The mirror... Thoughts on the reflections we might be seeing in our horses.


As the year is coming to an end, I find myself looking back towards my equine related experiences.  This year in particular I’ve enjoyed a balanced blend between new and past students, their horses and participating in their ongoing journey.  As I mentally started to review different teaching and training highlights, the most common theme throughout the year has been the “mirror” one.  I know have stated many times that often our horse is a mirror of ourselves, and we don’t always like what we see.

The statement above sounds a bit basic, and everybody says, “Yeah, yeah,” when they hear it, but rarely do folks put what I feel is the necessary effort in addressing “the mirror” by asking themselves, “Well, what is my horse “seeing” in what I’m offering him?” 

So rather than writing my typical “on going thoughts” on one topic, this time around I’m just going to offer basic thoughts I’ve had, things that have come up in lessons or clinics, or just overall assessments I’ve made in this past year all related to the “mirror” concept.  These are written in no particular order.

Each person will have a different interpretation of my thoughts written below, based on their own experiences, but I encourage you to perhaps explore some of them with a bit more energy rather than just accepting your initial reaction as you read them.  As with most things, the light bulb moments often happen days, weeks or months down the road.  Something you’ve heard many times, somehow suddenly makes sense, perhaps some of my thoughts can help you too!

Enjoy!

Your ride begins when you THINK about going for a ride and it does not end until you have turned your horse loose in his stall or paddock.  All the time in between you are communicating with him, whether or not you realize it.

Carrying anticipation from “what happened last time” prevents you from remaining mentally present while with your horse.

I ask my students to ride in “real time,” this means there is no pause button when things don’t go as expected with the horse.

A majority of riders do not maintain a “standard” in their life outside of horses, but when it comes to their horse, they are expecting/hoping for the best possible outcome in the worst possible scenarios.

Reactive riding versus proactive communication with the horse; always having to fix/correct after the unwanted behavior occurs rather than clearly telling the horse what the plan is ahead of time.

Fear.  Horses have it.  People have it.  The horse cannot rationalize his way through a fearful scenario without the help and active support of the human.  Most humans hope that by being “nice” and doing nothing, the horse will figure out how to get over his fear, and then the human will start interacting with him again once he is more reasonable.

90% mental, 10% physical.  There is a reason why a daunting, scary scenario presented often by the “child who doesn’t know better” turns out with horse and rider fine, unscathed and feeling confident, whereas the “experienced” rider often has premeditated everything that could possibly go wrong and ends up having a very dramatic experience with their horse in the same exact scenario.

The more people “know” the less they actually see what is happening with their horse.

A majority of pleasure riders initially get involved with horses thinking it will be their “outlet” and time to let down from the rest of their life (stress, drama, work, kids, etc.) Few realize how much the “modern day horse” often needs them to be at their BEST to help the horse feel better about life.

Working with horses requires a continual adaptability within us.  For humans, this is often a struggle because complacency, routines and patterns require both less mental presence and less physical effort.

More than half of the horse owners I encounter are not partnered with the correct horse, but continue to maintain a relationship with their horse based primarily on guilt and a sense of “I owe it to the horse.”  What few realize is how dangerous this sort of partnership can be.

People do not realize how “light switch” a horse’s emotions can be; even if a person is not getting the changes they want in their horse, it all can change for better or worse as fast as the flip of a light switch.

Rarely do people believe they can A.) Get a change in their horse, or B.) Realize how little physically effort and more clear communication it takes to get a big emotional, mental and physical change.

The “That’s good enough,” mentality that occurs when people try to be “nice” to their horse often leaves the horse in the gray area, with the horse lacking understanding, rather than when the person follows through until the horse really understands the emotional, mental and physical change that is being asked of him.

Most folks are hopeful.  “I hope he slows down.”  “I hope he doesn’t spook.”  “I hope we have a good ride today.”  “I hope he goes over that jump.”  You can decrease the “hopefulness” and increase both you and your horse’s confidence based on how you help prepare your horse for the upcoming scenario.

If you are carrying a “Let’s see what he does…” mentality, please stop and ask yourself would you challenge your horse to getting “it” right, rather than helping him be successful.

Often people have an initial specific interest in what “type” of riding they will do, rarely do they realize that if they are going to prioritize helping their horse, it will be the horse that is going to “direct” what their “interest” will be.

Just because you may not agree with your horse’s resistance, does not mean you cannot believe it. 

The moment of the dramatic behavior is often the symptom and not the issue.

Attempting to finally address and “fix things” at the peak of stress, worry or fear in your horse should not be the first time you start participating in the relationship.

You can be actively supportive without the partnership feeling like a dictatorship.

The more gear, equipment, and tack a person has to communicate with their horse, the less they actually convey.

Talk to the horse, rather than shout at him.

Making a decision to do something is better than doing nothing.

Breathing and smiling while working with the horse are two of the most undervalued behaviors a human can offer.  It affects the person mentally, physically and emotionally.  It affects the horse mentally, physically and emotionally.  Breathe, smile, breathe, smile.  Seriously. 

Often people are aware of their own behaviors/personality (amped up, high strung, talkative, introvert, etc.) but just accept that that is how they are, rather than attempting to learn how to be adaptable in the way in which they communicate with their horse.

Often when the horse needs us the most, we humans attempt to avoid the situation entirely.

There are only so many ways a horse can ask for help, and more often than not he is ignored, not addressed, or forced into scenarios where his behavior has to increase dramatically until the person can no longer ignore that the horse is having a problem.

Don’t leave your horse in the tantrum, don’t avoid the tantrum.  Embrace the tantrum, but help your horse get to a better spot on the other side. 

And the most major theme, for all riders, for all disciplines, for all experience levels, is:

Slow down.  Mentally, physically, emotionally.  Slow down.  What is the rush?  What MUST you accomplish? The slower you go the more time you have to influence what is about to happen, to help both you and your horse think through a scenario, to be present to feel what is happening, to be able to learn to have a real time, ongoing conversation with your horse rather than a shouting match.  You will accomplish so much more by slowing down and achieving quality, than rushing with brainlessness behaviors in you and your horse.

My hope would be that you take a while let this all sink in.  It is a lot.  Then come back and review it, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now…

Looking forward to more fun with the horses in the upcoming year!

