Holiday Season Gifts!

Wishing everyone the start of a happy holiday season- let there be many rides through the snow! Looking for the perfect gift for that horse lover? We offer gift certificates for a variety of scenarios. Please message me for details!

All the right ingredients...

Temps quickly dropped in the Pacific Northwest and summer is over... still enjoying the slightly warmer days now that the smoke has mostly cleared out from a night of rain.

The pictures below summarize some of what I do by NOT following trends, disciplines or otherwise... sidepull, ranch roping saddle, helmet, English saddle on ponied horse, Dressage arena, woods?!?

They are horses first, then focus on a specific discipline. Clear communication first, then refine the specific task asked of the horse.
Someone yesterday asked me to Define what exactly it is that makes it different in what I do compared to everybody else.

I explained it this way:
I'm looking to create mentally available horses, so that they participate in a physically soft and willing manner in all that we may ask of them.
Many horses are taught to go through the motions, are taught conditioned responses through endless repetition, but there is a lack of mental presence or willingness. Whether it is a pleasure horse or competitive horse, if the animal is always mentally checked out, how soft will he be towards your aids, how willing will he be to do things that are asked of him, and how quickly will he constantly be looking for an "escape" option if mentally he wants nothing to do with the human?
It is an ongoing journey to work towards refining ourselves and creating a partnership with the horse.

An analogy I like to use:
Let's say you were going to bake a cake. If you did not have all the correct ingredients and the proper measurements of those ingredients, no matter how many times you put the cake mixture in the oven, it would never baked as it should.

The end product would never come out as you wanted. And if the only thing you did was keep adjusting the temperature at which you were baking a cake, you would keep getting different unwanted outcomes.

But what if instead you went back and checked your ingredients list and realized you had missed something.
Even something that seemed minor such as baking powder, and yet had such a massive effect on the rise of the cake, the texture of the cake, you'd realize how such a small amount of said ingredient would have such a big influence on the final outcome of the cake.

The same goes for our partnership with our horses.

So perhaps the next time you head out to see your horse you might review if you have all the necessary ingredients to create that ideal ride.

Pressure and release… The missing language of a quality partnership

A majority of unwanted horse behavior stems from the animal responding with defensiveness towards any form of pressure.  Spatial and physical are the most common types of pressure people use to communicate with horses. If there is a physical resistance and mental distrust towards pressure, this can lead to a wary partnership between horse and human.

The horse presenting himself to be haltered, working at liberty, walking past a scary location or object are all forms of spatial pressure. Tasks such as standing tied, tacking up, being mounted, and rein/seat/leg aids are all examples of physical pressure.

An overlooked factor in creating a quality partnership is the rider recognizing the horse’s efforts by offering a release. Think of the release as an acknowledgement or “thank you” towards the horse for his effort. It is the only encouragement the rider can offer to horse to inspire him to keep trying.

The timing of the release is crucial and can be offered in a multitude of ways. It can be physical, such as decreasing the use of an aid or slowing the pace; a spatial release could be encouraging a horse to “think through” a scenario. A rider lacking sensitivity and awareness, unintentionally creates constant pressure towards their horse.

Mistrust can begin when the horse complies with the initial pressure, and a rider continues to “take” or demand more of the horse.  Eventually the constant pressure with no release is too much for the horse, who begins displaying resistant (fussy, busy, defensive) behavior.  If the horse’s movement still appears “manageable,” his concerns tend to be ignored, or worse, the rider’s response is to create MORE pressure in an attempt to “make him” do something or to contain his resistance. 

What does this vicious cycle teach the horse? That every time he displays he has a problem, he is going to have more pressure applied to him. Eventually the horse has had “enough” and uses his size and muscle to get bigger, stronger or perhaps more intimidating. The obvious unwanted physical behavior is often the symptom, rather than the root cause. 

A common practice is to mask the unwanted behavior, with quick and easy “fixes” such as using more severe tack. Adding equipment, working the horse harder and longer, all forms of pressure, lead to increased resistance from the horse.

Instead it should feel like a respectful conversation between the rider and their horse, not a screaming match.  The rider should ask something of the horse with minimal energy and effort, through clear and specific communication.  The horse can and should respond in a polite and willing manner. 

