Keeping Perspective to Accomplish Goals

Too often folks have laser focus on task accomplishment rather than assessing if they have the necessary "pieces" in order to present a specific scenario to the horse.

Fearful, Fleeing Backward Movement in the Horse

As I meet a new horse, one of the first things on my "checklist of assessment" is if the horse's brain and body are softly influenced and directable forward, left, right and backward. 

In my initial presentation, I might hold the lead rope with just my thumb and index finger, gently sending energy from the connection point of the lead and halter, towards the horse's chest. 

The ideal response is for the horse to soften his jaw, relax his neck muscles, deflate his chest muscles, bend his hocks to prepare to take a step backward. He will lift his back as he steps back, there will be no leaning or pushing forward in his shoulders, neck, or nose. It will be a slow, intentional, thoughtful movement, with consistent, steady breathing on his end. 

More often then not, instead folks are amazed at how many horses go rigid or stock still the minute they are asked even just to mentally consider to take a step back. The horse's head goes straight up in the air, the front legs lock up and seem to be pushing straight up towards the sky with the inability to bend at the knee. The horse hollows its back, standing with his hocks spread wide, braced and seemingly locked. 

Playful behavior- keeping the fun without the danger

I had a recent inquiry about horse behavior and thought I'd share my perspective.

How do you stop playing/exuberant behaviour from turning into a fight or flight reaction without eradicating the fun aspect?

Appreciating your current horsemanship skills while seeking to improve

"It is okay that you aren't the horse trainer, your horse still recognizes your efforts."

I was recently discussing with a long time clinic host the evolving journey of self-growth and awareness folks unintentionally experience as they strive to be better partners for their horses.

So here are a few ideas I hope people can carry with them:

You don't know what you don't know. As you learn more, don't judge your past decisions and interactions with your horse. Simply learn what caused you to make them and how you could make improved decisions in the future.

You aren't a horse trainer, and that is okay. There is a fine line  between inspiring folks as to what can be, and not overwhelming them with what currently is. I find the challenge is keeping folks inspired to keep trying to learn how to refine and improve the conversations and support they offer to their horse, without overwhelming them because they will never be as capable as "the trainer."

As long as you are trying, your horse will recognize your efforts. Unfortunately society has created the idea of the "trained" horse. This illusion gets a lot of riders into sticky situations as they constantly rely on the horse to take care of them offering limited support in return. Eventually the horse reaches a point of being unable to handle their job solo and then unwanted behaviors occur as they ask and show they need support from the rider.

I suggest appreciating what the horse is willing to offer in the areas the rider may be unsure, BUT in other aspects when the person has clarity and capability, to offer guidance to the horse.

Instead, I suggest people think of the partnership with their horse as a continually evolving journey. There is no "end point" for anyone involved with the horses; every horse has something to teach everyone who is willing to hear them.

Riders should appreciate wherever they may be currently in their own journey of horsemanship AND still be open for improvement. Because there is no "end point" in how folks raise their awareness, improve their communication and refine their skill set, it can easy to get swept into the vicious cycle of self doubt with a stifling effect on the relationship with their horse.

I'd rather people recognize what they currently CAN do to help their horse, and see self-growth as a positive opportunity and not wallowing in self-critique of what "they aren't good enough" to do.

Every moment is an opportunity to learn with the horse. Unfortunately folks who allow their emotions to filter their interpretation of an experience limit their ability to take the "feedback" from the horse as vital information that can help them make different decisions in how they approach their horsemanship.

Clinic Critter Support

My eigth year returning to Oakzanita Ranch for my winter clinic series. I have some assistance from some of the local residents. How many do you see?

The Rider's Mental Approach- the unaddressed factor

Frequently though through good intention, usually in an attempt to show kindness, folks try to pacify, mask and cloak unwanted interactions with the horse. Unfortunately, by not "digging in" to what is contributing to the horse's unwanted behaviors, and instead "going along with the horse" tends to teach the horse to "take over" in situations he is unsure about. 

Not many professionals tend to discuss "it" in mainstream lessons, but the mental approach of the rider/handler needs to be addressed. This affects the human's emotional reaction and interpretation of real-time interactions they experience with their horse. Which in turn affects how the quality of their physical communication with the horse. 

Learn to Read your Horse

Have you ever "wondered" how your horse will behave next? How he might react to something? Join us in the Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey Q & A group to learn from daily insight, LIVE videos, and much more!

