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.

Question:
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.

By jotting down events/occurrences with the horse, it can give you a better understanding of when potential health/soundness challenges occurred, it can help keep perspective as to your journey of learning and it can also be a good reference to decrease you getting "overwhelmed" by trying to do everything at once.

If you want to start journaling at the most basic level, begin with the three "F"s- Feed, Farrier and Focus.

Feed
What are you feed, quantities, what is your horse's work schedule/fitness level? Do you make adjustments for seasonal changes?

I remind folks if you do make changes in feed, give your horse at least three weeks on the new changes to assess if it is working. 

Farrier
Dates of any farrier work, behavioral and physical issues, but not just with the hoof but either your horse's behavior (many times the first signs of arthritis and other physical challenges actually appear with the farrier and resistance in how they can hold their body on three legs.) Notice changes in growth patterns, due to seasons or health issues. 

Focus
Yours and the horse. If there is only ONE thing you notice throughout your sessions with your horse, experiment with "focusing on your focus," and that of your horse. If more folks spent time noticing their horse's thoughts- and believing them, learning how to influence changes in them, so many dramatic, or unwanted scenarios between horse and human would decrease.

You don't need to write your journal with critique or trying to "have" any answers. Use it more as a place to condense things you notice in both you and your horse. You'll be amazed that when you start to write things that you have seen, but without judgment, that you'll actually build your confidence in realizing you are probably noticing so much more than you have given yourself credit for. 

The first aspect of changing and influencing a different outcome from how "things have always been" between you and your horse, is raising the awareness within yourself.

From there, you can start to experiment with changes in your own behaviors and interactions, based on both you and your horse's focus.

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.