Christmas Certificate for that Horse Lover!

Looking for that last minute gift for that horse lover? Get them a gift certificate for lessons, assessment, ground work or clinics with Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey.

Certificates may be purchased via PayPal, Check or cash. Valid one year from date of purchase.
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Client feedback... Success over time

Over the past few days I've heard "feedback" from clients both in the States and abroad. If you've ever read anything from my blog, website or posts on FB, you'll quickly realize I do not offer the "quick fix" or "easy answers" in my approaches to helping horses feel better about life. It is slow, intentional communication, and often it requires a rebuilding of the foundation of the partnership, in order for the rides to be successful. 

I always say I try to teach and offer "tools" in how we communicate with our horses so that clients don't "need me", but rather they can assess, think through, and then help their horse through scenarios in order to have a positive, confidence building outcome for both the horse and rider.


I LOVE hearing stories of success; not because "my way" works, it isn't about me or the ways I've found work, it is about owners/riders being open minded enough to put their own egos aside, and to BELIEVE their horses when they are troubled, when they ask for help. Time and again, those who support their horses through uncomfortable moments, rather than challenge them through them, see amazing, long lasting changes.


So "Good on you," as I say, to those folks dedicated to being open to having an honest conversation with their horse, patient enough to respect what the horse is saying, and kind enough to search within themselves to how best to help their horse.


That is how we reach those almost perfect moments of being completing in sync with our equine partners, and it makes it all worth it. Happy riding!

Instant Gratification... Harming our Horsemanship. How auditing can change everything!

I recently finished offering a three day long Full Immersion Clinic. I've titled these clinics that because we cover so many aspects of horsemanship and riding. I never have an agenda as to what we'll accomplish. Depending on the participants and what their horse's needs are, things evolve organically. These are not sit-in-the-saddle-for-8-hours type of clinics. These are an opportunity to mentally slow down and really raise our level of awareness within/about ourselves and our horses, to better understand the conversation the horse is offering and learn how best to work with the horse in order to get the ideal ride.

I often open these clinics to auditors, folks who can participate in lectures, discussions, etc. but who are not working with the horses directly.

Although I abhor promoting myself, as I feel horse and students that have been under my tutelage will "speak for themselves", I do encourage folks who are working with me to come and watch, listen and learn, even if they aren't participating with a horse.

I remember years ago, it used to be the "die hard" horse enthusiast would find, make, take any opportunity to be around horses that they could. Didn't matter if it was shoveling stalls to get that quick ride on a borrowed horse at the end of the day, or to go to the local fairgrounds and stay ALL day, watching, petting, and taking in all the riding activities.

And the "inspiration" for this post has come up several times. In my specifically intentionally scenario of "leaving reality behind" while offering the clinics, it allows people to "let down" for the first time in a long time. Leaving stresses, work, family issues, etc. behind, and just learning to be present, here in the moment, in order to best help their horse. By day two participants are often realizing how much of a shift has occurred in "slowing down within themselves, in order to hurry up and get to where they'd like to be," with their horses.

Watching, horse after horse after horse, and different folks with varying energy levels, experiences, perspectives, etc. allows both auditors and participants to see time and again, clearly how the horses communicate, what they communicate and why they do so. By not imposing a time pressure, it allows participants to experience (and most auditors feel like they're "in" working with the horse too as they're watching from the sidelines) reading the horse, experimenting with influencing a change through non aggressive, nor disrespectful behavior from the human, and watching how quickly the horse can make an emotional shift and mental change towards the person.

Many horses don't even look physically like the same horse by the end of the session, because of the "release" from rushing, unclear communication to specific and intentional clarity from the human.

For those auditing it can be such an amazing opportunity, without the "pressure" of having to do it yourself with your own horse, and have the opportunity to gain many useful tools to work with our horses in a respectful way. It isn't about "Sam's way of doing things." Folks it is about learning "horse."

Many auditors by the end of the day are so excited to go home and try out what they've seen, but the difference is, because I'm able to break down the how, why, when we're doing what we are with our horses, it means something to the human. It is NOT teaching conditioned responses, or obedience training imposed by the human. Rather offering thoughtful conversations between the human and horse.

The difference from watching a trainer with "free videos" online and attempting to mimic the behavior seen, or buying the "fix it" halter/stick/rope/gadget, is if the human does not understand BOTH the big picture and the small details, the more "instant" expectations they have for their horse, the worse and more unclear the communication gets leading to frustration in the human and defensiveness in the horse. If you are training in a "step by step" process, you'll be unable to understand what to do, if your horse offers a behavior that you'd hadn't seen before. If instead you were able to read what the horse is asking, you'll then know what he needs from you to support him through his learning and education.

So whether you don't have the finances or time to participate in a big clinic, if you find a trainer whose methods you appreciate, take the time, put in the effort, grab a notebook and pen, and sit and WATCH. You won't realize just how much you've absorbed without even trying. Your horse will thank you for it.

Proactive Riding- Raising the Rider’s Awareness


Creating conditioned and patternized behaviors, or routines, while interacting with our horses can lead to “dishonest” conversations between the human and the horse.  Whether heading out on a trail ride or focusing in the arena, there frequently is a sense of “wonder” from the rider regarding what the ride will “be like” on any given day.  I dislike repetitive movement as there becomes a familiarity and “dullness” to the conversation between the horse and human leading to brainless responses and a lack of adaptability. The day the person changes the routine their “quiet” horse becomes a fire breathing dragon because the pattern has changed.

There should be no mystery when working with our horses. Every interaction with the horse is an indication as to what is about to come.  Weather issues, location limitations, and time urgencies can influence people and horses falling into behaviors that contribute to a lack of awareness, lack of clear intention and lack of mental presence.

Unfortunately the standard with horses is that as long as the horse isn’t offering enough resistant behavior that the human sees their life flashing before their eyes, dramatic behaviors from the horse are tolerated.  Anticipative movement, the lack of softness towards a light rein, seat or leg pressure, the dramatic, flamboyant responses to an aid, are all indications that the horse’s brain and emotions are having a problem, and therefore his physical response will mimic the worry, fear, pain, insecurity, misunderstanding, leading to a less than ideal ride.