Journaling- Keeping Track Improves our Horsemanship

I know many times in our hectic lives time seems to fly by. We have a variety of things that demand our focus and attention, and sometimes we lose track of when and what things have happened with our horse.

I suggest keeping a horse-related journal. This does not mean writing down everything that has happened during every interaction with your horse.

Changing Routines creates Improved Adaptability in the Horse and Human

"How often do you present change in your horse's world?"

Over the years as different horse owners have sought my help I have discovered that horses are the best people trainers ever.

On numerous occasions, I have heard things such as:

I have to feed in a certain manner or location or time so that my horse will eat.

I have to catch my horse by doing XY and Z first.

My horse loads into the trailer just fine as long as his body goes in first.

I have to get on at this location in the facility so that my horse doesn't get distracted or call to his pasture mates.

My horse ties just fine as long as he can see me but if he doesn't then he will pull back.

You get the idea.

For many years, folks can learn to work around their horse in order to avoid conflict, feel like they were accomplishing things and having a certain level of success.

But at some point, usually under circumstances out of their control, they could not present things as their horse expected.

"Preparing the Horse for the Unknown"

 I hate practicing anything in a mindlessly repetitive manner. Irrelevant of the discipline, there are many folks who teach that as long as there is "time in the saddle" it is equivalent to quality training. I find that by "training" this way dulls the interest, awareness, intention and focus in both the horse and human.

The conversation with the horse should be based on a common language. You can and should be able to "practice" the conversation every time you interact with the horse. But this does NOT mean that you go through the motions of presenting the same scenario brainlessly over and over and over again. 

Hauling Horses- Top Trip Preparations Suggestions

As the leaves start to change, while the animals start to coat up and the deer move in obnoxiously close to my front porch, I take it as my cue to make preparations for heading south during the frigid winter months.

Packing is like a chess game with the weather and the logistics of winterizing the property and packing... timing is everything.

One of the big stresses I have found for those folks who cover long hauls with their horses is a lack of preparation.

Sometimes not "having" the thing you need while traveling with horses, or the stress of how well a horse will haul, or concern about towing a trailer, whatever the case is, everyone, can always prepare better to decrease and diffuse the stress levels in the horse and themselves by building up to the actual haul by addressing each aspect involved in increments...

Looking for your Reflection- Improving your Alignment

So much of our horsemanship can be improved in the time spent bringing awareness to our own behaviors and thoughts before we involve the horse.

Many of western society's daily routines involve our balance being brought forward and a bit "collapsed"- such as sitting at a desk, working at a computer and often when driving a vehicle.

So start to practice every time you approach a door at a store or a mirror in your home, that you look to make eye contact with yourself in your reflection.

This simple act will begin to draw your body upward and centered with your shoulders over your hips and over your feet.

Relearning to find your "center" without sitting on a horse, will improve your balance in the saddle, without having to think about it.

It will also allow you to recognize earlier when you are not aligned, and you will make adjustments without compensating for the quality of the conversation.

Also practice looking, especially when driving, turning your chin towards your shoulder in the direction you are about to turn, without leaning forward or towards the direction you are about to turn.

I find many riders lose connection with their seat bones in the saddle because they use their entire upper body to turn the horse, rather than being able to first turn their head, then use their rein, without having to lean in the direction they'd like the horse to turn.

I know these sound like two very simple tasks that seem basic, but I can't tell you how many times folks initially chuckle at these suggestions and then wind up realizing how often they are using their entire body to communicate with the horse, rather than being able to independently conversate with each body part separately.

Once you begin to bring awareness to your own physical behaviors without the horse, you can start to make changes in your own patterns or manners of compensating in your own movement.

Then when you add in the horse, it does not seem so overwhelming to "remember" all the details about your own body and how you are sitting.

Horse Unwilling to Move Forward

The theme of the past few days has been new folks asking for help with horses that are going "fine" and then the horse "randomly" or suddenly stops, or quits, moving forward. 

First, nothing is random when a horse does it. You may not know why the horse did it, but it was not an accident... Including all those times he "accidentally" rubbed your leg on the fence or put you under a low branch while riding. 

Second, the body is a reflection of the horse's brain and emotions. 

So is the real problem the horse is not moving forward? No. 

