Connecting Ground Work to Riding

One of the challenges in offering instruction is to communicate clearly with students AND horses. As I overhear, read or watch many “horse training” sessions/clinics I find that there’s a general lack of “connection” in the student’s ability to understand how the “here and now” in their ground work relates to their riding in the future. Often students come to me because they can “talk the lingo,” sounding like they’ve seen a lot, and go through steps or concepts, but are still having problems with their horse. This is usually because they unknowingly do not understand the connection between how and why their ground work affects and influences their ride.

I’m surprised when a student has an “Aha” moment from some casual comment I make, when it seems as though they had already been “getting it” throughout the session. My seemingly small comment can sometimes be the catalyst that triggers a domino effect in the student’s brain that finally connects the “links” from what they’d first addressed on the ground to what they are now using as tools to communicate with when they ride. As a teacher this is always a highlight!

It’s a reminder to me how clear I must be not only in presenting information to the student but also to confirm from the student in their own words what concept exactly did they understand and how it relates to them and their horse.

Too many students want to imitate “how it’s supposed to look,” or a specific exercise, task, etc. with no concept as to what the point is of what they are doing. In my opinion this eliminates putting the responsibility on the student to focus on being “present” in the “here and now” in order to address what is happening in “real time” with their horse.

I find it as easy for human students to get just as distracted or “lost” as their equine partners often do. People tend to see, or wait to see, the physical movement of the horse, rather than searching within themselves to offer the clear communication necessary that will allow them to present a “big scenario” but in seemingly small (mental and literal) pieces.

I continually explore a “better way” to explain my theories and concepts from my own hands-on training with the horses and my sessions in working with people. Each year I tend to start to hear myself say certain “catch phrases.” This summer that “theme” was the following:

Don’t challenge your horse into “getting it right,” but rather support him to be successful in the scenario you present.

I like to explain the how, why, when, etc. so that I’m not just sitting in the chair “instructing” every movement and decision in a session to a “brainless” rider, but rather to offer stimulating ideas that will help “arm” the rider with the ability to assess and become aware of what their horse is offering in order to communicate effectively.

My teaching theories are based on the underlying concept that says:

In order to achieve an ideal physical response from my horse, I must first influence a mental change.

I love hearing feedback from students and have discussed with many why certain “key words” or phrase(s) suddenly triggered it to “click” for them.

I believe that just like horses people learn in different styles. For me, it’s a reminder that even if I’m saying the words and explaining what the student is seeing or feeling from the horse, whether on the ground or in the saddle, if the student’s brain is “overloaded” or perhaps “ahead” of where they are physically at, distracted, unclear, etc., (yes they share this affliction just as many horses do,) they will not be able to really HEAR what I’m saying.

So even if I think I’m being clear, I have to remember that just because I offered the information, does not mean it was received by the student as I had intended it to. Oh how this relates to our horsemanship!

Many people get frustrated when attempting to communicate with their horse. Just because the person offered “something” to their horse, does not mean it was received as they had intended it to be… Have you ever experienced or watch someone try to ask something of their horse and then move on, without ever “checking” to see if the horse clearly understood? Later when there is“disobedience” from the horse- usually due to a lack of understanding, the person is frustrated saying, “But I offered the horse a., b. and c. Why are they not getting it?”

Perhaps this blurb might help make it start to click…

Ask the Horse Trainer- Foundation for a Quality Relationship with the Horse

Ask the Horse Trainer- Foundation for a Quality Relationship with the Horse

Every week I receive 30-40 Ask the Trainer requests... From unwanted trail behavior/lack of manners to groundwork issues to equipment suggestions to feeding options, etc. from around the world. I have a feeling that most people who quickly find my site on Google, type in their answer with the idea that they are going to get a "step by step" or "cut and dry" answer. Their focus on the physical action their horse is offering never once considers the horse's mental or emotional status.

Full Immersion Clinic Update- Spots Available

Hello everyone! This is an update for our scheduled Full Immersion Clinic June 10-12 (Fri-Sun.) Because of the EHV-1 breakout in the West people have become a bit weary to travel from far with horses. Several clients from the eastern US who had committed to participating in the first clinic have decided to put those plans on hold.