Assess your relationship with your horse by asking yourself the following:  Do you work with your horse at the same time of day? Catch him in the same manner?  Enter/exit the gate the same way? Tie/groom/tack up in the same place? Mount from the same side, in the same location? Start off always tracking in one direction?  These basic behaviors when done without intention, lead to mentally unavailable and resistant horses.

The moment you think about going for a ride, the ride begins.  “Reality,” other distractions and stresses from life need to be put on hold.  To be proactive by making decisions to influence how the ride will go, you’ll need a mental clarity as to what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it.  Every moment you’re in close proximity to your horse, you are teaching him something, whether or not you mean to. 

Mental presence allows you to honestly assess what your horse is offering in his behaviors.  My approach is to first address the horse’s brain, and then the desired movement will follow. Opportunities for assessment can begin in the pasture or stall; notice if your horse moves off as you approach?  If so, why?  Is he distracted by new events at the barn? Wildlife that recently passed by? Does he prefer to stay with the herd rather than being ridden? You may not initially have a clear understanding of his behavior, but it will be the beginning of awareness from you of noticing initial resistance from him and be able to prioritize addressing it before you ride. 

As you lead, is he ahead of you physically and actually “leading you”? If so, he’s already telling you what the ride is going to be like.  If he believes from the start that he is in charge, by the time you’re in the saddle, you’ll be at his mercy. 
If he is pulling, hanging or ignoring your pressure with the lead rope while you’re on the ground, he’s already telling you he is going to be heavy on the bit and slow to respond with the rein.  Why wait until you’re in the saddle to address his concept, or lack thereof, of following, softening or yielding to pressure?
If he’s become fussy as you tack up as you ride more frequently, have you assessed if your saddle is fitting correctly? Perhaps pain issues from ill fitting tack have begun, and you’ve assumed he’s just being difficult with his excessive movement.  He only has so many ways to convey his distress before he has to increase his behaviors until you can no longer ignore them.

Humans often anthromoporphize equine behaviors, giving human characteristics to them and wrongly interpreting what is occurring. Taking the time to slow ourselves down from the rushing mentality, by addressing the little details, can help us break down overwhelming scenarios and understand our horse’s behavior.

By learning to recognize the signs leading up to potentially unwanted behavior, we can influence a change within the horse, before he has committed to doing something we don’t want.  But the small details, the finesse isn’t the “fun” or “exciting” way of doing things, therefore we humans bring chaos to horses, causing much turmoil.

Let us raise our standards.  What if the new “normal” became a horse that presented himself quietly to be caught irrelevant of if feed had just been put out in the pasture or riding at an odd time of day? Ignoring discipline, riding goals or experience, what if we could straight tie, ground tie or cross tie our horse in a field, to a trailer, or to a post, as we groomed and tacked up, without any fussing, wiggling, pawing, swinging of the hindquarters, holding his breath while we tightened the saddle, or tossing his head while we bridled him? Let’s be practical and forgo outdated tradition and learn to mount/dismount from either side on the ground, from the fence or a mounting block, without having to lead our horse to a spot and quickly scramble on while holding the reins tight to prevent him from walking off.  What if at any point we expected our horse could stand mentally and emotionally calm and therefore physically relaxed, rather than anticipative of what we might ask next.


If the above mentioned behaviors became our basic foundation that we built our partnership with our horses on, imagine the possibilities.  Here’s to proactive riding and raising our awareness!

Making Summer Memories...

It is a glorious summer day and I just returned from adventures down back country roads, where folks pull over and fill up water bottles at natural springs; where you slow down and smile as you pass the 1950’s tractor steadily rolling down the road after a hard day of baling hay. It is a place where you wave at the passing train and the engineer honks the horn and waves back enthusiastically… Where you watch elk graze in the early dusk, eagles and osprey soar above the hay fields, and deer help their young cross the road.  Whether it is folks casting their reels hoping for the next great fishing story, families and friends floating down the emerald rivers, or children making memories at summer camp that will influence their future perspectives on life, nature and decisions, nothing holds a candle to watching a group of riders emerge between the same mountains that Lewis and Clark, David Thompson and other explorers have made famous.

It has been unseasonably warm and at 104 degrees F, and as I sat watching the riders make their way down to a creek that intercepted with a phenomenal river, untack, climb aboard bareback, and without hesitation plunge into the waters, was priceless. As the scene before me unfolded, a newly released song came on the radio; it was talking about the “last firsts.”

And often as it seems to be with music, hearing it, along with seeing the horse events unfolding before me, brought me back to my own many firsts I’ve had with horses. I was feeling a bit emotional as I reminisced about how many memories I had that were horse related, and how quickly I could close my eyes and “be” immediately back in a time and place many years before.  I could smell the horse sweat, taste the grit in my mouth, feel the heat of the sun glaring down on me. 

It didn’t matter if it had been years before when I’d been riding in the snow crested peaks of the Pacific Northwest mountings (even in July,) battling a blizzard trailing sheep in tip of the Patagonian mountains, taking a Mediterranean “short cut” crossing via an inlet feeling the power of my horse swimming through the turquoise ocean, trailing cattle through the high desert with giant saguaro cactus towering above, or riding barefoot, bareback and in a halter at the rear of a herd of summer camp horses… whether it’d been 30 years ago or just a few years prior, those experiences are forever imprinted in my mind and emotions.

I’m not particularly a touchy/feely kinda gal; a lifetime of living in a “man’s world” creates an emotional distancing of oneself, a lifestyle of relying solely on yourself creates callouses not only on your hands but in your ability to rationalize decisions and a self imposed “durability” over the years leads to a relentlessness that would overwhelm most folks if they were faced with the decisions I make on a regular basis. But when I think back to those invaluable equine moments, all of my toughness dissolves immediately.

The point of sharing all of this is that as I drove the other day and watched the kids and adults share that bonding moment with their horses, I realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment that they’d never lose.  I find most things that get shared via social media are done so because of the emotional draw.  People who’ve been in major traumatic accidents with horses and yet push through the recovery  with the goal of returning to the saddle again are inspired purely based on their emotions. Those folks who save horses from abuse, potential slaughter or neglect, to those who see colts and dream of their future blue sky potential, (if a person has nothing financial to gain,) the draw is always the emotional release horses offer us humans.