That is the result of his asking for support that was ignored and "answered" with a "driving" him into doing something. Which may have appeared to have "worked" until it didn't. 

The question should be, what were all the activities or scenarios asked of the horse prior to the moment of "final resistance"? 

When/where were the INITIAL signs of insecurity, resistance or him being unsure? 

So take a few minutes and play detective: 

Did the horse start looking away (literally) to avoid the area you were leading/riding him into? 

Was there a time where the horse was fixated on an object/buddy horse and not focused on where he was actually being asked to move? 

Did he attempt to speed up and rush through an area or task and you felt like you had to contain him? 

Did his movement start to drift or leak as you approached an area he was unsure of? 

If you were able to pass through an area of potential bother, did it feel like he was rushing or "fleeing" afterward? 

The horse only has so many ways to communicate he is unsure or needs more support. Unfortunately, because humans tend to be task fixated they tend to push a horse through something thinking if the horse does it once, he'll be okay the next time. 

And sometimes it appears that way. Until the day the horse "suddenly" quits wanting to move forward. 

So to save you and horse a lot of unnecessary stress, start to believe him from the moment he begins to show concern. 

Start to focus on what "tools" and skill set you to have to help redirect his thought, drain his tension, soften his body and create a curiosity versus a defensiveness in him when you present new or unfamiliar scenarios. 

Prioritize being able to influence and re-direct his thought WITHOUT it feeling like a fight. If you can't do that from the start, before you present a potentially stressful scenario, you're setting yourself up to be "at the mercy" of the horse. 

It isn't about getting the horse through/past one imaginary boundary or location, it is about the quality of every conversation between you and the horse that either contributes positively to building a quality partnership or starts to deteriorate it.

Allowing conversations between Horse and Human to occur

Do you take the time for the opportunity to see the unexpected?

I never head out with expectations as I work with the horses. Wherever they are in the moment is where we start.

I find the more "room" I give them to have opinions, after establishing effective tools, respectful boundaries and clear conversations, the more interesting (in a good way) the communication gets.

I have witnessed so many incredible, unexpected moments of horses helping one another, supporting each other, and then what is interesting is adding me into the mix of the conversation.

Very cool to feel like horses and humans are speaking the same language, without aggression, fear, drive, force, imposing oneself or otherwise.

In the picture at the top was a scenario from today's sessions.

Interestingly the filly had the entire field to graze in with other horses and she chose to stand close by to support the newly arrived Colt from her same Oak Creek herd. They haven't been kept together, but she was there supporting him.

At one point he got a bit mentally stuck. And he had to sort out finding how to put slack in the lead rope.

Immediately after I helped the colt sort himself out, the filly walked right up, imposed herself made a warning face towards him with her ears pinned, which she had never done before, he breathed, she looked at him and then calmly walked away..

So much of the time humans miss the conversation and the interactions these awesome creatures offer.

#FifteenForFriday LIVE Q & A video with Sam- Don't miss out

#FifteenForFriday reminder Friday Sept 13 @ 7pm pst.

Don't miss out on the live video posted ONLY in the closed Facebook group Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey 

Join me for this week's topic:

"How semantics influences our perception and communication of the two crucial forms of communication with the horse: Boundaries and Pressure"

Re-Set, Re-assess, Re-Start- Changing our Horsemanship

Did you take the ten minutes to "re-set" your mental and emotional starting place BEFORE you showed up to work or play with your horse? 
Find out more about Alternative Horsemanship

Are you able to leave stress, work, distraction, past occurrences with your horse behind? 

Did you notice any differences in your attitude, energy or intention that could influence your horse in a negative way? 

Horses frequently mirror us. If you don't like what you see, perhaps take a few minutes and assess yourself. 

Is this something that is easy to do? No. 
Do we always like what we see in the mirror? No. 
Should we mental beat ourselves up for where we are at? No. 

What it does allow is a starting point. Once we learn to have an awareness, then we can begin to change our own intentions, behaviors, and patterns that may not be contributing to the partnership with our horse.

"The Secret to Horsemanship: There is no Secret"

I frequently get inquiries from folks reaching out for help with...
Catching their horse
Loading the horse in the trailer
Saddling/bridling issues
Unwanted/Dangerous Behaviors

They ask for "just a few pointers" or ideas on what they can do to fix their horse's problem.

The good news, is people have realized they need help. The bad news is their perspective.

Each of the scenarios I listed is a symptom, not the issue.