Sam

Honestly assessing the modern day Instructor/Student Relationship


Today I was catching up with a student who I hadn’t seen in a few years, we wound up having a conversation that was all too familiar.  Irrelevant of the discipline, level of “competition” or desired end goals, I believe the human student is often “failed” by their equine instructor. 

The focus of today’s blog, which honestly I really was going to write as just a quick FB quip, but I couldn’t bear “to leave so much out,” is to address the modern day student- teacher relationship.  Through my experience as a student in various disciplines under the guidance of instructors ranging from Pony Club students to Olympic Gold Medalist, to international superstar trainers to the “dying” breed of quality horsemen roaming ranches throughout the west, I have experienced ALL kinds of “treatment” from my trainers/instructors. 

I’ve encountered positive and supportive to almost noncommittal/aloof, from vulgar and abusive to aggressive and belittling, from patient and kind to tolerant teachers.  Some instructors I believe cared about my well-being, but with others, I was just another “hopeful” student with big dreams/ideas and they were just waiting for their paycheck.  Some really wanted me to understand what they were teaching, but could not communicate verbally in a way for me (and other) students to understand and resorted to bullying or aggressive tactics.  Others at times were frustrating to work with because of the LACK of direct communication, but who forced me to search for answers within my current understanding; often the "aha" moments would come at a later time triggered by something they had said in the past...

All in all it has been quite the journey, and still is an ongoing one.  I suggest to my students in reference to all of the opinionated horse folks they’ll encounter, “take what you like, and leave what you don’t.”  I had to do the same with my own experiences as a student, in order to hopefully become a quality instructor for my students.

I know in today’s western society, we are very “goal” orientated. Somehow people have been led to believe that if we achieve something by a certain point in time that it will translate into us being “successful.”  These time pressures are then felt by trainers and instructors to help hurry up and “get the job done” with a seemingly at-all-cost mentality, towards both the student and their horse, which in the long run can cause frustration and major consequences.

As I’ve written in other blogs, humans tend to put enormous mental pressure upon ourselves.   The negative impact it has on everything we do therein after, actually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of what we originally DIDN’T want to happen, rather than having the self-inflicted time pressure be a tool to help motivate/ improve performances with our horses.  This isn’t to say I don’t believe in mental discipline, I do and most folks have to work incredibly hard to achieve this, but I want healthy mental discipline based on rational clarity rather than emotional chaos.

Over and over among all competitive athletes, not just in the horse world, it seems to “come down” to mental clarity and focus.  So I always wonder what a negative, critical, aggressive, personally-attacking coach adds to a student’s ability to ride in the show arena or at any give point in time? 

Literally so many students come away totally stressed out, emotionally worn out and overwhelmed, from something that was supposed to be fun.  Can a rider have FUN and be competitive?  Of course.

My approach towards humans is similar as to when I’m working with a new horse, if I don’t establish trust and boundaries near the beginning of our relationship, the horse and my students will be lacking focus and unable to “hear” what I’m saying and unable to get the most out of our sessions together.  They are very few other activities that require such an honest and “real time” approach where every single minute matters.

If someone, anyone, at any level/experience is willing to “show up” mentally, physically and emotionally, and is willingly to try, then I’m happy to teach.  But that isn’t always the case.

Just like my “lectures” in regards to riding with intention, I remind folks the more accurate they ride the less “fast” they have to ride and can still have a competitive time, the same goes for mental clarity.  The more mental clarity a person has, the more specific, direct and effective their communication is with their horse.  This in turn makes them “believable” which allows their horse to both “know the plan ahead of time” and trust that their rider is “taking them” rather than just sitting in the saddle reacting after the fact.

I think the teacher/student relationship in the horse world needs to become a respected and treasured partnership, rather than the often “holier than thou” mentality some instructors seem to evolve into. 

I want instructors to be held accountable to be mentally present, supportive, clear and sensitive to what their student is experiencing.  Often I hear “coaching” from “successful” (which in most people’s minds means they’ve placed well in the competitive world) top level professionals, who would make even the most seasoned sailors cringe at their language and insinuations.

Just as you can earn a horse’s trust and lose it in a heartbeat, so can you too with a human student.

I believe most folks whether professional or amateur initially have the best of intentions when they are first involved with the sport, but somehow time and “experience” seem to cloud a lot of people’s perspectives, standards, self-respect, tolerance and goals.

As the “unguaranteed lifestyle of a horse trainer/instructor” takes its toll, many instructors after a while get burned out and are teaching for the dollar, and are so distracted and overwhelmed by the work/financial strains/etc. that often they lose the love for doing it.  Those that do so, also tend to bring a lot of “personal baggage” to their student’s sessions which can have ongoing negative effects.

So how does an instructor’s personal “issues” affect their student?  110% in either positive or negative ways.  Whether or not they realize/recognize/are intentional in how they present themselves, from  how they dress, how they speak, how they approach teaching, etc. completely affects the human student.

I wish more professionals recognized that what works, is healthy, appropriate and suitable for one student may not be for another, of course the same can certainly can be said for a horse’s training program too.  Even at a competitive barn, there does not need to be an instructor creating chaos or turbulence among students by setting an unhealthy undertone.

Students can often suffer from staying with the same trainer out of “guilt” that often has nothing to do with a rational assessment of what the instructor is really offering the student.

So whether you’re an instructor, or in a position of “influence,” or a student, perhaps take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions:

When I take/offer a lesson what is my more-often-than-not feeling I have afterward?

Is any part of what I’m doing allowing me to laugh, smile and enjoy?

Am I feeling a sense of overwhelming emotions every time I teach/learn?

Is my horse happy when I take a lesson?

What have I learned in the recent short term (three months) and the relative long term (year)?

When I think of taking/teaching a lesson what do I feel?

Do I feel the lessons help me and my horse be successful even when the instructor isn’t around?

Do I treat my trainer/student with respect?

What are my goals for working with this trainer?  Are they rational or emotional? Are they reasonable to be asking of both myself and my horse?

Of course the list could go on and on.  But what it comes down to is often people get “comfortable” in their relationships, including those with their horse trainers.  It really isn’t ever a “convenient” time to take some time to honestly assess the quality of relationship/information/instruction you are receiving as a student.