For some reason from the time of marching into battle thousands of years ago with the armies of Genghis Khan to jumping insane modern day obstacles, to the backyard kid, to the die hard Pony Clubber, from the hunter who religiously packs into the backcountry in search of their winter harvest, to the social trail rider, from the Amateur competitor to the rehabilitative experience of just being within close proximity to a horse, these equines continue to give, and give and give to us humans.

I was recently regaled with a few stories from new clients, returning clients and folks I’d just talked to and given advice to over the phone and via email correspondence.  They each came back with these heart-warming stories of the life-changing experiences they’d had recently with their horses based on advice I’d offered or after lessons/training with me. 

The one shared theme as they told of their individual experiences was the emotional release, empowerment and long term confidence they had developed from their journey with their horse. 

Because I don’t “only” work with one discipline, breed, or level rider, I’ve begun to realize a huge part of the inspiration of what I try to offer folks is the ability to “read” the horses, make rational decisions riding in “real time,” and offer them effective tools to clearly communicate.  This all can contribute to them then having those “life changing” moments with the horses. It also allows a mental and emotional "freedom" that I find is rare within the equine world of rules, traditions and restrictions.

Often the conversation one has with the horse, really resonates in all aspects of the person's life, it isn’t “just” about horses or riding.  The horses tend to draw the best and worst out of people; I imagine it has a lot to do with their honesty and black and white interpretation of the world around them.

I’ve found that this summer I’ve been slowing down more, I’ve been watching more, listening more, and more contemplative. I feel that sometimes as I watch the behaviors, I yet again refine my initial interpretations of what I see, to best understand and improve how I communicate with horses and humans alike.  And it all comes out in my lessons, clinics and training.  I can literally see the changes in humans and horses alike.  I believe our journey of horsemanship never ends; there is always more to learn, see, try and do.  Every horse and every scenario is an opportunity for us to learn from, embrace and evolve from.

So, maybe you can take a few minutes and whether you just stroll down memory lane or actually jot something down, perhaps you can practice a few minutes of thankfulness as you explore memories of what horses have taught you, forced you to confront about yourself, and inspired you.  I think if we brought more appreciation to the horse (even the frustrating, challenging and difficult ones) then our partnership with our horses, would have  stronger bonds and increased quality experiences. If we humans spent less time comparing how much “we” accomplished and more time on making quality memories, ironically “we’d” get a lot more done with our horses. 

So please, I encourage you to set out with a smile the  next time you approach your horse, take every unexpected experience as an opportunity to evolve and build upon, and I promise you, it’ll make you a better leader for your horse and emotionally happier.

Sam



Keeping the curiosity...

Curiosity is often taken out of the horse the more "training" it has... I've mentioned before Pico is the official "greeter" and I have to be careful not to leave any door open anywhere... I was able to catch the end of his exploring. 14 acres of grazing available, and he seeks out the trailer. And no, there isn't food, or grain, or anything else in the trailer. I missed the first two times he got in. Enjoy!

Spring time considerations for all things horse


It has been a long, snowy, wet winter and thankfully it looks like spring may be nearing soon! As the upcoming riding season approaches there are a variety of factors to consider when preparing you and your horse for safe, fun and fulfilling rides in the near future.

Life can get “busy” and sometimes folks lose track of when they did what with their horse.  I suggest keeping a simple calendar that marks any veterinary work, farrier care, vaccinations/worming schedule, changes in feed, work/training program, etc. This can be a futuristic tool and a historical reference to help you assess if the horse maintenance program your horse is on is appropriate or needs to be adjusted accordingly.

All horses handle the transition from a tough winter to spring differently.  Whether you’ve owned your horse a short time or for years, attempt to assess both his mental/emotional state and physical condition without any preconceived ideas. Make no assumptions that he’ll require the same care as the previous year.

After a long winter, I suggest folks take pictures of the horse, from each side, the front and the rear.  Use it as a “reference” or starting point to assess hay belly vs. muscle tone and general overall condition.  Though you may have been feeding a lot of hay, it does not mean your horse’s nutritional requirements are being met. Depending on his age, overall health and changes in lifestyle/exercise regime, the horse’s dietary needs may have to be adjusted according to the season and riding frequency.

Especially with older horses, have the vet do an annual overall assessment in the spring for any changes in his health; addressing things like possible dental issues which can affect their entire nervous system, the ability to easily chew/break-down food, and how comfortable he is with a properly fitted bit can contribute to his well-being. 

Having a quality chiropractor adjust/check your horse can help address any possible lasting physical compensation he may be carrying if he had any pasture accidents due to ice or snow. Though they appear to be strong animals, it actually takes very little for them to become physically misaligned. Other parts of their body begin to compensate and this can lead to a variety of physical issues and often pain.

With the farrier be sure to take measurements of each hoof, and pictures, (along with dates) to help assess hoof growth and condition influenced by weather, moisture and dietary changes. Be aware drastic changes in weather from super wet to hot and dry often lead to “sudden” lameness caused by things like abscesses.

Reassessing what tack you are using, why you’re using it (and no, just because “it” came with the horse does not mean it is appropriate,) and if you know how to fit and use it properly.  Be sure to check all of the stitching, buckles and look for any cracks in the leather.  Launder any pads, material cinches, etc. but be aware to the skin sensitivities many horses have towards most mainstream detergents. 
You may need someone to help you assess if your tack fits your horse’s current physical state- especially your saddle- which may require some adjustments from the beginning of the riding season and onward depending on muscle changes or gain during the spring and summer.

Many folks each spring call me with horses that have sudden “behavioral” issues; I’ve often found they are experiencing an immense amount of pain due to a multitude of factors. Notice if as you begin to spend more time with your horse any odd changes in his attitude and behavior. Mark on your calendar if your horse is becoming more fidgety, antsy, and unenthusiastic about being caught, tacked or ridden. Rather than ignoring the changes, slow down and play detective.  Assess for pain  and the quality of the rides. The horse only has so many polite ways of telling you there is a problem, before they resort to more drastic measures.