The reality is that many riders feel like they are begging for the horse to acknowledge them. Other folks’ approach is to “make” the horse do something through physical dominance; this fuels the horse’s defensiveness. Then there are riders who learn to work “around” the horse, limiting what they ask of them to avoid potential resistance or conflict.

None of these methods contribute to the horse or rider’s confidence, trust, respect or partnership.  So how do we fix it?  With young or inexperienced horses, my philosophy is it is easier to prevent something from happening, than trying to fix it after-the-fact.

Horses are born sensitive, alert, aware and curious.  But often by the time you see a horse that has been ridden for a few years they have “lost” a lot of those traits. So what happened? Through no ill will or bad intention, rather a lack of quality equine education, many folks have handled their horses in a manner that has unintentionally taught the horse to ignore them, to be fearful of the human, and to feel defensive towards people in general.

How does this happen? Contributors that tend to quickly create mistrust, misunderstanding and concern for the horse can include but are not limited to:
Professionals who prioritize quantity of task-accomplishment with the horse, rather than quality and confidence-building training practices.
 Trainers who feel time/financial/ego pressure to produce results and rush colts or inexperienced horses too fast or hard in their initial education, creating a fear of the unknown.
 Trainers sending inexperienced horses home to inexperienced riders who “don’t know what they don’t know,” therefore the rider asks things of the horse that are overwhelming or over-face the horse.
 A rider’s general lack of correct usage of aids, creating a constant heaviness (all pressure and no release) combined with continual mixed signals and passive communication.

A lack of physical release from the rider contributes to a mental disengagement from the horse. This is what I consider as overly desensitized horses or mentally “shut down.”  They aren’t interested in participating, and they are only tolerating the human, leading to continual resistance towards the rider.

So what if you aren’t working a young horse, but an older experienced one, can he “come back” from the mental stress and physical pressures created by people? Absolutely. It does not take long for the horse to recognize the immediate difference in a “conversation” focusing on refining his interpretation of pressure and release, defining clear boundaries and standards as to what behaviors will work and those that don’t. The more the horse realizes his efforts lead to a release, the more curious he becomes about what is being presented.

Horses can be incredibly forgiving animals, and can quickly adapt to positive, clear and specific communication. Re-sensitizing the horse to being soft on the lead rope, leads to a softer response to the rein.  Following-the-feel and softening to pressure, should feel like the horse is “melting” towards wherever you first direct his thought, then his body, whether you’re on the ground or in the saddle. The horse should feel like putty, waiting for you to mold him however you’d like. Being a herd animal, he can be very willing to comply and adapt, if the rider is willing to educate themselves and learn how to support the horse through scenarios, rather than solely critique his efforts. 

Could you and your benefit from a Remote Coaching Session with Sam? Find out more HERE

Confidence and Communication for the Trail Ride

This time of year equine enthusiasts are excited to take advantage of the good weather and to enjoy the amazing scenery while riding in nature. One of the many emotional draws towards the freedom of riding is to escape the stresses and realities of jobs, family and daily responsibilities... Because of this draw, folks tend to approach riding trails as a time for relaxation, which in turn can cause them to unintentionally offer passive, after-the-fact communication with their horse.

“Passenger” style riding can appear successful during uneventful circumstances. The “wait-and-see” approach also is used in a variety of scenarios when the rider realizes the horse might be concerned with something. Folks quickly realize that their lack of communication and inability to influence their horse’s behavior under stress causes them to feel at the “mercy” of how ever their horse chooses to respond to a situation.

Between inconsistent terrains, unexpected wildlife encounters, herd behavior among multiple horses on a ride, there is a lot for both the human and horse to mentally process. As much effort and energy goes towards logistics in finding new riding trails and planning adventures with friends, the reality is the least amount of time is often spent on what I consider the most important part of the equation- preparing the horse for a quality, “uneventful” ride by building a solid foundation.

Preparing for riding out is not a matter of desensitizing a horse or practicing riding past scary objects multiple times. The old “wet saddle blankets” theory I agree with to a certain degree; if there is quality conversation during those long trail rides, they add to a horse’s education and build his confidence. If instead each ride is making the horse feel more concerned, the increased frequency/length of ride will only add to the horse’s “spookiness” or reactivity.