Because of “big names” students can feel paralyzed or worried about judgments from others within the equine community who would be critical of a “lowly student” leaving/questioning an “established trainer.” 

But as I tell most folks, it is okay to take care of you and your horse.  YOU are his only voice.  No matter your experience level, if that little voice in your head is questioning a scenario, trust your gut instinct, and DO something about it.  It is OKAY to say “no,” to not “do” what everyone else is doing/saying, etc.  You are supposed to be having fun; yes it can be “serious and intense” but if you’re not having fun, your horse certainly won’t enjoy the session either, which only sets the tone for the next time you go to take a lesson.

Be proactive as a student, take time and explore, audit lessons/clinics, DON’T get distracted by someone’s credentials, and remember just because someone can ride well does not mean they can teach well.   Feel that your communication with your instructor is a two way, respectful relationship.  If you have concerns, fears, and issues or questions, your instructor should be a “safe” person to consult with.  If you feel intimidated, overwhelmed or stressed at the thought of “discussing” anything with your trainer, I’d suggest stepping back and re-evaluating.

Here’s to seeking quality teacher/student relationships and fun learning!

Sam

The honesty in horses...

For me personally one of the things that keep me “motivated” in working with horses is their honesty.  Even if I don’t like “what they are telling me,” they are keeping things very real.  If they are having a problem, behavioral issues, insecurity, fear or are feeling “quiet” it is real. 

I was talking with an older farrier and a vet over the last several days and a common theme of owners not wanting to admit what has been going on with their horses came up in our discussions.  Whether it is an obvious physical issue or an emotional one, if you are willing to listen, the horse will often tell you his story.

The question I pose to most clients, and yes most wait until it has “gone wrong” before they seek out someone like me to help, is “what is your underlining goal with having/riding horses?”  The initial response is usually a self-centered based thought, i.e. I want to relax and trail ride, I want to compete, etc.  And often it is not until owners find themselves with a horse that is not able to “tolerate” what humans are asking/presenting to him, that they realize, the relationship between human and horse cannot be a one way interaction and reach a rewarding and successful partnership.

So what is considered “successful”? Depends on who you ask.  For some it is the ribbon won in the competition for others it can be as simple as “surviving the ride.” (You may laugh at the later, but I cannot tell you how many people are riding in constant fear due to the “survival” approach.)

Successful to me means a mentally, emotionally and physically happy/comfortable horse.  What is “done” with the horse (trail riding, working cattle, competing) I believe should be an after affect, rather than the sole focus.

If you took a vehicle that had mechanical problems, or even something as simple as a flat tire, and used it to “perform” (drive, haul a trailer, etc.) you may be able to cover some ground or get to some destination.  But without addressing the problems the vehicle has, you’d always carry some worry, stress and concern about whether you’d make it without breaking down, having an accident, etc.

And yet so often with our horses, we get easily distracted by our goals and wants, that our vision becomes clouded as to “what is really going on” with the horse.  Sometimes we “see” but don’t want or know how to deal with what our horse is experiencing.

I believe it all comes down to time.  I know in past blogs I’ve mentioned time and not rushing interaction with your horse, but I cannot stress enough the mental “urgency” we as humans tend to carry with us when we don’t even realize it.  Why are we really “rushing” and not addressing what the horse is doing?  Is whatever we had planned so important that we cannot take an extra few minutes to address the horse, or perhaps even “change” what we’d planned on doing with our horse that day?  For most riders, there are lots of “old wives tales” that seemed to have misdirected and influenced their intentions.

Often I believe the biggest “gift” I can give to students and their horses is allowing them the opportunity to slow down.  Literally explaining that they don’t “have” to do anything, letting them experiment with searching for how to help create a change in their horse’s mental and emotionally state.  With the removed self-inflicted mental “urgency” so many people get so much more “done” with their horse. 

The irony is often in the rushing chaos, little is accomplished, and as soon as a student’s mental chaos is slowed down, they immediately see changes in their horse, and are usually shocked at how quickly they can influence a change.  But most folks don’t know how or even recognize to pursue helping their horse until the horse reaches that point of change for the better.  Often they accidentally leave the horse in an uncomfortable state, only setting up the horse to be more defensive/worried/anticipative during their next encounter.

So whether anyone else around you is doing it or not, even if you’ve owned your horse for years, please recognize any excessive movement, chaos, busy-ness, distraction, anticipation, or other behaviors are not an accident.  The horse is being honest in what he is showing, so please be proactive and see if you can mentally and physically slow down to start to address your horse, in the end what you’ll “accomplish” will be rewarding to BOTH you and your horse’s well-being!
Sam

Believing the horse

Thought for the day... "Believing the horse." 

I cannot explain why or when in society us humans learned to "ignore" nature, quit paying attention, and don't believe what we were seeing, but it certainly becomes apparent when working with our horses.  So often the horse is doing everything he can to show he is in need, is having a problem, is stuck, etc...  I wish more folks to the time to PAY ATTENTION to their horses. 

The odd behavior, the uncommon whinny, the slightly amped up energy or worried look in his eye.  These things are real.  They only have so many ways of asking for help- whether trying to show the water trough is tipped over, not loading because of the bee's nest in the trailer, not going down the trail because of the unseen wildlife, attempting to prevent saddling/being mounted because of painful, ill fitting tack.

Perhaps take a few minutes and assess how much do YOU believe what your horse is telling you, or do you tend to "blow off" unwanted, unexpected or resistant behavior?

The more you become available to hear your horse, the more you'll be amazed at what he shares with you!

Sam

July 25-27 Full Immersion Clinic

Full Immersion Clinic Reminder: Come spend three fun filled, mentally stimulating days with me at the July 25-27 clinic here at The Equestrian Center in Sandpoint, ID.  Learn how to clearly and effectively communicate with your horse, decrease fear issues, improve your confidence and much more.  Both individual and group time, this is a safe and supportive setting for you and your horse to learn in.  Limited to eight participants and auditors are always encouraged.  Please click HERE for details and registration.