If your riding abilities/experience leave you feeling unsure about getting back in the saddle this spring, look for opportunities to work with the support of a professional giving you lessons or having you AND your horse participate in a training program.  If you hear that little voice in your head (yes, it is self-preservation), please listen.  Even if you’re unsure as to what is causing your insecurity, ask for help sooner than later.

Whether you are fairly new to horses or have ridden all your life, I believe it is an ongoing learning experience.  Irrelevant of whether you’re a competitive or pleasure rider, there is always opportunity to refine you and your horse’s communication, and his willingness to participate when ridden in a soft and quiet manner, which can then lead to the ideal ride and partnership. 

Asking for help or finding an appropriate professional can be a bit overwhelming.  If you find someone as a potential instructor/trainer, be sure to audit them working with a horse AND teaching a lesson to make sure their teaching approach and mannerisms will be a good fit for you and your horse.  And just because one person likes a particular trainer, does not mean it’ll be a good match for you.

If you’re planning on hauling your horse anywhere, be sure to have a thorough inspection of both your tow vehicle and horse trailer. Checking electrical/wiring, tires (including the spare tire), brakes, floorboards, rust, possible wasp nests, etc. all can prevent unwanted trailering “adventures.” I always suggest keeping an emergency equine vet kit, human first aid kit, unexpired fire extinguisher, 5 gallon water jug and bucket, electrolytes, spare halter and lead rope, jack/tire iron, and road flares in the trailer.

By proactively checking all contributing factors such as the horse’s health, mental and emotional state, tack and equipment, tow vehicle/trailer condition, and asking for help when necessary, you will save time, money and effort and can have more stress-free opportunities enjoying your horse.


 Have fun,
Sam

Exploring the use of a round pen- an alternative perspective

A FB friend posted an article on anti round pen usage... Here was my in depth perspective/answer:

I find 95% of folks misuse a round pen, whether under the guise of "exercising" or teaching conditioned responses, such as the lesser of two evils is to turn, face the human and be caught; which is a bullying tactic. The problem with teaching conditioned responses and patterns is the day you change the routine, you get a fire breathing dragon instead of your docile horse. 

So what happened? Most horses learn the pattern in order to get the human to leave them alone. There's not a lot of thought or clarity, it is just a form of "escaping" the pressure created by the human. The human in turn incorrectly assumes that because the horse is being so "helpful" by automatically doing something they might ask of their horse, that the horse is okay. More times than not, he is not.

For me the round pen allows an opportunity in a safe place where the horse and I can have open two way communication. It is an opportunity to assess if the horse is mentally available to physically participate with me. If any sort of fast movement or continuous movement occurs, there's typically a brainless-ness and flee to it.

Most horses that arrive with "behavioral issues" (which is often a symptom, not the issue) is a direct result of constant mental and emotional stress. The horse is rarely considered when the human has an agenda. So often the horses are bullied into doing things that really bother them and "all of a sudden" they act dramatic, resistant and dangerous. No, it wasn't all of a sudden. Most folks do not notice, put value to or address if their horse is asking for help, until the person can no longer ignore the escalating dramatic behavior displayed by the horse.

So as I start a colt, re-educate an older horse or fine tune a finished one, the round pen can be a tool. Could the same conversation happen while in the pasture, being led or tacked? Yes. It is not about location, shape of fence or teaching a patternized response. It is about a quality conversation that sets you and your horse up to be successful. But folks are looking for patterns and conditioned, brainless responses. 

If the horse is physically and mentally bothered, fearful, insecure or shut down, why wouldn't I want to address that and help him sort out his concerns BEFORE I get on? There's no need to "wait and see," what the ride will be like; if I see he's bothered now, it'll only get worse in the saddle. 

Imagine if all these amazing athletic creatures were supported to compete without being in the the continual state of stress and duress, then what might their movement look like?

By not offering a horse TIME to sort through his emotions, rather just attempting to physically exhaust him, but never address what he's bothered about, is setting up the horse to be defensive.... 

As with everything, something that can be a safe, confidence building and supportive tool based in how it is presented by one person can also be a horrific experience for the horse if someone with ego, time limitations, and ulterior motives uses it...

Just my thoughts.
Sam

Pressures from others: Making appropriate choices for you and your equine partner

The initial romanticized idea of what equine ownership can be, inspires many people to commit to buying a horse, but it can quickly diminish with the realities and learning curve they experience.  I’ve found that there is a preliminary assumption, that because someone is able to financially “buy” a horse, there is an expectation that horse is “waiting” to do whatever the person asks of him. 

If the focus is solely on what the new owner wants to do, irregardless of the horse’s need’s or abilities, a novice owner may unwittingly be creating a “problem” with their horse. By not recognizing a problem or resistance in the horse until the animal displays enough dangerous, insecure or fearful behavior, the new “owner” may not realize that something needs to be done.  And this is where “it” all gets complicated.

You and your horse are who will wind up having the most one-on-one experiences together, learn together, and endure the “journey” of horsemanship together.  It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, though difficult to navigate due to ALL of the many, many, MANY opinions of those (trainers, horse friends, boarders, vets, farriers, etc.) involved in the horse world around you. 

As a novice, when any sign of conflict arises, there tends to be a LOT of unasked for opinions pushed upon new owners.  If a horse is kept at the owner’s home, there seems to be less outside “intrusion,” but if kept at a public facility… Well, it is a bit like flies on manure.

The horse world can be a harsh, critical and judgmental world- whether or not in the competitive arena. As with most things in life, there can be amazing folks and those whose sole purpose seems to make everyone miserable around them.  Unfortunately, in many cases with folks who attempt to help, due to their own personal issues, they tend to “project” onto the horse, who is a mirror to one’s emotions, energy, stress, confidence, etc. 

Though it may be with the idea that “they” can help, I’ve found the folks who want to push “their way” onto the novice horse person, tend to be quite dramatic and harsh in the “methods” they offer as “solutions”. And the uneducated owner is either bullied (YES, it happens all the time) or their horse is bullied with whatever the “helpful advice” is. 

