How do you stop playing/exuberant behaviour from turning into a fight or flight reaction without eradicating the fun aspect?
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
Don't miss out on the live video posted ONLY in the closed Facebook group Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey
|Find out more about Alternative Horsemanship|
I frequently get inquiries from folks reaching out for help with...
Catching their horse
Loading the horse in the trailer
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.
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.
Deep in the saddle
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
What is the definition of "positive influence?"
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.
What: Full Immersion Clinic When: October 5-6, 2019
Where: Peaceful Trails, Coconut Creek, FL Cost: Participant $400 or $50/auditor/day
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 www.learnhorses.com , visit her BLOG or keep up with her on Facebook
Please email for participant availability. 50% non-refundable deposit required.
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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.
|Sam re-educating a 4 yo that had a rough intro to humans.|
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.
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!
|Dogs from years past gearing up for a ride out!|
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-http://bit.ly/32Rfps3 )
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.