DeCluttering and simplifying our Horsemanship

I believe there are various ways to approach teaching people and horses; my personal theory is to keep things as simple and straight forward as possible.  By offering a clear, intentional thought process in how, what and why we “do” something with our horses, a student can learn to “think through” scenarios to help their horse while eliminating a reliance upon an instructor. The less complicated the communication offered the easier it is for the horse to trust, believe and try. 
I remind people that a horse’s skin twitches when a fly lands on it.  So why does a horse tend to “lose” that level of sensitivity the more he is handled by humans?  People frequently send unintentional or mixed signals and accidentally desensitize their horses when not meaning to do so.  As time progresses it sometimes seems to take increased effort and energy from a person while getting less participation from their horse.   If it is taking a “lot” of energy from you to get a response from your horse, something isn’t clear.
A horse arriving for an assessment I approach having no assumptions irrelevant of his age, experience or past training.  People are surprised at how many “finished” horses still have some major holes in their basic education.
My goal is to see a horse think BEFORE he moves.   I want to see his eyes and ears focus towards where I direct them, to see a relaxed emotional and physical state and consistent breathing.   Once he offers these things, a horse is usually mentally available to “hear” what I am asking of him physically.
I suggest folks evaluate the clarity and effectiveness of their communication with their horse through both spatial and/or physical pressure using something practical to communicate with, such as a lead rope.  
The initial “conversation” with the horse should include (not necessarily in this order) yielding to light pressure, a willingness to following pressure, the ability to think (without moving) towards the left, right, forward and backward.  Assess if the horse offers to softly step on or towards something and shift his weight when asked?  Is he respectful of “personal space?” Does the horse’s curiosity increase when something new is presented?  (Sadly sometimes the more education/experience a horse has the less curious and interested in “life” he becomes.)  Does the horse happily “search” for what is being asked, or does he try one or two options and then mentally check out and physically shut down if he didn’t figure out what was being presented?
Excessive/unwanted movement from the horse usually develops from too much chaos created by a person who may be doing things such as “driving” with the lead rope, micromanaging, endless repetition, patternized routines, etc.  I’d like for a student to move less casually and more intentionally. This will help their horse’s brain to focus on something specific, and then offer how much “energy” they want their horse to move with through increasing their own energy.
Whether lining up with the mounting block, crossing water, standing on a tarp or loading into a horse trailer, the focus should not be on accomplishing the final “task” at hand, but rather for the horse to be mentally present and available, offering a “What would you like?” mentality as oppose to the more typical and defensive “Why should I?”
A new client recently attempted to load her horse into her trailer the “old” way by pressuring the horse’s hindquarters.  She never noticed that her horse was not looking at the horse trailer. I suggested through using the now effective “tool” the lead rope had become, she could narrow the horse’s thoughts from looking at everything EXCEPT the trailer to directing them to thinking solely into the trailer.  Once the horse finally acknowledged the trailer, the horse quietly and reasonably offered to place one foot in the trailer, paused, then offered the second front foot.   He stood half way in the trailer and took a deep breath. 
They stood, they breathed and they relaxed.  He backed out when asked.  She asked him to “think in the trailer” and again he gently loaded his front end and paused.  When she asked him to think “further” into the trailer, he loaded all four feet, quietly waited for her to ask him to move up to the front and stood nicely while tied. 
The owner was shocked by how little effort it took when compared to past experiences.  I explained adding “gas” or “driving” the horse with pressure to get him to load, without having a “steering wheel” was going to add chaos to the horse’s already distracted brain and add to his insecurity.  Instead slow down his thoughts until he focused on one simple, attainable task, such as “Think straight.”  Then add, “Think straight, take one step.”  We just happen to be thinking “into” the horse trailer.
Mental and physical “baby steps” can decrease overwhelming feelings that stress humans and horses in new or unfamiliar scenarios.  Slowing down allows the opportunity to mentally digest what is happening and it gives the person time to offer their horse specific and clear direction.  Learning to help SUPPORT the horse will increase his confidence every time he tries something new.
I smile as I remember various scenarios where I’ve casually taken away numerous quick-fix training gadgets that people truly believed would help improve their horsemanship and help their horse “overcome” a problem but really were Band-Aid “solutions” for a short while.
Teaching people and horses to think first, then physically act, and by using simple tools to communicate effectively and clearly, will allow both to achieve a calmer, safer and satisfying partnership.
Here is to keeping it simple…
Sam
Would you like to find out how I can help you and your horse? Learn more about a Remote Coaching session me.  Click HERE

Spring is here, now what?