I’ve seen more damage done in five to 10 minutes of “good” intention, than if things had been left alone. Most novice horse folks have no idea how to “navigate” the horse world, and do not realize they have to really ‘vet’ where and from whom they are learning from. 

But what I wanted to talk about is the amount of stress and pressure that can be induced by dominant, “experienced” horse folks.  Even if they have good intention, they often create such a “chaos” or “frantic” energy about them that it tends to affect others around them- human and horse alike.  In extreme cases, with an insecure novice owner, the “stress” of other boarders ideas and opinions starts to psych them out before they’ve even arrived at the barn.  It can cause so much distraction and defensiveness and a feeling of “invasion” into the inexperienced owner, that it can negatively overwhelm them to the point where they are dysfunctional towards being their horse’s partner.

There are many situations that could be handled with a respectful suggestion or idea, and offered in a way that the person on the receiving end can either “take or leave it.”  Sadly that doesn’t happen too often.

So this blog is written for both those inexperienced folks; YES, it is okay for you to politely say “no” to, reject or ignore “advice” from those folks you feel unsure about.  And for you EXPERIENCED folks, please, unless you see a major safety issue (and you can offer a polite suggestion), please, please, please go about your own business.

Part of the learning curve also involves the inexperienced owner wanting to learn from others.  I’ve been in many situations (trailer loading is the prime example,) where I might be at a facility to work with someone else.  And in the background someone is having issues loading.  (And as a side note- most “issues” are dramatic moments/resistance/etc. are a symptom, rather than the underlying issue.  So with trailer loading, often there is a lack of clarity in communication, a lack of understanding or defensiveness towards “pressure” from the horse, an inability to change or redirect the horse’s thought, etc. which all then affects trailer loading.  IT ISN’T ABOUT GETTING IN THE TRAILER.)   Anyways, whomever I’m working with will inevitably ask, “Why don’t you go and help that person and horse?” And my answer is, “Until someone is ready to ‘hear’ me, and ask for help, I won’t offer it.”

So if you find yourself in any of the situations above, please, for the sake of your horse, feel confident enough to say “No” when the voice in your head is telling you the “advice” sounds inappropriate for you/your horse, or put in the effort to seek out quality HELP to improve your understanding, abilities and communication with your horse.

You don’t need to “do it” like everyone else.  You don’t need to compare what you can do with your horse versus what someone else can do with their horse.  You don’t need to “rush” as you learn, and you certainly don’t need to put self-induced pressures or be bullied into doing things with your horse that you are unsure about.  Sometimes it might take just a nice comment and folks will get the message to back off.  Other times, it may take a very direct “No thank you,” to get folks to quit offering the suggestions, and other times, it may take moving to another facility with your horse. 

Though you may have limited experience, you can still trust your “gut instinct” if something doesn’t seem right about a situation with your horse.  Trust that voice in your head and be the voice for your horse, you’re responsible for his well-being.  Trust me, though it may make you a bit uncomfortable initially, it’ll get easier to navigate the opinions, ideas and personalities of the equine world.  The more pressure you feel alleviated by doing right by your horse, the more comfortable you’ll be to make better choices in the future.

Good luck,

Sam

Demo Day April 10, 2017 Oakzanita Ranch

FINAL CA Clinic of the season... April 7-11 Oakzanita Ranch, Descanso CA. Here's what's special... there will be a DEMO day!
There are still a few one hour, private, participant spots available, Clinic audit/participant info
Photo Credit M Canfield
ASAP to sign up!
Auditing is free every day EXCEPT Monday April 10 from 9-4 which will be a demo day. I'll work with five different horses (spots already filled) that I've never worked with before! Cost is $50/day to audit and here's why...
Below is the "sales pitch" blurb and explanation as to why the audit fee is on the DEMO day:
"Sam does not offer books or DVDs to read or watch as her utmost priority with her teaching is clarity for both the horse and human. Spending the day auditing her working a variety of horses will allow you an intensive opportunity to watch real life scenarios unfold. As they do, as an auditor, you will be able to ask, discuss and mentally digest many of Sam's approaches and training theories that contribute to building a solid foundation and partnership with the horse. It will be the chance to watch in a short period of time how to assess a horse, "start a conversation" with the horse to achieve mental availability, and then a variety of ways to communicate spatially and with the use of aids to build the horse's confidence, focus and willingness to participate, which in the long term then leads to the ideal riding partner. There will be lots of opportunities for discussions, Q & A and much more than what is covered when folks audit individual sessions."
If you have questions or would like to audit you may PM or just show up with a chair and lunch!
Hope to see you there!

Sending the horse to the trainer: Things to consider

The idea for this blog has been in the back of my mind for a while, but the other day as I was about to cross-post a different blog on a blog directory, three titles of articles written by other folks caught my eye.  Each of their blogs was mocking/sarcastic comments about horse trainers and their cliché attitudes towards clients. Sadly, there was a lot of truth in what was being written.

Nowadays the general public has limited time to spend with their equine partners. Scenarios such as a spring tune-up, continuing education in an older horse, “maintenance” training, or starting a young colt, will create a need for folks to send their horse to a horse trainer.

When it comes to discussing the typical client/trainer relationship there could be many tangents, but in this blog I’ll keep it to three main areas of focus: Respectful Relationship, Asking Questions and Behind the Scenes.

Respectful Relationship

Keep in mind that in the USA, anyone can literally hang up a sign and say that they are a horse trainer.  That being said, even if someone does have the talent and ability to work with horses, does not automatically mean that they will/can run a business successfully, have the ability to clearly communicate with people or teach the human student, or that they have the human resources skills to be a quality boss.

As with many things that involve humans and tradition, certain behaviors within the professional equine industry have wrongfully (in my opinion) become accepted by the public.  I have personally been subjected to (as a student and client), and had to work under (as a working student and employee) these impolite and often boorish behaviors. They are completely absent of anything remotely professional or respectful- often to either the human or the horse.

Even if behaviors among horse trainers have become “the norm” and have been conventional for years, such as using disrespectful language with clients, a lack of clearly defined billing procedures/costs/over-billing clients, and a defensiveness towards explaining training methods/plans for clients, does not mean that they are or should be customary behavior and continue.