A horse’s natural defense is to run when unsure, but if he offers this response, there is usually a “fight” with the rider, teaching the horse that every time he feels fear, he gets critiqued. What if instead we taught the horse the unnatural response that when he is unsure, to physically pause, and mentally check in with the rider, and to willingly hear the rider's instructions as to how to handle/navigate the situation?

This approach is not an easy answer, nor a quick fix, and counters the idea that the primary focus of trail riding is social hour for the human. Tolerating mediocre proficiency in the basics such as steering, brakes, and using a gas pedal that often “sticks,” is not polite nor supportive to the horse, and will add to any insecurity he may have. Rather than feeling like we survived an unexpected moment, if we have effective tools to communicate, we can use it to build our horse’s confidence, decreasing the chance of injury and increasing the horse’s curiosity every time something new occurs out on the trail.

The ideal response to an aid is a soft and immediate “try” from the horse. Often a rider’s aid is received as a critical attempt at blocking a horse’s thought or focus, and creates defensiveness in the horse. His mental stress is reflected in excessive physical movement and dramatic behaviors.

While in a safe environment perhaps take a moment and assess the current effectiveness of your aids and communication with your horse. On a “boring” day, what is the willingness in which your horse participates? Does he present himself to be caught (or run away), is there lightness on the lead rope (or dragging- indicators as to how he’ll respond to rein pressure), is he mentally and physically quiet while groomed and tacked up (or wiggly, pawing, fussing, chewing, fidgeting), can he stand when mounted (without being contained by the reins), is there sensitivity (or hypersensitivity) towards the rider’s seat and leg, is there mental willingness to hear the rider’s opinions during a ride, does he try something once and then just quit if asked again?

What if our standard was happy horses don’t exaggerate an obstacle like jumping six feet over the six inch stream, don’t jig when asked to adapt their energy level to the slower horse in the group, don’t paw if left tied unattended for a few moments, are able to stand still quietly, can ride at the front, middle or rear of the group, are willing to leave the group and ride off by themselves, or anything else we might need to ask of them for the sake of practical and safety purposes?

By supplementing trail rides with short, incremental, quality conversations, the horse could begin to recognize how to mentally and physically “stay” with their rider, without feeling contained. Tasks or obstacles can be a tool for teaching a horse to think through a scenario, but presenting one isn’t about the physical accomplishment of the task, rather the quality of the conversation that occurs to complete the task with slow, intentional, relaxed movement. If the horse rushes through the task, even though he may have complied with what was asked of him, it made him defensive, and then task would no longer be a tool. Slowing down the anticipation that caused the rushing, presenting a task in pieces, allowing the horse the time to think, search and try to address the task with quality, builds the confidence he’ll need for the trail.

Sometimes in order to achieve the most quality, we have to slow down and perhaps fill some “holes” in our partnership with the horse. Rather than feeling like riding out translates into chaos and hoping to survive the ride moments, the more specific and intentional we are in what we ask of our horse, the timing of how we ask it, and the sensitivity in how we use our aids to communicate, will influence our horse’s physical behaviors and mental attitude towards us while experiencing the real world.

Could you and your horse benefit from a REMOTE COACHING session with Sam? Click HERE

Rebuilding reasonableness in dangerous horses

Do you have a "spooky/overreactive/hypersensitive/dramatic/flamboyant/neurotic/destructive" horse? You might want read my following thoughts I shared with a client after her older horse arrived for an assessment:

We had a good first week. The major underlining issue is that your horse is fearful, which creates dramatic and defensive behavior.

How ever he initially learned added with whatever the human experiences afterwards were, has taught him to be "contained" no matter how worried he is, until the moment he cannot "handle" what is being asked and becomes super chaotic in his fleeing movement.

Basically he can never let down and relax due to the anticipation of what might be asked of him next, and is so consumed with being on high alert, that he literally cannot see or acknowledge the world around him. The moment he finally does notice things, it all is too overwhelming and he wants to flee from it.

The cresty, over bent kink in his neck, his dramatic sewing machine like steps, his constant excessive movement- like taking an extra four steps in order to be able to stop and not fall over, his overreaction/hypersensitivity to spatial pressure/physical pressure of the lead rope, etc. are all signs of his stress and are his coping mechanisms. But he's not coping very well.