Here in the Pacific Northwest many horse owners are lucky enough to keep their horses at home and have the opportunity to “just ride” whenever they would like; though the ease of accessibility is awesome, it can often become an “isolated” experience without other equine enthusiasts to share ideas, thoughts or experiences with.
For horse folks that are not competition motivated, or are not focused on basic education with a young horse, I find that sometimes those who ride for pleasure experience a “gray area” in regards to the direction they are taking with their equine partner.   
A person’s lack of direction can create patternized routines and rides, which is when a horse learns what to expect with each human interaction.  This can lead to resistance from the horse the day the person decides to “suddenly” change the routine.   The routine can also lead to boredom for horse and human; how many times would you be interested in doing something over and over again?   Without intention and clarity in a person, it is difficult to create a quality partnership with their horse.  A person’s lack of mental presence also conveys to the horse that he is “own his own” as far as leadership goes.  This can lead to problems and unwanted behaviors in the future.
At the other end of the spectrum sometimes “overly” participating in large group gatherings can be overwhelming for a rider and their equine mount.  In trying to expand their equine associated acquaintances sometimes busy social activities may not be appropriate depending on a horse and rider’s experience and abilities.
So what can you do?  Here are a few ideas…
1.)          Every two weeks “add” one small new concept, idea or thought to YOUR knowledge base regarding anything equine related.  This can be read, watched, and/or heard.  You don’t have to “totally get it, understand it or want to use it.”  But it will be something new for YOU to think about.  It can take a long time of “mulling something over” before you can have an opinion about it.
In this day and age media allows us the opportunity to see, hear and read things we would never have had access to in the past.  Take advantage of it.  It could be as simple as watching random amateur horse videos on YouTube, auditing a local competition or volunteering at a horse related gathering.
2.)          Take a lesson (whether focusing on ground work or riding,) or better yet if you can, first audit a lesson with a QUALITY instructor.  Remember just because someone can ride well, does not mean they can teach well; take your time in finding a suitable instructor.
Lessons sometimes have the stigma among pleasure riders that they are only needed if the person/horse is “having a problem.”   Instead they should be thought of as a great opportunity to get an equine professional’s assessment.  The instructor may offer appropriate and specific ideas and suggestions for future improvement in you and your horse. 
To get the “most” for your money, find someone to video you (have them practice filming moving horses ahead of time.  The video should be recorded in close proximity to the instructor so that when you watch the video later you can hear what the teacher is saying in relation to how you see yourself riding.  Being able to review the video multiple times may help you better recognize problems, and continue to improve upon them in the future.
3.)          Find a riding buddy.  I don’t mean someone you will brainlessly gossip with when you ride out on the trail, but rather someone with similar horse related interests, approaches and goals who you will ENJOY  spending time with. 
I cannot begin to tell you how many times when a client is explaining a past scary or dangerous riding incident, in hindsight folks realized that the manner in which they “handled” (or didn’t) the unexpected scenario was partially or completely based on feeling “pressured” from direction and instruction by good intentioned but not experienced enough fellow riders.
Find a pal to who shares your equine related approach, enthusiasm and goals to help you both stay motivated and safe.  There are always notice boards at the local feed store, Co-Op and online are plenty of websites (horse and non horse related) where people can search for others with similar interests. 
It might take a little time and effort, you may have some “misses” in searching for potential riding partners, but eventually you’ll find at least one person who will share your enthusiasm. 
4.)          Sometimes especially with younger horses and older riders, owners tend to send their horse away for a spring tune-up, which can definitely be helpful.  BUT I also try and explain to folks that if you are not on the same page in understanding how your horse is being worked and how the trainer uses their aids to communicate, even if the horse returns home “tuned up,” you as the owner often are not. 
Sadly every year owners invest a lot of money into their horse’s training thinking they will have a “finished product,” not realizing that they too must learn what their horse is learning.  Otherwise within a few days often there is miscommunication, frustration and deterioration in the relationship between human and horse.
Hopefully these ideas can offer you realistic, attainable and affordable options to help jump start to your riding season and improve the partnership between you and your horse over the long term.
Have fun,
Sam

FINAL April Group Conference Call


April 26th 10am-10:45am PST

"Clarifying communication between Humans and Horses"

 Even if you cannot participate for the entire duration, you can still register and enjoy replaying the recorded call at a later time.

 The first week's call, "Raising mental availability in Humans and Horses," and last week's "Humans having Intention," was a great success and I had lots of positive feedback from both sessions. If you missed out, you can still register and hear the recorded versions.

Remember, you must REGISTER in order to participate and/or have access to the calls and/0r the recorded playback of them.

For details and to REGISTER 

Spot available in horse trailer

Private trailer leaving sw AZ in early May heading to n. ID. This is the 11th year I'm doing the semi annual trip. Private layover facilities at either end available. Please email me with pick up/drop off locations for a reasonable quote. Available for equine, mule, donkey, goats, dogs or cats!

Group Conference Call April 19th- Don't miss out!

Reminder: Group Conference Call Saturday April 19th 10-10:45am PST "Humans having intention."

Even if you cannot participate for the entire duration, you can still register and enjoy replaying the recorded call at a later time.

Last week's call, "Raising mental availability in Humans and Horses," was a great success and I had lots of positive feedback.  If you missed out, you can register and hear the recorded version.

Remember, you must REGISTER in order to participate and/or have access to the calls and the recorded playback of them.

For details http://www.learnhorses.com/Conference%20Call/conference_call_to_register.htm

Timing & Energy

A lot of my teaching you'll hear the repetitive theme of using appropriate timing and just enough "energy" to influence a change. A client shared this video at a clinic this weekend and it was a fantastic example ... http://youtu.be/8SEP_GJKlL0

April Group Conference Call Reminder

Group Conference Call REMINDER: bit.ly/1shkPoO Sat Aril 12, 19, 26 10-10:45am. Don't miss out! All calls recorded so even if you can participate you can always replay call at a later date.

April Group Conference Call Series

Please join me for my new group conference call series! 
 
Date & Topic:
Saturday April 12th 10-10:45am PST         
Mental Availability in both Horses and Humans
 
Saturday April 19th 10-10:45am PST          
Humans Having Intention
 
Saturday April 26th10-10:45am PST           
Clarifying communication between Humans and Horses
 
How long is each call? 
Each call will be 45 minutes and each one will be recorded so that if you are unable to participate during the entire call or if you’d like to replay it at a later date you can.
 
How does it work? 
After registering (see below) you will be provided detailed instructions for calling and participating.  It will be a relaxed discussion based on the designated topic followed by Q & A from participants time permitting.
 
Does the call cost anything?
I am charging $5 via PayPal.  The conference call is long distance so call charges are according to your telephone carrier.   
 
How do I register?
Once your payment is made via PayPal you will receive a confirmation number.  Email me the confirmation number from your payment, and I’ll email you the conference call information.  That’s it!
 
Can I register for all three calls at the same time?
Yes, click the PayPal link below and you will can pick your payment option for one, two or all three calls.
 
Reminder notices
I will send out reminder notices to participants the Monday and Friday before each call.
Thank you for your participation.  I look forward to speaking with you soon!
 

Experiemental Interaction with your horse...


I am the first to admit that I’m quite resistant to most “step by step” methods of training.  I find that although what/how you ask something of your horse may “seem initially clear” with a one, two, three type of instruction, due to the focus of the end goal, it also limits a person’s perspective in seeing what is ACTUALLY happening in what I call “real time.”  Often the horse doesn’t act/react as shown or explained in the article or TV show, and the person is at a loss as to what to do next with their horse.  If there is a lack of understanding as to the how, whats and whys someone is doing something with their horse, it leaves a lot of room for miscommunication.

So as I hear, read, or witness the ever popular “desensitizing for the general public” strategies offered, my stomach literally knots up as I imagine the novice, inexperienced or under-educated horse owner heading out with the best of intentions in attempting to help their horse with a “spooking” or “scary” issue. In trying to imitate the article’s instruction or the DVD’s “how to” series, instead of a successful outcome, all too often there tends to be a massive amount of chaos, insecurity and fear instilled in the horse (and often owner), whether or not it is immediately apparent is another issue.