Because the equine industry is flooded with “horse trainers” it is very difficult to “get a foot in the door,” which can be the root cause of the “starving trainer” cliché. Commonly due to a lack of business background or grandiose but unrealistic business plans, inadequate budget, over-spending tendencies, and the inability to market appropriately, there is often a constant anxiety the trainer is feeling.  Horse trainers can be some of the most stressed-out professionals I’ve ever encountered.  With that constant stress, their emotions and patience are like a swinging pendulum; clients never know “who” they’ll encounter on any given day. 

Another contributor to the stress is the lack of consistency in the horse market.  So with no guarantee ever of a paycheck, it is a highly initially romanticized job that in reality is nothing of the sort.  The burden and distraction of continual financial stress takes a toll on the professional, which is often displayed in their rough, gruff, degrading attitudes and hurried mannerisms towards the horse and human alike.

As the client you have a choice who you give your hard earned money to.  Every time you pay someone, you are reaffirming their business practices and behavior. Plus you are putting your horse at the ‘mercy’ of the trainer.  I have yet to encounter a disrespectful, rude trainer towards people, who suddenly becomes polite when around the horse.  If a professional is unable to be kind, patient and respectful towards the client, they certainly are not going to be that way towards the client’s horse.

Sometimes the relationship between a client/trainer can evolve or devolve; just because you started with a trainer and all was well initially, honestly continue to evaluate the relationship every few months. If you see dramatic and negative changes in the professional’s behavior, you as the client have NO obligation to stay with the trainer.  Remember it is often your horse that will pay the “ultimate” physical and emotional price and it may take years to “undo” what has been done by the disrespectful trainer.

Ask Questions

Just as with buying a horse, starting a new endeavor such as working with a horse trainer will require effort, energy and research on your part. Just because someone offers a service that is of interest to you, does not mean that your personalities will be a good fit.  I also suggest to people to go and watch lessons and training being offered by the potentially new horse trainer.  By visiting and auditing in person, and watching a variety of scenarios, you’ll get the most “honest” version of what they’ll offer. 

If the trainer will not allow you to watch, WALK AWAY! There should never be any secret “behind the scenes” training or coaching that they are unwilling to share with a potential new client. 

If you are able to audit a lesson or training session, go with your “gut” instinct.  Even if you have limited experience, if something about the overall “picture” does not seem right, trust the little voice in your head.  Horse training or riding lessons should be positive, supportive, engaging and done with the encouragement of the trainer.  If you’re witnessing any crude, aggressive or rude behaviors by the professional, WALK AWAY!

Other questions to ask include the frequency of communication between trainer and client during the horse’s training.  Many folks send their horse to the professional and don’t hear from them until a bill is sent every 30 days.  (Although an uncommon practice, I personally update folks via email every few days to keep them in the loop. This also allows them reference points to re-read when their horse returns home and they want to better understand what training has occurred and how I approached working with their horse.)

Sadly I have frequently heard trainers berating clients for inquiring about their horse’s progressive.  The trainer that becomes immediately defensive, or that takes a question from a client as a critique, has a “lot” of other things going on.  Horse trainers are famous for intimidating their clients into submission, and sadly treat the equines the same way.  As a client, there should be no fear to ask questions or understand what is happening with your horse.

That being said, there’s also a “line” that needs to not be crossed by the client.  There are some trainers can be overly friendly. In some cases clients mistake the kind behavior and conversations with the pro and unknowingly take advantage of the trainer’s time and energies. Clients are often unaware that mixing the professional and personal friendship with the trainer can lead to another range of issues.

Another part of asking questions is to learn what will go “on” behind the scenes when the owner is not present.

Behind the Scenes

Due to many of the factors addressed earlier in this blog, there seems to never be enough hours in the day for most trainers to get everything accomplished.  Therefor (and often not through malicious intention) the trainer will take on too many horses or responsibilities in an attempt to “pay the bills.”  This can lead to a lack in quality time spent with each horse, or more often, to the trainer resorting to having other folks work with clients horses. This could be grooms doing most of the handling, working students or assistant trainers warming up/schooling/cooling down horses, etc.  The problem is that no two trainers/riders are the same, even if they learned or are using the same style/technique of training.

So if a client has sent their horse to be in training with Professional X, due to that person’s ability, if the horse is mostly being handled by assistant Professional Y, obviously there’ll be a different outcome in the horse’s training.  I have witnessed at a multitude of facilities and among various disciplines, this to frequently be the case, leaving the clients in the “dark” about who is actually doing most of the training with their horse. 

Keep in mind that every moment a horse is being handled, groomed, worked with, ridden, etc. is an opportunity for them to learn something.  Although at larger facilities it is not possible for the head trainer to do “everything,” if you know that other employees will be working with your horse, go and WATCH those who handle the horse, to make sure they are folks you’d trust and agree with their training practices.

I suggest once a week if possible, but at least bi-monthly, go and watch your horse being worked.  It will allow you enough “gap” in between sessions to see progress or any red flags or concerns.  Again, if your horse is suddenly displaying things such as an unhealthy drop in weight, signs of stress, worry, anxiety, etc. YOU need to make the decisions to find a better fit from another trainer that is willing to work WITH your horse, his personality, ability, maturity, etc.

“Breaking up” with a horse trainer can be incredibly uncomfortable, stressful and lead to a lot of gossip within the local horse community.  So what.  I am here to tell you that in the long run, YOU need to do what is best for you and your horse, irrelevant of what works for anyone else and their needs.  Just because one trainer “gets results” with one horse does not mean that the same trainer will be a good match for your horse.

So please, push tradition to the side, and spend some time searching for a quality, respectful, kind and of course talented trainer for you and your horse. It may take more effort and patience than you realized, but in the long run you’ll not only save money but you’ll be happier with your horse’s progression and results.

Sam


Pain in horses- an unaddressed common denominator


Let me preface this blog by saying I am NOT any of the following: veterinarian, equine nutritionist, equine dentist, farrier, equine chiropractor, equine naturopath or any other medical related equine professional. 