So the conversation between him and I has been to physically slow down, so that he can literally start to think, then move. The real goal is that he can finally let down and relax and just be present, happily waiting for what I might ask.

It is near impossible for him to look where he is going before he offers movement; this often comes from conditioning a horse to stare at the human all the time. But when we ride, we can't have a horse who is always trying to turn around and stare at us. For him to initially roll both eyeballs towards where he was about to move was mind blowing.

For him to first think, then move perhaps two or three steps and halt, was also very difficult. He offers 0-60 in his reactions all the time. None of his behaviors are out of resistance or defiance, it solely is based on fear.

He could not rationalize that the constant containment or flee wasn't working. So I broke everything that I asked of him into very, very, very small pieces. First look and think, then move with a specific energy, then halt and mentally check in with me. Breathe, chew, relax, sigh.

My goal has been that he can stay mentally present, breathe at a normal rate, let the constant worry peaks above his eyes down, relax his jaw and lips which he holds in a constant tightness due to stress, and lengthen his neck into a "normal" position. None of this is actually about his physical appearance, but rather the physical posturing tells you what the emotions and mental status is. We're aiming for boring.

Whether I worked him loose or on the lead, we needed to change how he felt about pressure- his response in getting taller in his posture and to hyperventilate was not making him feel better. He has now started to learn how to gently soften to pressure- this is a hugely important concept- if he's that defensive towards a lead rope, what happens when you go to sit on him or use reins?

Just touching him, moving around him, he was on guard. Showing him that just because I moved, didn't mean he had to. He acts if he's been reprimanded multiple times for getting something wrong, or just a whole lot of "driving" with pressure has totally overwhelmed him mentally. So we're doing a "re-boot."

Pressure needs to be seen as a positive support and a tool, otherwise it is an ineffective aid. He also has to believe my aids the first time I ask, rather than do nothing at all or overreacting. I noticed as I walked by his side with my hand touch him where your lower leg would lie if you were sitting on him, he got super swishy with his tail- more defensiveness. If he was that bothered by my hand lightly touching him, I can only imagine how he feels about real leg pressure.

Each day is happier, less defensiveness and less flamboyant. He is realizing every time he tries, all pressure goes away, and he feels better.

This encourages him to keep trying, and "meet me" in the middle.
Experimenting with familiar things like lining up with the mounting block- just to see how he felt, he must have grown a foot taller. It isn't about the block, but rather the trigger the block creates, about the potential upcoming ride. So every time he shows concern- we have to divert from whatever we're doing, and address him until he can LET IT GO. Which is very hard for him. But helping him though bothersome scenarios, rather than critiquing him, builds his confidence to try.

He's very sweet and really does want to feel better, and let down, he just couldn't help change his own behaviors.

Need more ideas for your own horse or scenario? Find out about Sam's Remote Coaching services.  Click HERE

Making the "training" last

I thought I'd share a blurb from recent correspondence with a client. She brought me a horse that was new to her and supposedly had years of riding out in the open, in the mountains, packing animals out, doing everything. After a few unexpected, overreactive, traumatic events at her place, the horse became defensive and dangerous. And so I received him a few weeks ago. There are many factors that go into mentally, emotionally and physically rehabilitating a horse.

Here is a small piece that I think is incredibly important in the transition from me working with a horse to sending one home and the effort being able to show through for the owners and make life better for the horse. Enjoy!

My belief is not that the individual person will affect the horse’s ability to maintain what he has learned, rather it is the quality of the conversation offered by anyone handling the horse, that either supports or “undoes” any training learned here. Obviously if you were violent towards him he’d remember, but more so, in his case, he just wants to know that someone knows what is going on, and will support him.

So to address your concern for him “losing” his evolvement/re-education with me, it will maintain and will last the more you are able to offer the same type of conversation as I’ve been doing. So my goal in your visiting him is to watch how I interact with him and to see/believe the “conversation” he offers through his body language, emotions, behaviors, etc. to better understand how to interpret and recognize the initial, minor behaviors of when he shows concern, defensiveness, etc. and realizing how early you need to “be there” to help him through something, rather than waiting until he commits to a negative or fearful thought, and only reacting after the fact. The goal is the more confidence he regains here with me, the more he’ll be able to “handle” even if with a human who isn’t as aware as I am. But on the flip side, even if he looked “quiet” in the riding videos of him, many, many things have been missed. His jumpy-ness with flyspray, the water hose, stuff touching his sides, that isn’t something that just appears. I’d guess as I opened the door for him to offer his real feelings about the human experience thus far, he has a lot to purge, in order to feel better about being with people.

