
I cannot begin to tell you how many starry eyed pigtailed horse obsessed children I have watched groom, bathe, brush, hug, braid and snuggle with their horses who stand quietly tolerating what the kid thinks the horse “likes.”
Then not fifteen minutes later, to watch that same docile horse, go from a “dead” walk into a jaw jarring, teeth rattling, wind-up-toy trot dragging their rider in the opposite direction from which the rider was attempting to turn. No matter how hard the rider tries to pull, that horse (or pony) pushes their nose down, pops their shoulder, and “leans” until ending up in the horse’s desired spot. Then, the horse stops and looks around with an innocent expression as if saying, “What’s the problem?” (Think Thelwell pony!)
Then there is the happily trotting steed who decides to “randomly” slam on the brakes to watch their tiny rider flip right off and down their neck as if doing a summersault towards the horse’s ears.
Or the “I didn’t know your leg was there” moments when the horse “accidentally” rubs the rider’s barely foot long leg against the gate or fence.
The blistered tiny palms, the raw legs, the sore backsides and the bruised egos, and yet these kids come back for more, and through it all, they still LOVE their horse.
I am always proud to recognize my students in a crowd; they are the ones who are circling, serpentining, leading if necessary, stopping and letting their horse look at the scary things, but mostly you can recognize them from how often they pat their horses. I joke and tell them I want to see raw spots on their horse’s necks from patting.
I can’t tell you how many circles some of these children have “put up with” me asking them to do with their horse, I’m sure the whole time they were thinking that they’d never get off a circle or a turn. Obviously the circle or turn is not the “fix it” but rather a tool to get the horse’s brain back with it’s rider. I’ve never taught or spoken to kids as if they were any less capable than an adult; and often I find they are MORE capable because they don’t carry a lot of the psychological “what ifs” around in their head as they work with their horse.
Often kids wind up on less than “broke” horses, and have to learn the “hard way;” my theory in teaching is that I teach a person how to work with ALL horses, not just the one they happen to be riding.
So after who knows how many lessons, practice sessions, practice shows, group gatherings, etc. to watch students who at the beginning had to turn or circle literally every five to 10 feet just to get down the long side of an arena to winning every competition they enter, is awesome. Of course I could care less about the ribbon or placing, but rather, that the child feels the fulfillment of the hard work, dedication and honest relationship they had to build WITH their horse is awesome.
The other morning I was teaching two students, both of whom have very young and inexperienced horses. Their horses still come up with moments of “excitement” but the girls actually gain confidence from helping their horses through those moments, rather than just trying to survive them. And every once in a while, I am more than pleasantly surprised when the students ask to do something they hadn’t done before. Below is a picture of what they came up with today:
So the next time you head out to work with your horse and are feeling a little frustrated, take a moment and try to find that "inner child" whose perspective may allow you and your horse to achieve more than you could have imagined.
Ok, so here is my “self-promotion” (which I loathe to do) to inspire you to sign up or tell all your friends about the upcoming last Full Immersion Clinic of the summer season, being offered here in gorgeous Sandpoint, ID (voted America’s #3 most beautiful town BTW) at The Equestrian Center, LLC!
My Full Immersion clinics typically cater to all level horses and riders, and don’t have a predetermined lesson plan, but often participants quickly recognize similarities, even between young horses being started and older “been there, done that” equine partners. I cater to ALL disciplines; often a review of the basics (which is not a NEGATIVE thing even to those who have ridden for years) to help clarify and improve our understanding of the how, what and why’s of our communication, body language, interpretation of the horse’s behavior, etc.
This next FIC I’m going to also prioritize three main focus points.
The first is helping folks recognize, put value to and understand their horse’s behavior. All too often people accept a horse’s behavior because, “he always does that,” without ever investigating what might be causing the behavior, if it is appropriate and if there needs to be a change in what is acceptable and those behaviors that aren’t. (Rushing out the gate, “leading” the person on the lead rope, taking extra steps as someone is half way mounted, tearing away as the halter is being undone, difficult to catch, fidgeting while grooming and tacking, anticipative during the ride, rushing in his gaits, heavy on the bit, etc.)
The second is learning how to raise the human’s awareness. This helps people learn to recognize the beginning of “a problem” rather than like most folks who wait until after the horse has become very dramatic and dangerous before they start paying attention to their horse. Also learning how, when and what you are conveying with your own body language and energy will influence the quality of your communication. In the long run this will allow you to do “less” and get “more” from your horse.
The third major topic of focus will be learning how to “feel.” I forget because I work with horses day in and day out, how dull, heavy and physically resistant most people are when they are interacting with their horse. This topic will help re-sensitize the human participants so that they can become faster at “hearing” the horse, refining what and how they “send” information through use of their hands, seat, legs, etc. to achieve clearer and faster, “black and white” communication.
Plenty of other topics will be discussed and as always, the group of participants will “direct” the clinic, but after this summer season of seeing SO MANY cases of lost riders and horses, I want to re-emphasize offering a portion of equine related education that I find most folks are missing no matter how experienced they may be. Whether someone is a total novice or has ridden for 20 years, often there are missing “chapters” in their equine education, and I’d like to help fill in the blanks.
I don’t want to sound egotistical, but often as past participants have stated, “these clinics can be life changing,” and are a great opportunity for a lot of people who never have been offered a safe, supportive, positive environment to literally slow down and learn more about themselves and their equine partner in. Just a few days really can change everything you thought you knew… and your horse will thank you for it in the long run!
Often it is not what the participants and auditors “came to fix” but more what they didn’t realize they were missing in their horsemanship and equine partnership that they learn most about at these clinics.
Remember, the clinic is limited to eight participants, but there is no limit to the number of auditors. If you have a self-contained unit you are more than welcome to camp at TEC’s “million dollar views” at no additional charge.
The clinic will be offered Friday September 20th, through Sunday September 22nd. Each day will begin at 8am and then we will have an hour break for lunch around noon, and then will continue until about 5pm. All level and discipline horse and riders are welcome. These are mentally stimulating, not physically exhausting clinics. Lots of questions, interaction, instruction and laughter! Please visit the following link for registration and details: http://www.learnhorses.com/Clinics/camp.htm