As an owner realizes the predicament they and their horse are now in, often they turn to trainers like me, who must then “undo” (in both human and horse) what had been previously taught, and re-educate to build confidence and trust between the human and horse.

As much of the modern day “work with your horse” or strive to create a “partnership” using gentler techniques than those methods taught in decades past,  the reality is, if you aren’t handling, watching, and experimenting with numerous horses on a regular basis, the chances are your timing, understanding and communication will be lacking.  If you are “brainlessly” following a step by step instruction guide on how to work with your horse there usually isn’t much thought given to any of those three crucial pieces in your relationship with your horse.

Of course it is much easier to appeal to the mass of horse owners by offering specific step by step generalized instruction, but it leaves so much unsaid.  There are those folks who think their horse is “ready” for ____________ and so may follow a guide referring how to _____________.  What they may not realize is they are missing the initial tools or clear communication that must be established before they attempt ____________ with their horse.

And what most folks aren’t either seeing or understanding, is evening if a trainer is doing a step by step “live” demo, the trainer’s timing and feel are going to be very different than that of an amateur’s.  Rarely do I come across a horseman who can communicate with humans as well as they can with a horse. 

So this leaves gaps between what a student thinks they are seeing, and a lot of “stuff” that may be happening that the student doesn’t even realize is occurring, has been addressed/shut down/prevented, and then the trainer has moved on.  And with horses, the difference in the final outcome in relation to communication offered at ten seconds versus a minute later can be huge.  But people don’t realize that.

In society we are taught to look for results.  The bad news is this mentality seems to blend into our horsemanship.  Did my horse CROSS the (tarp, bridge, water)?  Rather than evaluate, how did my horse FEEL about the (tarp, bride, water)?  Even if the horse physically crossed, jumped into/onto, loaded, etc. does not mean he felt good about it.  And each time he complies with something the person wants, but feels worse afterwards, the human is unknowingly teaching the horse to become defensive and resistant. 

So six months down the road when the horse “suddenly” decides to quit complying, often the moment he chooses to quit tolerating what the human is asking, isn’t the moment of the “issue” but is rather the moment the issue has come to a head.  The real “issue” started six months earlier and each scenario after that just reinforced the increasing fear in the horse along with his worry and defensiveness, even if he may have initially seemed “fine” because he had physically accomplished the task presented.

Perhaps I am being an idealist when I believe that folks can actually DO a lot more with their horses than they realize.  I truly believe if we took society’s expectations of “accomplishment” away from our thinking when approaching and working with our horses, we’d actually get a lot more done with an increased amount of quality and trust between horse and human. 

I think according to the last statistics I read, out of the entire riding community, about 85% are amateur or pleasure riders.  If that is the case, then why can’t we mentally and physically slow down and REALLY start to learn about ourselves and our horses?  What “end result” is so important that we choose to sacrifice the quality of our partnership with our horse for it? 

From teaching small children to enthusiastic equestrians in their 80s, I am always amazed, at the almost immediate visible sign of PHYSICAL relief in a human student, when I suggest the idea of “removing” any level of society inflicted “must accomplish” myths in regards to their horsemanship and riding. 

It is like a weight has been lifted, that person can suddenly just focus on BEING with their animal, and now, without the self-inflicted “rush-y feel” within themselves, can start to see clearly what exactly is happening with their horse.  I know that sounds a bit odd.  But the more “stuff” people try to do, the less they literally see. 

I always refer to the novice or inexperienced horse person as being able to be the most “clear” about what they see in their horse.  This is because the person has a clean slate, and hasn’t had years of unknowingly being desensitized to ignore horse behaviors whether it be by good intentioned “horse folks,” through lessons or just friendly opinions. 

I’ll give you an example:

If a horse is tied and swinging back and forth on the lead rope, an inexperienced horse person might pause and be a little wary about the horse’s hind end moving all over the place.  I’ve heard many folks in this scenario voice, “I wonder why he is doing that?” as they try to stay a safe distance from the moving hindquarters.

The “experienced” horse person on the other hand all too often seems to “blow off” behavior such as this with either a justification, “Oh, he just does that,” or a physical reaction such as slapping the horse on the hindquarters until he quits moving.  And the horse may respond and stand still, but was the real problem the movement and was it fixed?  No.  The movement is a result behavior, or symptom, due to some unrecognized/addressed issue.  Often anticipation to what is about to happen can cause “busy horses” beforehand.

This whole blog came about in my mind today as I worked a 10 year old 17H half Arab/Warmblood gelding.  He’s big, he’s super athletic and he has a lot of baggage.  A majority of all his human experiences as a youngster were about “submission” both towards the human and physically towards foreign aids such as draw reins.  His “method of survival” was to either ball up physically to avoid reprimand, or to get really, really, really big and dramatic.

As a result, he had so much mental stress, he had physical issues.  Once the physical wear and tear on his body was decreased and addressed, taking on his patternized (see past blogs for more on that subject) responses as a way to get through something was the next priority.

He has boarded on and off at the same property for several years; in some parts (where he has the opportunity to graze five to six hours a day) he looks as quiet and calm and happy as can be, yet there are other areas he will explore only if other horses are around, and still other places irrelevant of other horses present or not, he will not travel of his own free will.

He is such a great example of a horse that you could manhandle (to a point) into submission for the sake of accomplishing a task (i.e. we must ride next to the scary orange trees with the noisy birds in them.)  But I believe his current behavior, fear, insecurity, worry, defensiveness, spookiness, etc. is the continuing result of his initial training as a youngster.  Too much asked, too soon, too harshly, too many human goals.  And here he is YEARS later (without much riding or handling in between) and he still carries a very strong defensive “survival” mentality.  I believe his “restrictive” initial education handicapped his willingness to try.

My goal is that he can slow down mentally (which will in turn slow him physically) and not just in a scenario but rather to THINK through each scenario I present.  To teach him how to learn to try, and help him realize his efforts will be recognized (giving him a break to mentally to process every time he addresses things in a reasonable manner) and to help him to learn to let “it” (the stress, worry, concern) go rather quickly. 