Being present to Improve your Horsemanship

This is such a common theme in how I work to educate folks to be more supportive of the horse.

Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach: Two Conversations

Yesterday I posted a video clip of working with two horses having two separate conversations. One was being asked to circle. It occurred to me that I should share my interpretation of a circle.

Lunging... driving with a whip/stick/flag/etc... flee... high rate of energy... tension... "making"... stiffness... counter bent... should not be a part of the horse's movement while on a "circle."

The actual shape of the circle should be round, balanced and with the horse's inside shoulder stepping towards the direction of movement, without the horse "falling-in" towards the human.

The horse should be looking where he is moving.

The horse should be able to follow the feel of the rope and offer the "shape" the human is asking for without heaviness or resistance.

Most folks drive their horses nuts with circles because they have a misconception of what "it" should look like or the purpose of them.

Many horses have learned to avoid critique by offering light circles, yes, there is no tension on the rope, but there is no softness in the brain or body.

Folks are in a rush to move through the gaits in each direction, frequently causing auto-pilot from the horse and not have honest conversations, which in my mind defeats the point of a circle.

Then the person attempts to ride, and finds out the horse has more "stuff" to sort out, and the human wonders why the circle didn't help. Because it was a conditioned response and not a thoughtful conversation.

Circles should be a tool, not a crutch. But to have it be quality, preparations need to be made before teaching a horse to think around and then move around a circle. The ability to directing the horse's thought, influencing his energy levels, addressing how he feels about physical and spatial pressure.

The circle can be a preface to many other conversations. The circle can be taught in quarter sections to the horse, wherein they need to be able to differentiate between think, step, check-in and be available for further guidance, no different than what occurs during a ride.

"Are you plugged in?"

For years in traditional riding lessons, I heard things such as:
Sit up
Heels Down
Look up
Deep in the saddle
Hands up

Not until much later in my riding career did I start to realize that ALL of the rider's movement is connected. If there is not a strong foundation- starting with the seat- the rest of the rider's body will have unwanted "side effects" or excessive movement as a way to unintentionally compensate for a lack of balance and stability.

Assessing Patterns & Routines- How does change feel to the horse?

 First, think about things you do "all the time" with your horse. Pick three or four scenarios to start practice changing your routine and any potential patterns in your own behavior, and as an opportunity to assess your horse's reactions.

None of the suggested experiments is supposed to get you and your horse into trouble. 

What you're looking to assess is if mental resistance appears in the horse if/when you change how he is used to you doing things around him. If he is unsure, what are his emotions like, is he mentally available to her your guidance, and is he physically reasonable? 

Remember as you start with "changing it up"- if you don't address potential initial concerns in the horse, don't continue to keep asking more "new" ways of doing things and then wonder why he may act resistant or physically dramatic. Believe him as soon as he shows any wariness or insecurity. Then address it.

Offering to change the pattern in the small day to day interactions is not a test of if the "horse can handle it" but rather a way to safely assess the adaptability within yourself and the horse.

If there are any "holes," the safe time and place to start changing the conversation, thoughts, and behaviors are not under the pressure of an event that is out of your control. Improving the trust and support in the partnership long before the day of unexpected events allows for less traumatic scenarios for both humans and horses.

Here are a few ideas:

Haltering- Go out to the pasture or stall to halter your horse, call them over, and when you'd normally put the halter on, stop, and leave. Then come back a while later and actually halter them.

Walking out the gate- Change out the direction, body position or breaking down down the way you "always" go out the gate.

Leading- Do so from the horse's off (right) side, or from a distance farther ahead or behind than you normally do.

Tacking- Do things out of order, such as bridle first, then the saddle, and then cleaning hooves.

Mounting- Different locations, different side or perhaps get on and off several times throughout the ride.

Riding off- go to a different spot to warm up, change the direction of the warm-up.

Riding home- head towards home and then turn back as if heading out again, perhaps several times.

If you'd like to contact Sam to help you come up with ideas and training tools for your particular scenario, please check out her Remote Horse Coach Services.

Guilt overshadowing progress with your horse?

Thinking forward to Friday's Facebook LIVE video, #FifteenForFriday, this quote will be the topic of the video.

In the past few weeks, I've had this conversation with a variety of horse folks who all seem to be struggling with progression because of the past. It can be overwhelming debilitating and seem to perpetuate a cloud over the equine partnership. Please join us in the group HERE

What is your reality with the horse?