What I am is an equine professional who sees/handles hundreds of horses a year of varying ages and breeds, with differing degrees of training and exposure/experience in both competitive and pleasure disciplines. 

I am continually learning from every horse I encounter; when I think back to years ago to what I’ll call during my initial 14 years of learning in the “traditional” riding lessons and clinics stage, I can only clearly twice remember two instances of professionals looking at my equipment and asking me why I was using what I was using on my horse. One instructor suggested a stronger more severe bit for “control” (later I learned this was a standard suggestion and not a personalized nor appropriate suggestion for my ability nor the horse I was riding at the time) and the other was from a Dutch clinician who suggested the KK Herm Sprenger bit, (which to this day I still use,) if I’m introducing or using a bit on a horse.

I have found that commonly at traditional boarding facilities the students all used the same farrier, the same vet, fed the same feed, etc. and no one ever questioned if those practices were appropriate for their individual horse.  Why? I’m guessing out of convenience, but also because students were/are often taught “this is how you do it, this is who you use” and the unspoken “don’t question the ‘system’ ” is loud and clear.

Nowadays I find that as I approach a horse for the first time, whether one that has arrived for a seasonal clinic, weekly lesson or initial training, I tend to automatically start visually scanning the horse physically.

Things such as the direction and reaction of the ears, worried lines or tension peaks above the eyes, emptiness/brightness in the eye, busy-ness in the lips/lines/tension in the mouth/odd jaw movement, tension in the poll/withers, lack of mobility/range in the neck/shoulder, uneven muscle development from one side of the horse to the other along the top-line, continual tightness along the rib cage parallel to the ground, hindquarters sunken in or tail held tight against rump, inconsistent breathing, shortness of step, foot/heel placement as the hoof touches the ground, etc. are just a few things I look at.

I look at the overall “balance” of physical development of the horse, his coat, etc. as I ask about what feed/frequency and any health issues. Then I move on to what equipment has been used and why; probing about issues, changes, resistance, problems, etc. with tack and equipment.

This is all BEFORE we’ve actually done anything. At all.  And I LISTEN to what is and perhaps isn’t being said by the owner.

Then I start to assess the general behavior of the horse (i.e. totally oblivious he is attached to other end of the lead rope and is dragging the owner around in search of grass or staring at new setting, defensive when touched by owner, worried/concerned behavior just as we are standing- or attempting to stand, etc.) If inclined I will start to run my hands over/around/near certain parts of the body that seem to “jump out” as uncomfortable or hypersensitive areas based on how I read the horse’s body language.

Why do I do all of this? It gives me a starting point.  Clients come to me for help.  Often, though they may have good intentions or think they are clear on what they want help with or want to work on with their horse, the owner may be focusing on a symptom of the “issue(s)” rather than understanding the root cause. 

In many cases I’m playing detective and trying to connect the dots between unwanted obvious behaviors (symptoms), and searching for contributing factors creating the undesired outcome in the horse.  And yes, realistically multiple issues, experiences, anticipation/lack of understanding/ill-fitting equipment/miscommunication all contribute to the “problems” with the horse.

To put things into perspective, I ask folks, “How receptive would you be to learning or trying something new if you were in a constant state of pain?” They tend to admit that they’d probably be unable to focus, be patient, try the unknown or trust someone new.  The same goes for their horses.

So if it is obvious something is physically bothering the horse, I need to respectfully attempt to address that first, BEFORE I move on to “training”, with or without the owner.  Obviously there’ll be a wide pendulum between easier things such as digestion issues, compared to long term corrective dental or farrier care whose results will take longer to see/make a difference.  With that in mind, I will adjust how much I ask of the horse in a session.

Things like maturity, experience, confidence will all factor in to how much I ask a horse to mentally engage and participate. But first I need the horse to be as comfortable as possible.  I have seen drastic differences while experimenting in making small changes for horses with an array of ailments including things such as inappropriate feed program with either too much sugar or protein content, sleep deprivation issues, ulcer/hind gut issues, idealistic angles in farrier care vs. appropriate shoeing for their individual build- therefor causing more damage than good, rehabilitating old physical injuries/atrophied muscles from things like pulling back when tied/severe training methods/ill-fitting saddles, teeth/jaw/poll issues that create dramatic reactions in how they respond/use/carry their head, and much more.

Sometimes having a horse for a long time causes a familiarity that can mask an owner’s clarity in literally seeing if there may be physical/emotional/behavioral issues occurring with their horse. It is always good to keep a calendar of any changes made in diet/lifestyle/work/veterinary care/farrier care/tack to allow yourself to keep track of any “new” behaviors that occur afterwards.  With the craziness of “life” owners sometimes lose perspective of how long/when a behavior or change happens in the horse (good or bad) therefor causing a lack of understanding that a change in one area caused “results” in another seemingly unrelated area.

If you have a trusted equine professional, have your horse at least once a year evaluated for overall health; you do not need to “wait” until something is glaringly wrong before asking for another opinion.  Or take pictures and measurements every two months of your horse from both sides, front, behind, measurements of weight, hoof size, etc.  You’ll be amazed how much your horse’s body can change seasonally between the Spring and the Fall. Often these physical changes will require a change in the feed regiment and the tack used. 

If you don’t understand why you’re feeding what you are, why you are using the tack that “came with the horse” or what your equine professional is doing with/to your horse, ASK QUESTIONS! It is your responsibility as the owner to understand, think, question and do what is in the horse’s best interest. Please do not just follow the latest “trend” in the equine world, as often by doing so, can lead to more long term damage than good.

If I had to put a percentile to the number of horses that I see that are physically in pain or discomfort it would be in the high 80s.  That are a lot of uncomfortable horses, and often with a little investigative, proactive detective work, experimentation and follow through, folks can eliminate unnecessary stress, agitation, pain, and distraction, allowing the opportunity for a quality partnership.

Don’t beat yourself up if after an honest assessment you realize your horse is in pain; the good news is you are now becoming aware and more sensitive in your horse management.  The knowledge gained by honestly evaluating your horse will allow you more “information” in order to make better informed decisions for improving the comfort of your horse. Remember, your horse only has so many ways of asking for help, and often the most dramatic behaviors are seen in the horses that need the most mental, emotional and physical help.