My goal on this windy, blustery day was to help the horse feel better.  It didn’t matter if it was for him to feel better in the open, by the trees, moving slowly or picking up the pace.  Feel better both near and away from the other horses.  I was very, very proud of his efforts today.  You could see his brain thinking, his eyes blinking, him experience an emotional roller coaster as he explored brainlessly reacting vs. thinking through what I was asking of him.  For the most part things were quiet and slow.  Other times as he was exploring his options, there was big and dramatic movement.   Each time he got big and mentally checked out, he succinctly shortened the time of being “lost” through his own decision to quit brainlessly fleeing the scene if he was unsure.

Each time he’d fall apart he’d literally grunt (due to inconsistent breathing,) he’d jump with legs going in four different directions; he’d appear on the edge of I-just-want-to-explode physically.  It was like he had to peer over the imaginary “ledge” and then chose to step back.  By allowing him to TIME try, to think, and not critique him, the more he kept letting down.  Then he’d offer to stay mentally present longer and could focus, causing the feeling to flee to decrease, until finally it evaporated. 

Through all of his dramatic, “light switch” changes in his emotions and physical behavior, I was imagining how many folks could seemingly “steal” a ground work session with a horse like this.  He had been taught in steps, and if you presented things in that manner, he’d resort to his old mentally shut down self but would appear physically “quiet” and compliant.

So rather than address any real problems, you could very easily gloss over his “issues” if you stayed within the imaginary safe boundaries he felt existed.  But if you decided to one day present a new, random goal, he is a horse that could very easily hurt you in a heartbeat.  Not out of aggression, but out of resorting to survival mode.

So irrelevant of your experience, history with your horse or other equines, take a few minutes and evaluate what it is that you’d like to get out of riding or working with your horse.  Then you might ask yourself if what you want is an ego or emotionally driven desire?  You may also present yourself with investigating if you’ve noticed any fear(s), insecurities, gray-area moments, etc. as you work with your horse.  Start to recognize if you’ve created/presented any patterns or routines in either you and/or your horse’s interaction.  Notice if there is anything you “always do” and then ask yourself why? 

Experiment with slowing down your own brain, ideas, and goals to become more present.  I joke that horses have A.D.D. but humans are even worse when it comes to lack of mental presence in general, and certainly when it comes to their horsemanship.  Start to search for quality in the most basic things, such as catching your horse, leading your horse, grooming your horse, tying your horse.  Remember that everything is connected. 

Another example I’ll use:

The draggy horse (thinking backwards, heavy or slow in movement) on the lead, is already telling you his lack of mental availability for the upcoming ride.  Why not address the unavailability and resistance on the ground BEFORE you ride? 

An extra five minutes on the ground could change the overall feel of the ride.

So the next time you head out to “work” your horse, perhaps change the semantics to “play, have fun, explore” with your horse.  If you find yourself starting to say, “My horse…” Try and change it to “I can help my horse…” 

The next time someone rushes you, or offers an unasked for opinion while you’re exploring how you work with your horse, kindly reply, “I appreciate your suggestions but I’d like to experiment on my own for a few minutes.”  Most folks will be taken back; nobody uses the words “experiment” and “horse” in the same sentence.  People have been taught to fear change, to quit thinking and to quit asking questions.  I’m not sure why people give in to those mannerisms (or lack thereof) but it has damaged many relationships between horse and humans.

Give yourself one week of experimental interaction and see what happens…

So go have some fun with your horse!

Sam

Spending time with my horse…

 Some of you may recall, I have a horse "Pico" who I unintentionally acquired (don’t we all) as an orphaned three month old colt. I’m not a "pretty horse" or "specific type" of person, but he was scraggly, gangly result of an unintentional breeding, and his tiny QH body was not much to look at. I kept him close to my athletic, graceful thoroughbreds and Warmblood horses hoping that their coordination, height and athletic ability would somehow rub off on him through equine osmosis. It did not!

Pico was on the slow track in his physical maturity to the point that up until he was seven years old I still found myself calling him "my colt." His face didn’t make him look much other than three years old.

After years of finally learning to "just say no" I have managed to dwindle down my herd to just one horse and one pony, and low and behold, Pico is the last I have.

As the old saying goes, "the cobbler’s children have no shoes," sadly (though not to Pico’s dismay) I honestly never put the "time" into my own horse. (For more of his backstory you can visit a previous blog "Confessions of a horse trainer."

But fast forward to present day and this winter is the first time I have consistently been riding Pico. I’m sure 90% of it was mental, but somehow I felt the time had come to put some quality time into my horse. A client who had leased Pico last winter had inquired about him recently and I was surprised at my genuinely enthusiastic response about riding him.

It seemed that though his lack of natural ability would never allow him to be one of the dreamy rides of my equines past, he was fun. Turn on a dime, halt to "sort-of-gallop" speed (I joke he is my "standing horse") in just a few steps.

I can pick oranges from his back and I can navigate him through the obstacle course of baling twine "gates." I can swing a rope off him or ask him to move laterally across poles, I ride him into/onto anything (porch, bridge, trailer, etc.)

Out of the herd of nine horses grazing in the pasture at any given time, I can call his name and he picks up his head, whinnies and comes trotting over. I do haunches in, to a spin to jumping over a log without batting an eye. I find myself finding a bit of the "teenager feel" with him that matches is personality.

A young child can climb up on the wheel well of the trailer and Pico will patiently swing around and sidle up as close as he can and waits patiently as the youngster scrambles aboard. I can tap his leg and he’ll bow quietly or I can sit on him and open my trailer tack room door, lean inside and grab my rope bag and pull out one, build a loop and swing a few times.

As much as he is stiff and naturally awkward thanks to bad conformation and a slight club foot, he makes me smile. His scrawny frame leaves much to be desired when riding bareback and those who are interested in the "swirls theory" would have a heyday inspecting his goofy coat. His mane and tail were why they invented false hair for horses, and his quirky moments make those who meet him smile.

He is the horse I’d ride straight off a cliff, or straight up through chest deep snow when unexpectedly encountering a summer "patch" high up in the Rocky Mountains. I can trail blaze and clear trail on him and jump him over anything I see even though he is not naturally the bravest of creatures.