Today I worked loose with him in the round pen asking him to come over and present himself to have the saddle blanket put on (from both sides), the girth lie across his back, and eventually the saddle. All the while he was loose, so any time he was bothered by the pressure of the gear, he was allowed to leave, sort out his defensiveness, and then he chose to come back over and stand mentally and emotionally quiet, while I put stuff on him again. We got to where he was eventually totally relaxed. He blew and blew and blew his nose. He was the most focused, with the most amount of try I’ve seen thus far.

A lot of this rehabilitation comes from observations too. Like when I experimented with turning out his two pasture mates and leaving him in a round pen loose, on his own, while I went off and did other things. He didn’t scream, he didn’t look dramatic, but he pooped three times in 15 minutes, and was gently “busy” moving the whole time until I returned. While I was still doing other stuff he kept gumming the air like baby horses do, yawning, chewing, sighing, scratching, all signs of being bothered. But because it didn’t look dramatic, most people would have not “seen” it as him being bothered. The good news was, me showing up, made him feel better.

Horsemanship: Three detrimental contributors to failing human/horse partnerships

Horses are beginning to arrive for training at my summer facility. The two most common groups of horses have either had the winter off, and the owners realized they either need some refining/furthering of their education, or there are a lot of young horses that need to be started.

If you’ve spent any time reading my Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey website, or past Blog entries, you’ll realize that I’m not the “quick fix” kind of horse trainer. The two sites help separate those folks who don’t want to have to sift through information and are looking for quick and easy answers, and those who are committed to learning/participating in the journey they and their horse will be experiencing with me.

Spring Time Horse and Human Assessments

Every spring after cold, dark winter folks start getting excited at the prospect of the upcoming riding season. For most people in the inland northwest, there is a major decrease in the amount of ride/horse time during the winter months. Below are some ideas to help safely get you back in the saddle!

Supporting vs Challenging the Horse

People often ask "what kind of horse training do you do?" I say I work with people and horses.

In the traditional world of horses, not categorizing yourself meant that you didn't really know a whole lot about anything. Nowadays I find it quite ironic how many students I have that come from "specialized" trainers but are having major issues on fundamental basics with their horses and the specialized trainers are unable to help them through the situations other than forcing the horses into submission through fearful and aggressive tactics.

On any given day I'm working with Colts, rehabilitating the older horse, refining the trained cutting or roping horse, mellowing the endurance horse, improving confidence in the ranch horse, slowing down the jumping horse who rushes at fences, improving the dressage horse's self carriage, and so much more.... And the thing that I keep repeating is, " At the core, all horses are all the same."

First we need to treat, interact, and have partnerships with these animals as Horses, then the specialized focused can come into play.

But there are so many people who are so fixated on accomplishing "stuff" that in the end, whether it's through ego, bragging rights, unintentionally overfaced with goals or otherwise, the human doesn't realize that they are setting up the horse to fail in what they ask of them because they don't have the fundamental Basics nor effective tools to communicate with the horse in order to support him through the scenarios they present.

Nine out of 10 new horses I meet have no concept or good feeling about pressure, whether it's physical or spatial, and are often defensive towards the human. People often want to rush through the motions constantly putting the horse in a position of having to tolerate very stressful scenarios and then afterwards act surprised when the horse no longer can handle it emotionally or physically.

My goal is to teach people how to communicate without relying on the instructor and learn to recognize the horses mental and physical resistance and influence a change in his thoughts and physical Behavior so that the ideal outcome is accomplished without a fight or a tantrum or an emotional meltdown from the horse.

But that takes time, that takes effort, that takes Clarity and intention from the human, and it takes an openness that you may not accomplish what you set out to accomplish in that particular day.

If we spent more time supporting our horses through their troubled moments rather than challenging them through them, in the long run we would accomplish so much more without the drama and stress for either horse or human.