What intentions do you have for you and your horse? What are you doing to work towards them?

Do you have a realistic perspective or are you trying to imitate some other rider, trainer or professional who may have far more experience or different goals than yours?

I believe if more folks "bit off less" in what they attempted to do with the horse, ironically they would accomplish so MUCH more.

Intro to Biking 101 with the horse

I remember reading an article years ago on the best "training preparations" you could do, is to help your horse take on the world by building their confidence at home.

Each piece of my conversation with the once completely wild filly prepared her for her first bicycle ride. Teaching her to soften to pressure, follow a feel, follow pressure, try when unsure, be reasonable, adapt her energy, mentally think through things...

This was not a random "let's see what happens" the first time I ride a bike with her. Instead, I worked on building up the trust, offering support, and now with curiosity, she is interested in new things. 

Forgive my goofiness, it'd been 20 years since I've been on a bike, and choosing a trick bike might not have been the smartest for my knees.

Is everything perfect in her behavior? No, but watch the changes she goes through in just one circle as she sorts out all is well.

And no... don't try this at home without ALL the tools in your communication box.


"Your horse is not your dog"

A client came up with this post's title as I was discussing with her my recent, um, "frustration," at watching a video of a trainer using outright bribery with food to get a horse to accomplish a task that was clearly making the horse uncomfortable and stressed. Yes, I could be opening a can of worms with this topic. Preface- I am NOT saying ALL treats are bad. I'm not saying you can't ever feed your horse a yummy snack. I'm not saying there is ONLY one way to do things when interacting with the horse.

Why Remote Horse Coaching with Samantha Harvey

Make to choice, commit to a new outcome. Sign Up Now  and feel empowered to improve the partnership with your horse.

Cross Training with our Horses to Improve the Partnership

I remember reading a book early in my riding career about folks who did not adhere to the "norms" or what a riding/training session had been historically defined as.

It was one of those things that I didn't realize how much it would influence me until much later, ironically when riding on remote ranches. It was only then I began realizing how many different "jobs" you had to do in one "session" with a horse, frequently due to circumstances out of your control. Such as while checking the water at the ponds, realizing the calves had found a hole in the fence and were now out exploring, so the initial ride evolved into a 2-mile detour and several hour adventure to get all the critters back to where they belonged.

Positive Influence with the Horse

Someone recently asked the question below. I figured others might not be clear either, so I've shared my answer.

What is the definition of "positive influence?"

My answer:
Using clear communication through pressure, either physical or spatial, that directs or refocuses the horse's thought, and then his movement.

It is a way to proactively communicate with the horse what your intention is- where you want him to focus, how fast you want him to move, rather than being a passenger, waiting and seeing what the horse does when he had no initial instruction and then critiquing him for not doing what you wanted correctly.

Mindful vs Mind Full behavior with the horse

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.

Florida Full Immersion Clinic October 5-6, 2019

A mini Full Immersion Clinic has been added to the calendar for October 5-6, 2019 in Coconut Creek, FL.  Several participant spots left- auditors welcome!

What: Full Immersion Clinic When: October 5-6, 2019
Where: Peaceful Trails, Coconut Creek, FL Cost: Participant $400 or $50/auditor/day
Haul-ins welcome. Limited overnight facilities.

Sam’s goal is to teach riders how to offer clear and effective communication with the horse to create a trusting and respectful equine partnership.
You will be learning in a safe, supportive, non-critical, fun environment with both individual and group instruction. Horse behavior, anatomical lectures, tack usage & fitting, overall health care and much more will be addressed!
Clinics are adapted to offer and address appropriate, realistic confidence-building skills with lasting, long-term results.
All level riders and horses welcome. Limit 6 participants, auditors encouraged.

Learn more about Samantha Harvey at , visit her BLOG or keep up with her on Facebook

Please email for participant availability. 50% non-refundable deposit required.

Click link for Details

Clinic Sign Up

Auditor Sign Up

Remote Horse Coach: Horse & Human Behavior

Breaking Traditional Barriers in our Horsemanship

I just happen to be reading a book with a short synopsis of things throughout human history that perhaps seemed like a good idea at the time but in hindsight were not or eventually had become outdated. Below is a brief history of railroad track building... bear with me as this relates to our horsemanship.

