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

Assessing the Horse Instructor and 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 to the discipline, level of “competition” or desired end goals, I believe the human student is often “failed” by their equine instructor. 

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.

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

 

Breaking the Arena Boundaries… Creating Adaptability in the horse

Over the years of teaching, I have had to get very, very creative at times with lesson “formats.”  Whether it was due to weather conditions, arena footing problems/access, and so forth while working with one or sometimes as many as 12 or 13 students, I’ve learned to “roll with” whatever a scenario presented and make the best learning situation out of it.  I call it Real World Riding.

From working while riding down 15’ wide canals next to huge irrigation ditches, to working on literally the side of a hill with fallen timbers, to meandering through woods or orange groves, to lessons on the beach (tough I know,) to having a lesson evolve in the “in-between area” when trying to just get from point A to point B and something unexpected comes up.
I wince when I arrive at a facility and see grooves around the rail of the arena.  I try to remind and ask my human students about how quickly they can get bored if they are “brainlessly” repeating an exercise over, and over and over again, how quickly do they think their horse will get bored? 
In my own initial riding lessons as a student, there were the traditional “rules,” which do have value, but I find they often hinder people’s creativity and a horse’s enthusiasm the  more often the similar lessons are taught.
People and horses easily fall into patterned routines, such as tacking up in the same spot, mounting in the same place, initially always riding off in the same direction, without even realizing what they are doing.  And often, as long as they keep asking a task of their horse in the same pattern, the horse will offer what seems to be a complacent response, but what really is a conditioned response, which then can lead to a lot of problems.
Horses have their brain and emotions.  So learning how to work with the horse’s brain, creating a mental availability within him so that he can then be influenced will then increase his confidence when the unknown or unexpected is presented.
One of the factors that contribute to this is keeping the horse's mind focused, rather than just addressing his physical movement. The more creative sessions are, often the better a horse responds.  
How many times have you been in the shower thinking about something and suddenly stopped and asked yourself, “Did I already put conditioner in my hair?”  You can quickly get used to a routine, and you can physically accomplish the task at hand, but often be mentally somewhere else. This is often the case with horses. 
Stories regarding a horse’s undesired behavior frequently start with, “All of a sudden, he just…” Unfortunately, this is the human's perception, but not usually an accurate assessment.  More often than not, the initial, minor resistance or defensiveness from the horse has been ignored because it was still "manageable," or the person was able to contain the symptom, but did not address the source of distress. Therefore when something unexpected arises that finally causes the horse's proverbial emotional cup to "overflow," the horse reacts in a "suddenly" more drastic and dramatic manner, which is his only defense in a scenario that reflects his level of insecurity.
Because horses can get comfortable with routine, they can seem very willing when they have repeatedly been shown what will be asked of them.  This gives the human the false illusion that everything is fine with the horse. And then comes the day when there is a change in the routine, and the saint of a horse turns into a fire breathing dragon.  Frequently it isn’t until the day of a sudden emergency, or unplanned change, when the person really needs their horse to comply, that they find out how little adaptability, or mental availability the horse has towards trying something different.  
So the next time you head out to work with your four-legged friend, take some time to experiment with how, what, and the why’s of your interaction with your horse.  Slow down during the “normal” or “basics” and start to notice if you ask something different than the norm of your horse, how does he respond? It will give you a starting place as to what needs to address to help him learn how to willingly participate, rather than TOLERATE working with you.
The more clear the communication is, the more that can be accomplished with quality.  So yes, you can work on leg yields in just a 15’ wide path, or you can practice flying changes as you weave through the orange groves, you can focus on riding straight as you approach the narrow opening between the two fallen trees, and you can practice increasing and decreasing energy levels or shortening and lengthening strides as you navigate the holes in the open field. 
The physical boundaries of the fencing in an arena, are really just mental boundaries for the human and horse, and more often than not, handicap what we could really be accomplished with our horses.  Why not start the New Year by getting creative to better support your horse’s mental and emotional needs in order to improve his physical willingness to participate?
So head out and start breaking the boundaries…
Sam