Would you and horse benefit from an individualized Remote Coaching session with Sam?  Click HERE to find out more.

Not letting feeding time control our interactions

Many times humans and horses are stuck in patternized behavior. I find many people get stressed out at the thought of having to take their horse away from food due to fear of possibly resistant behavior. For me, anytime of the day irrelevant of food or anything else going on, I'd like to be able to call the horse over and have him show an interest and a curiosity. I want him to be mentally available, willing to leave whatever he is doing, in order to participate in what I'm offering.

The video of the three-year-old shows this example. I don't use treats or gimmicks or "drive" the horse into yielding and coming to me. It's all about having a conversation with his brain and emotions, and then getting the physically desired response.

The goal is not the physical movement of leaving his food, but rather the quality of the conversation. This horse has been with me for about a month now, and the video was the first time I called him off of his feed. To me it represents all of the other foundational work that makes a horse feel good about wanting to be with the human, even during feeding time.

Following this video clip, I then had him stand loose in the stall while I tacked him up, and then took him for a ride. Yes, even during dinner time.

Working Colts off of experienced horse... learning opportunities

Several decades ago I made a choice to leave any of the cliches in the equine world that are associated with specific types of riding.

Nowadays my approach is a culmination of my experiences from both the competitive and non-competitive world, along with real-life riding such as on ranches, in the mountains, working with livestock, mixed with working with troubled horses after mainstream ways of doing things led to dramatic and resistance and fearful behavior.

Re-educating the troubled horse

I recently had someone inquire about a horse who has bucking issues. It was a person who did not have a lot of experience and had sent their horse to a well-known training program. When their horse returned, multiple times the horse started bucking when ridden.

So their question was if I would be able to help the horse, how long it would take, Etc. This is a very common inquiry that I get.

I thought it would be helpful to share my response to the owner as many people seem to have these issues. The following is my answer:

There are several options for rehabilitating a horse that has become troubled and is now physically dangerous.

Every horse is an individual, so when horses arrive for training, the first week is an “Assessment week,” which allows me time to evaluate his current fears, insecurities, ability and willingness to learn, any potential physical/pain issues, and then approach him in a way that rebuilds his trust in humans.

By the time a horse is committed to bucking, his original “quiet” pleas for help from the human have either been missed or ignored; whether intentional or not, most folk’s priorities are to “just go ride”, often not realizing how much “help” the horse needs from the rider.

Also, if you have limited experience, you need to keep in mind that even with a lot of quality training, you will need to “be on the same page” as your horse. Sending your horse to the trainer without understanding how/what he has learned, does the owner no good.

People also often think that once a horse is “trained” it will automatically maintain the knowledge or abilities; they don’t. Every experience with the horse is a “learning” opportunity for the horse; so again, whether you mean to or not, you may be “teaching” your horse many things you don’t realize.

Also many training programs are suited to the human, rather than individualizing the methods so that it is appropriate for that particular horse. Just like humans who all have different learning styles, so do horses. Which means that many horses “go through” training programs and the more training, the worse the horse feels about the “human experience,” he may come out with some knowledge, but often there is a lot of miscommunication and defensiveness felt by the horse if he didn’t naturally fit the “program”. But this typically doesn’t show up until the horse has spent time with a less confident person, and only then, does he offer his honest opinion or show his defensiveness with dramatic and dangerous behaviors.

As far as “how long” it takes to both undo a horse’s fear and defensiveness, and re-educate the horse, all depends on the severity of the horse’s current mental and emotional state. I offer training by the week to best suit the horse’s needs, the first week is assessment week, and then we go from there. I’m big on keeping owners in the loop with weekly email updates as to the progress reports on the horse.

I require all owners to participate for at least a week with me before taking their training horse for at least five sessions.

Once your horse arrives for training, they have priority to stay however long you need.

What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?

What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?

One person might work with a "broke" performance type horse that has been so ingrained with human expectations and patterns, and who has learned to be obedient in order to not be reprimanded, that just by being in close proximity and changing what the horse had anticipated would happen (such as not catching as soon as you enter his pen) and watch the horse's emotional roller coaster as years of pent up obedience and emotional containment are purged...