Unwanted Behavior: Horse backing when mounted

Ask the Trainer... Q & A

Hi, I just bought another quarter horse. When I went to check her out 2 different people a man and a lady got on her to ride she did back up a step or so. So when I got her home I tried to mount her and she just keep backing up. I tried for about an hour to go get on her and she keeps backing up. I tried to do this in my field. She let me put the saddle on her easy and the bridle.m I tried this 2 different days. I don't have a round pen, should I try to do it in the stall next just to get on and off of her a few times? Thanks for your help I might have to get rid of her.

Thanks, Paul
Sam re-educating a 4 yo that had a rough intro to humans.

Keeping Perspective to Accomplish Goals

Too often folks have a laser focus on a task rather than assessing being able to step back and notice if they have the necessary pieces in order to present a scenario to the horse.

Horsemanship Video: Diffuse unwanted events with the horse

This horsemanship video explains why diffusing and decreasing unwanted horse behavior Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey Remote Horse Coach

Mid-Summer Horse Health Assessment

Unfortunately for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere, we're about halfway through the summer.

Now that the weather has warmed up, you're potentially spending more time with your horse and perhaps riding frequently. This is a great time for a mid-summer health assessment.

Take pictures from the front, rear and each profile. Take a weight measurement. Perhaps reassess your feed regime and if it appropriate for your horse's current fitness schedule. Be sure to keep track of the weight of feed and grain you are currently feeding rather than relying on the trusty old coffee can as a form of measurement. I notice a lot of folks "vamp up" on feed in the early spring, but forget to decrease as the horse has more time to forage on pasture throughout the summer.

#FifteenForFriday LIVE Q & A with Samantha Harvey

As a reminder each Friday I do a FREE 15 minute live video in my Facebook group, Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach

Each discussion I address a variety of topics including things such as: handling the horse, influencing his thoughts, riding position, tack fit, desensitizing issues, behavioral resistance, mental approach in the human and so much more.

Today's video is happening at 2pm pst. Join me for today's topics: "Obedience vs Curiosity, Tolerance vs Confidence" The videos can only be viewed in the group. Come on over and participate with me!

Indirect vs Direct Rein- Understanding the difference

Rein usage- Direct vs Indirect rein What you'll need: Chair, desk/table, string ( or something similar such as baling twine, clip-on reins, etc.), strainer/pot with two handles, something slightly heavy- box of rocks, etc. Attach the "reins" to the handles of the pot or strainer. Place the box or weighted object in the middle between the pot and where you are sitting- with it resting against the pot. Sit in the chair with your forearms resting on the table, hold the reins as you would when you ride with your thumbs up. The pot is your horse's head. The weighted box is his neck.


In my lifestyle every time I check one thing off of the “to do” list, I always seem to add four more things. There is never enough time nor enough hours in the day.
This will be more of a rambling of thoughts to put out there into the universe. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate to some of my thoughts, laugh at some or they may be something for you to consider in your own life and time spent with the horses.
I am grateful that during the past 25 years of working professionally with horses I have learned to listen more and more to that little “voice” in my head that has steered me through many “forks in the road.”
I am grateful to all the horses that have taught me much more than I will ever teach them.
I am grateful to have “been there” in the last moments of a horse’s life and to watch the moment they have accepted “letting go” and peacefully passed.

Holes in our Horsemanship

Dogs from years past gearing up for a ride out!
Filling in the Holes in our Horsemanship

Dogs from years past gearing up for a ride out!

Filling in the Holes in our Horsemanship

I’ve had a new horse come in for training fitting in sessions with him in between this crazy ongoing bizarre "summer" weather. He is a four-year-old that has had a lot of handling, though his owner’s experience is limited, she has gone “slow” with him…

It is my job when a horse first comes in to evaluate “where the horse is at,” mentally, physically, emotionally, and experience-wise. So I thought I’d share with you some of the more common “holes” I tend to find in working with horses of all ages… I believe a majority of the time the holes are present because owners and horses learn to get comfortable with how or what they present in a scenario. The horse learns what is expected of them and then can comply. The problem occurs when the “rules” or expectations change.