Sam


Time and the illusion of multi-tasking

For people who are new to my teaching and training theories, there are many questions and frequently a great deal of pondering and brooding as folks start to question “the way they’ve always done things” with their horses.

An introspective assessment, rather than seeking “answers” by imitating others, frequently leads people to an uncomfortable stage, of not so “pretty” revelations about themselves, behaviors and patterns in their interaction with their horses.
Unfortunately in our western society we are often praised for how much we can multi-task, seemingly “accomplishing” more tasks in a very limited time.

It may appear that individuals are achieving multiple tasks, but when it comes down to quality, clarity and intention when completing those responsibilities, they often are lacking those traits. The difficulty arises when we take a highly sensitive animal like the horse who will “feed” off of our energy, and we head out to the barn carrying chaos, distraction and tension.

Since we no longer rely on horses for survival, most people want to ride or be with their horse and use the experience as an emotional outlet.  The problem is horses are highly emotional and sensitive creatures.  They also are mirrors to those around them, and reflect what people “bring” to the experience. If folks are rushed, distracted, and stressed from “life” and unintentionally carry “baggage” from the daily demands of job, family, life, etc. to our equine partners, it makes for a less than desirable experience for both participants.
So the next time you are THINKING about riding, stop for a moment.  Take 10 (I’m not kidding) deep breaths, mentally scanning your body for rigidity, distraction, or tightness.  With each breath, feel that you can let go of “reality” for an hour or two while you head out to the barn.  

It may sound a bit “touchy/feely” but horses are not machines sitting and waiting to “serve” their human’s purpose.  The horse within seconds of your arrival has assessed where your brain and emotions are.  If you aren’t present, neither will he be, leading to a less than quality experience. They can be fantastic partners, but only if offered fair and respectful communication. Why not spend quality time, rather than “dutiful” time with him?


And trust me, all those “urgent” problems will still be waiting for you when you’re done spending time with your horse. So, leave reality at the door, and literally give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy the ride!

Sam

Finding the ideal equine partner- and selling the unwanted one

Each spring receive inquiries from people wanting to sell their current inappropriate horse, and how they can find a better suited one.  I could write a book on the things that should be considered when buying a horse, but I'll leave it for now at the below synopsis.

The "ideal" safe, reasonable, sane, sound, fun, experienced, confident and not-too-aged horse has become the most sought after horse. So they are really, really hard to find.  In a limited location such as north Idaho, they are near impossible to find.  I'm currently searching the entire USA looking for two of them for clients of mine. 

Horses are not what they were 25 years ago; between backyard breeding and a lack of quality exposure to a multitude of locations, activities, disciplines, riders, etc. horses nowadays don't have the confidence and experience most things pleasure riders will ask of them. Riders also have a limited skill set and cannot positively support their horse through troubling or worrisome experiences. It can become the blind leading the blind, which does not build confidence in the partnership. 

Is it possible to find a great horse? Yes, but it requires a LOT of effort, research, energy and time.  Folks imposing a time pressure upon themselves when buying a new horse leads to an inappropriate match. If the wrong horse is purchased, there are new issues in both the daily handling of the horse and then trying to re-sell it, often costing the person more money. Another factor in people buying an inappropriate horse is by allowing their emotional "hopefulness" to take over, versus believing what their initial rational assessment of the horse is.

When searching for a new horse, a person needs to "educate" themself on specific questions to ask, and how to interpret what is or isn't being said by the seller. Have a list of scenarios to expose the potential new horse to; this can help assess his mental and emotional state in new situations.  Unless you're a "horse trainer" and this is your lifestyle, the horse's current attitude, experience, emotional state, etc. TODAY needs to be the horse you want. DO NOT maintain hopefulness that he will evolve into the horse you want "someday, further down the road.

The value of horses has dropped significantly and most "pleasure" horses aren't worth much, but the well broke, happy horse is highly sought after, so rarely will you find him under $4,000 US, because people realize they are worth their weight in gold.

Pleasure riders without the time, education, experience or clarity to independently help an unfamiliar or newly bought troubled horse, can lead to dramatic and sometimes dangerous outcomes, inducing fear in the human for a very long time. I also warn folks the most dangerous rides are often when trying out a new horse.  Always watch the owner first do EVERYTHING you might ask when trying out the potential new horse.

As for attempting to sell a difficult horse, if they don't have exposure, miles, or enough "quality" traits, often the price has to be low enough that whomever takes him on as a project horse, can justify the amount of time and effort they will have to "invest" in him for him to evolve into an ideal horse.  The problem with pricing him low, is that it brings two groups of unwanted buyers- the "horse poor" buyers who are the ultimate hopeful horse folks who often lack the skills and abilities and therefor can get hurt by a horse like that, if they fixate that he needs "saving"- and then there's the kill buyers.

Putting the word out to those who see and know a lot of people within the horse community, vets and farriers are usually best, is a good place to start.  If in a remote location, it is hard for people to find out about a horse. The problem with online horse sale listings is there are many time wasters who will contact you.  It can be an emotional rollercoaster every time someone sounds "good" and then shows up and turns out to be different than what they had implied in their knowledge, abilities, etc. Remember people "hear" what they want to.  So even if you as the seller are morally and ethical honest and direct and disclose all of the faults, flaws, etc. about the horse, as soon as potential, hopeful, buyer sees a "pretty" horse, most of what you say isn't "heard" because they are too busy falling in love with horse in an ideal version of him in their head.

I wish more equine professionals were really honest about all the effort it takes to find a quality match in finding an equine partner, to prevent folks from ending up with a less than ideal horse and learning the "hard" way. The illusion that if someone follows a DVD, magazine article or TV program on how to “train” a horse, that the average working full-time/have a family/life, etc. equine enthusiasts can "train" a horse for what they want is troublesome to me. 

Please ask for help in assessing and buying a potential horse. My basic rule of thumb is to have people go seeing at least 20 horses before they say “yes” to anything.

The "honest" answers aren't always the ones we want to hear, but they do tend to be the ones we NEED to hear.    

Sam