Another person might work on the nuances of rebuilding a horse's curiosity and trust after years of the human experience causing that horse to mentally shut down and check out causing the horse to outwardly seem physically quiet, but internally is quite troubled.

Someone else may encourage their horse, while at liberty, to learn to mentally search and make decisions, without being "driven", chased or scared into brainless and reactive physical movement, rather instead offering thoughtful and intentional steps.

Another person might practice learning to refine their feel and time while riding, as they raise their standard of softness and clarity towards the horse...

Someone else may be learning how to recognize from how they're sitting in the saddle, where they're horse's feet are underneath them, to offer the clearest aid to influence the ideal movement.

Another might be working with a young horse building a solid foundation of learning "how to learn" with thoughtful intention as new things are introduced, that will be used in future rides.

The horses breeds, ages, experiences are all varied. The disciplines, participants, experience levels, and their backgrounds are even more diverse.

And all the while, it might be blustery wind gusts, freezing temps, peaceful and warm, sleeting rain... The weather is irrelevant... the location doesn't matter... the "accomplishment" of a task is ignored... rather it is all about the conversation between the human and horse. Soft, clear and intentional.

It is only then that you see the worry and peak lines on the horse's face disappear, the muscles in the horse and human's body relax, and both take a deep, quiet, body-replenishing breath of air, while experiencing a shared peacefulness of being mentally, emotionally and physically present.

Less than ideal circumstances leading to better partnerships

Thought for the day...

Often when weather conditions and circumstances are out of our control or are not ideal, we tend to shy away from spending time with our horses in order to avoid potential conflict or issues. For me I find some of the most successful learning situations is when our surroundings are less than ideal.

Yesterday was a great example. Here in the desert of southwest Arizona we had a blusterous 20 mile an hour windstorm that was sandblasting from all directions. Being close to a Marine base, we also had F-35 Jets flying overhead, so close that you actually vibrate from the Jet's power. Trash and tumbleweeds were blowing everywhere. Palm trees were bent over.

I've included two pics which don't nearly give you a clear enough idea, but to see the flag standing straight out gives you an idea of how strong the wind was.

Two days before, a three-year-old horse had arrived for training. The first day we had just worked on the concept of softening to pressure on the leadrope. We didn't move farther than 40 feet from his stall. I introduced the ideas of being able to first look and think, and then move. Also the concept that he looks where he's going while he moves, rather than looking at everything except where he's going. The concept of personal space and that if he is asked to do something, he needs to try to address what is being asked of him the first time and not that it takes a huge amount of energy to get him to listen. Also the concept that he can stand over grass and wait quietly without constantly trying to lunge for the grass and eat. It was a lot for his young brain. And yet there was no running, no fleeing, no chasing, no driving, no scaring him, in order to help him learn. Just simple conversation creating boundaries of what behaviors worked and those that did not. Lots of blinking, licking, chewing, and yawning from him.

So the second day is when the wind storm hit us. It was so bad you couldn't see 40 feet out because of the sand and debris in the air. And yet I brought him into the round pen to work with him at liberty for the first time. For me the round pen is not a place to chase/run the horse into submission. It is rather a safe setting that allows the horse to learn to search to find what is being asked of him, without scaring him or driving him into giving up. There was distractions of other horses running around, other animals running around the farm, metal roofs flapping, and yet through simple trial and error (communicated through spatial pressure and release w the lead rope hanging at my side), the young horse was able to let go of all of the mental distractions until he could focus on just me. He learned how to be with me without spatially walking on top of me even though he was loose. He learned how to stop and look at the distractions and then bring his attention back to me when I asked him to. And then he learned how to leave me to move around the rail of the pen, without flee or chaotic energy, rather mimicking whatever energy I was offering from the center of the pen. Then when I decreased my energy and moved away from the center of the pen, he learned to come in and be with me respectfully, quietly waiting for whatever I asked of him next. If you had only seen him you'd never know there was so much distraction and Chaos going on around us.

So the next time the weather or situation is less than ideal, remember it might be the perfect opportunity, because you may have to face addressing small issues that in the past you've wanted to mask or smooth over rather than getting to the root cause. Being forced to confront those small issues is a wonderful preventative measure for them not to evolve causing major issues further down the road.