The horses who arrive for training are most enthusiastically greeting by Pico whose second main goal in life is pretending to be the herd boss. He picks on the Shetland pony (literally dragging him around) when he can, and yet will stand quiet and patient next to an ailing horse. He is happy to be led by a pint size human, always respectful spatially and careful not to knock them over.

This past fall as I made the trek south, I overnighted in Pocatello, ID. I pulled into their fair grounds after dark and as I removed his halter I realized it was the first time he’d ever been in a stall, in his entire life!

He’s the horse you have to make sure the trailer door (on anything, anywhere) is closed; otherwise he’ll load himself up always ready to go, whether alone or with company.

He’ll push cows or round up horses; he’ll pony or be ponied off of towing three or four youngsters behind him.

He still has plenty of areas I could fine tune and improve, and certain things I know he tolerates but would rather not do or partake in.

Mostly at this point, I am realizing that for all of my "talking down" about him, in the end he makes me smile and I find myself truly having fun when I ride him. He is bringing me back to a time I’d experienced long ago when all the horses with human problems didn’t exist, where anything was possible with my horse and "playing" with/on my horse was the norm.

We’ve reached a point in our partnership where I feel free to experiment and he feels free to try, without a defensiveness or worry. I feel and can "hear" the conversation between us during each ride.

He’ll never be great at anything, but he has developed into the horse that I can do anything with. For those who remember the children’s story, "The little train that could," I feel like for me, it should be like, "The little horse that could."

He is a great example of finding pleasure from an "unexpected horse." For all of you who may or may not have experienced a "Pico" in your life, I wish you get the opportunity to do so at some point!

Sam

 


Winter 2013/2014 Hoofprints & Happenings Newseltter

Please enjoy my latest Hoofprints &Happenings Newsletter filled with LOTS of info! http://www.learnhorses.com/newsletter/H%20&H%20Winter%202013_14.pdf

Live Radio Interview

Just got notice to those folks in the north Idaho vicinity! I'll be doing a live radio interview focusing on Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey. It will be hosted by Gary Lirette on Tuesday Jan 21 at 12pm PST which will be broadcasted on KSPT 1400 AM and KBFI 1450 AM- be sure to tell all of your horse friends and tune in!

People trained by their horse- learning to work around our horses

When I come across individuals who are experiencing difficulty in earning their horse’s respect, both when on the ground and when in the saddle I try to review with a student how they catch, lead, go out the gate, groom, mount, etc. their horse, to search for where the unwanted behavior is beginning. 

Here are some common remarks:

I let him graze while I shut the gate, so that I can shoo off his pasture mate.

I have to tie him at ___________ so that he won’t paw or worry about _____________.

I have to mount him here; otherwise he might try to __________.

I have to hide the halter/bribe with treat, so that he doesn’t run off.

I have to put him in the horse trailer ______________ so that he doesn’t cause a problem.

You get the idea.  In all of these scenarios, the horse through unwanted, dramatic and perhaps dangerous behavior, has “taught” the owner how to avoid a “situation” by pacifying the horse and by limiting the human’s requests or expectations of their horse.

All too often, the horse does not initially “come with” problems; but when trying to be nice to their horse, owners unknowingly are teaching their horse how to take advantage of them.  In the beginning the horse’s behavior may not seem “all that bad” but it can soon evolve to the point where the horse has become unreasonable or difficult to deal with.  And in many situations, people don’t search for help until the horse has caused harm or scared the human.

A lot of horse owners have limited time with their horses and many people are not exposed to multiple horses and so their perspective and understanding is limited.  I on the other hand more often than not am “called in” AFTER worst case scenarios have occurred and see how the inconsistency of owners’ interaction with their horses can create major problems.

I cannot recall how many times over the years as I try to offer students an overview of their behavior (or lack of) and link together the seemingly “separate” incidents their horse has presented, that an owner has commented that they are realizing they are behaving the same towards their dog, children and spouse.

I often use the analogy that if you had a child who asked for something and you replied “No,” but if the child kept persisting until you finally “gave in” and said, “Yes,” you have then taught the child to wear you out with future requests, until you give in to their desires.  The same goes for horses and owners.

A combination of a lack of awareness and understanding, not being equipped with quality “tools” to communicate with their horse, and often due to time constraints, rarely do horse folks follow through with an initial request of their horse.  So just as with a child, the horse quickly learns how to “wear down” their owner, until the horse gets what it wants.

The following are a few of what I have found to be underlying issues contributing to dangerous horses:

The owner’s initial desire to be their horse’s “friend,” rather than leader.  Many cases of trying to be nice, often lead to the human being taken advantage of.

Owners not understanding that they can have a “standard” when they work with their horse, such as the horse being respectful of the human’s personal space, learning to wait patiently, physically responding softly to a human’s communication, etc.

Humans are distracted whether it is from stress of life, work, family, etc. more often than not the person is not mentally present when working with their horse.  And the animal senses it immediately.

A lot of people tend to live in the “gray area” rather than operate in the “black and white-ness” of horses.  A horse is either mentally and emotionally okay or he isn’t.  When he asks for guidance, direction or support, and the human offers a “gray answer” it doesn’t help the horse believe in the human’s leadership, and so the horse takes over in decisions made and with his actions.

Often in dramatic scenarios human try to react passively, this doesn’t help the horse.  And many humans don’t believe a situation can get as dramatic or dangerous as quickly as it does.

People often misinterpret what is typically classified as “bad, stubborn, and resistant” behavior displayed by a horse, when really the animal is asking for help.

So the next time you experience or hear of someone complaining about their horse’s unwanted behavior, take a moment to assess both the person and horse from the beginning of their interaction on any given day.  You’ll probably start to notice certain behavioral patterns in both the person and horse, which can often hold the answers of what needs to be initially addressed in order to get a change in the horse’s behavior.

The moment to address the unwanted behavior is not when the horse is at his peak of emotional and mental stress, but rather when he is still reasonable and has the mental availability to “hear” what the human is offering.

It does take thought, effort and experimentation to learn how to influence changes in our horses which people tend to resist trying.  But if you keep offering the same communication in the same way, your horse is going to keep “answering” with unwanted responses.

Good Luck,

Sam