"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.