One of the most basic and common initial scenarios is a horse that is total “light” on the lead rope when you are walking him in the “normal” position (standing somewhere near his head and drawing him forward with the lead rope.) The problem appears when you attempt to stand ahead, or off to the side and are about a lead rope length away. When attempting to “draw” the horse forward without physically walking off. “All of a sudden” there is a brace (meaning the horse stands rigid and leaning back against the rope). The horse has no concept to “follow the feel” of the pressure the lead is creating, instead, it is a game of “tug of war.” This basic resistance towards pressure affects all “tools” the person from the ground and while riding must-have. Many horses that have issues with “brakes” while ridden are completely resistant to any pressure with the lead rope.

Another leading “issue” is the horse is walking at a reasonable pace next to you, and you ask him to increase or decrease his energy in time with you increasing or decreasing your physical movement and using the lead rope to encourage him to walk faster or slower. Perhaps as you walk faster, the horse just stretches his nose and neck as far forward as he can and gets “heavy” leaning on the lead rope because he has made no change in his walk speed; or as you slow down, he plows on past you because he has “only one walk speed.” Again, while sitting in the saddle I ask my horses to have ten different energy levels within each gait, so why not establish that standard from the ground first.

In their attempt to desensitize their horse many people have offered to “touch” their horses all over their bodies, etc. to get them used to stuff rubbing on them such as a saddle pad. The problem arises when “movement” occurs, rather than when the human “quietly” presents something to a horse.

In the case of the saddle pad, many people walk up as close to the horse as possible, take their pad, and gently place it on the horse’s back. No problem, the horse stands quietly. But when someone approaches and from about a foot away “swings” the saddle pad up towards the horse’s back, a lot of times the horse may elevate his posture or even jump forward, sideways, or brace up with anxiety.

Why is he okay one way and not the other? Is it about the pad? No. It is about pressure and how the horse feels about unexpected movement. You can translate this into future events, such as when you are in the middle of mounting (and if you are wearing something different, such as a raincoat) and suddenly when mounting you create unintentional “excess” movement. Or think of if you were riding through the woods and having an unexpected movement such as a branch swing against/towards/away from the rider or horse's body can trigger a flight reaction in the horse. Or if the rider leans over to pass something to someone standing on the ground or another horse, the movement from the horse's blind spot into view can trigger flee. These are just a few of the many scenarios that can occur. Why not address your horse’s concerns about unexpected movement beyond his vision while your feet are still firmly planted on the ground? Rather than desensitizing a horse to an object or creating a conditioned response, learn how to teach the horse to look at, think through, and check-in with you, when he is unsure.

Speaking of saddling many people initially try to “sneak” the saddle on the first few times without enough preparation to physical pressure before strapping the saddle to him, and then "leave" the horse to sort out how he feels about it (i.e. fleeing around the pen, bucking for five minutes, etc.) creating an avoidable fear-inducing experience and the potential for long term bother in the horse. I cannot tell you how many "broke" horses are tolerating being saddled, but fearful and stressed the entire time. When given the choice to be saddled loose, they will run as far away as possible. This is a clear indicator of how they feel towards saddling. And if they are that concerned with the saddle, how do you think about you mounting up?

For me, I’d rather initially have “tools” or options established in how I communicate with the horse, that way when he shows concern, insecurity, fear, etc. as I expand his experiences in the world, I have a “safe” and previously established common language to help support and influence his brain and emotions as he sorts out and learns how to accept the saddle, and still be able to let go of potential emotional stress…

The amazing thing with horses, is they are such a clear reflection of oneself… And they are honest about when they “get it”. If they make an emotional/mental change in how they feel about something, it sticks. So when I hear people tell me, “Every time I present __________, it just feels like we are starting over each time.” That translates to me that the horse may be “tolerating” the stressful scenario, such as passing/walking on the ________(tarp, water, loading into the trailer, etc.) but he has never changed how he FELT about doing such activity, therefore every time the scenario is presented, it is still an “issue.” Change how he feels about the issue, and the task at hand will be “easy” for the horse to accomplish with quality and confidence.

Another common mentality in working with young horses is the “no distractions” theory. Meaning that while working with a young horse often people want to be “away” from any activity, possible distractions, etc. To me, this is just “sneaking” by asking the horse to mentally be with you. I often joke young horses have ADD and their ability to focus is for very short periods as they can often and easily be distracted by anything. I once had an OTTB that would get distracted by small 2-4 seater planes flying overhead (you couldn’t even hear them.)

Honestly, that ADD is a survival tool for the horse, it isn't to irritate the rider. The horse is feeling the need to be aware or perhaps hyper-alert for the sole sake of self-preservation. But humans don't tend to interpret behavior that way. (This came up at a recent clinic and someone post clinic shared an article that extensively considered the ADD factor- you can read it here- )

BUT if you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a young horse in the herd, as much as he may “mess around” and cause havoc, when the leader of the herd communicates with that young horse, he is at total attention because that leader offers support, guidance, and safety.

So in my mind, the same standard should apply when I’m working with a youngster. When he is with me, my interaction and conversation need to support him to mentally commit to addressing me, and then physically respond.

I find it is easier to set the quality of the conversation from the start, rather than to wait and see what the horse decides to do, and then attempt to ask for just “some of his focus”. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Let’s see how he does,” this usually comes from the horse’s brain not addressing what is being presented and the rider just “sneaking” through the scenario without effective tools in communication to influence the horse's thought or behavior. It is safer and easier, to establish from the ground the standard and clear communication before you get in the saddle.

Speaking of the “real world,” I find many times horses learn the “pattern” of focusing while in a training scenario, such as being worked in the round pen, but in the time of being handled between the pasture and the pen, all “quality” in regards to respect, communication, etc. towards the human disappears… It is the human’s responsibility to mentally participate if they expect their horse to participate.

All too often the human is distracted, and during the catching, leading, (grooming, tacking, etc.) are brainless and do not ask their horse to participate (so you see behaviors in the horse such as hard to catch, the horse “leading” the human, fussiness/fidgeting while being groomed tacked, etc.) As the person and horse enter the “magic gates” of the arena or round pen, the human “suddenly” expects their horse to be attentive, focused, participative, and up to par. As with most things in life, but certainly with horses, the phrase, “Expect the unexpected,” is all too true. So why would someone “only” have a standard for what they would like of their horse in one scenario but not another? You never know what unforeseen scenario may arise as you are working with your horse, why not always have the same standard for his brain and body when you are around him?

“Whew… the session is over!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a “great” training session, and as soon as the “magic gate” swings open, the human and the horse’s brain is gone. I’ve heard about so many accidents that have occurred when least expected after a ride that had gone “so well…” At all times, whether from the ground or the saddle, humans, and horses need to participate and remain present. People are quick to blame their horses for the inattentiveness, but as an instructor, I find the horses focus way easier than most people do. It is the person’s job to constantly assess what/how/why they are communicating with their horse before they critique the horse; in 90% of the scenarios I see, once the person makes a change within themselves, you can see the immediate change in the horse.

Routines, or what I call “patterned” behavior… As people, in general, become more open-minded to working with their horses from the ground first to assess where their horse is “at” mentally, emotionally, and physically, before climbing into the saddle, they need to “keep it fresh” in what and how they ask something of their horse. (As a side note I’d like to mention in my definition, working from the ground can occur during something as simple as leading your horse from the pasture to the grooming area, it doesn’t have to involve a “40-minute session in the round pen.”)

Sometimes depending on the facility, the person’s schedule, etc., people get into the habit of always presenting the same thing in the same place at the same time. Same time of day rides, the same area to groom and tack, same spot you mount your horse, same direction you start off riding in the arena, etc. these all create “patterned behavior.”

When a pattern has been established, the horse appears to “be listening” and “respectful.” The problem is, as mentioned at the beginning of this blog, horses easily learn routines or patterns, and therefore can often “offer” something before the person has asked. Often people will say, “Look how good he is by doing that, and I didn’t even ask.” Well, it might seem like “good behavior,” but the problem is if a horse learns to “take over” and make decisions before asked by the person handling/riding him, what happens in an unforeseen scenario? The most natural defense a horse has is to run. So if the horse has learned to “take over”, and something that bothers, scares, etc. him, will he really stop and ask his rider, “How would you like me to respond?” or will he most likely make the decision on his own in how he reacts with a “Flee the scene,” mentality? Again, the standards you establish during the calm, quiet moments solidify the quality of the relationship (which will affect both you and your horse’s safety) during the “eventful” moments. The time to “fix” or set a standard in your relationship is not in the moment of panic or emergency.

There are many other “holes”, but the above are the most “common” ones I initially come across. So the next time you head out to work with your horse, take a few minutes to assess your standards, communication, possible routines, or other “he just always does” scenarios to clarify just how quality is the foundation of you and your horse’s relationship.