So in our attempts to get creative, be safe, and still hold the clinic, we have decided to offer up the open spots to either those people who have had their horses at home/private facility (with neg coggins and health certificate) OR for those of you who may not want to bring your horse, but would like to participate, we now have access to several local horses to use for the clinic. If you’ve ever wondered “What exactly does Sam do?” or are thinking, “How would I get as much out of the clinic without using my own horse?” Let me offer you “the sales pitch.”

The clinics are not designed to be “just another horsemanship clinic.” We don’t sit for hours on end in the saddle waiting on another participant and each participant does not “do the same exercise.” The points of these clinics are to raise people’s awareness, understanding, recognition, timing, and fine tune their communication with any horse. This could be your horse or someone else’s.

Too many people get distracted by unwanted or “unmanageable” physical issues in their horse (browse through the hundreds of Ask the Trainer Q&As on the website)- but not a lot of people spend time focusing on their horse’s brain. We have individual time, group time, LOTS of discussions, cover tack fitting, etc. Each session is to be used as the stepping stone for the next session. Each participant will “participate” at an appropriate level that they are comfortable with- all level riders/ages are encouraged to participate. This is supposed to be a safe and fun learning experience- for you and the horse.

So what is the concept of these clinics? Let me put it into people terms. If I were to give you a task and asked you to just physically act quickly, without any mental participation, your physical actions would probably be sloppy and unspecific without much clarity or intention. The same goes for when we ride our horses. How many people get on their horse and just start “riding?” Then they wonder why their horse doesn’t have a clue as to where they are going, with how much energy, and what the “plan” is. Instead if we all rode like we drove our vehicles (hopefully) – first we make a decision as to where we are going, then we start to commit GRADUALLY by turning the steering wheel, and THEN we add gas (slowly) to get to where we want. Let’s exchange that car for a horse and what do you most often see? People adding the “gas” first, then turning the “wheel” without much clarity as to where they are going, and then eventually LOOKING! Yikes. No wonder our poor horse has to keep guessing at what we want, until eventually they get tired of always “getting it wrong” and start ignoring our aids. Instead of addressing the horse’s brain, we reprimand the unwanted actions with foreign devices- harsher bits, spurs, tie downs, etc. Because we tend to ride in a “rush” just as we address most other things in life, people tend to focus on “fixing” the symptoms rather than the addressing the issues themselves that are the real CAUSE of the unwanted behavior.

Why should you really participate? In a clinic here you’ll learn to start to assess your horse before you ever catch him. You’ll start to recognize how and when you can begin influencing the quality of the ride as you’re leading him in from the pasture. You’ll see the “signs” of your horse “telling you” if he’s going to be “heavy,” draggy (not thinking forward,) resistant, etc. and then learn how to influence a change in your horse’s brain to set the tone for the upcoming ride. We’ll talk about YOUR brain, energy and intention. Through lectures, hands on participation, and watching others- you’ll start to have those “Aha” moments when you’ll connect the “pieces.”

How does this apply to you if you don’t have your own horse here? I often switch horses and people are amazed to start to see “the same problems” that their own horse usually displays surface with their “new” horse. So is it really “your horse” that has the issue, or perhaps maybe your own lack of awareness, clarity and understanding?

Every year people say “next year.” Or they say, “yeah, but that’s not the sort of riding I do.” I do blur the lines. From my cutting students to my trail riders, from my dressage enthusiasts to my “working horse” riders there are many, many parallels in regards to the BASICS. Yes, the basics. Many people may have ridden for years, just as many horses that have a lot of “miles” and “exposure,” and yet all too often there are major “holes” in both the person and the horse’s education. So here at TEC I try to create a “safe” and nonjudgmental environment (we leave our egos at the door) where people and horses get to “experiment” outside their “normal” routines and comfort zones, in order to find perhaps an alternative way of viewing and interacting (Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey) with their horse- or any horse for that matter. If you keep doing the same thing, your horse will keep offering the same response. Instead learn how to change your perspective, and watch your horse let down, relax and appreciate your newfound clear perspective and communication.

Whew- okay enough of the sales pitch. If you’re revved up and would like to come out and spend three fun fill days that will change a lot of what you thought you were clear on and make interacting with the horses fun again- please email or call me ASAP.

Samantha Harvey
The Equestrian Center, LLC

Flying with Horses: Link to Article

Even if you'll never be one of those people who needs to have a horse flown to/from a destination- have you ever wondered how it's done?  This is a quick read article that was sent to me recently and might cure your curiosity!


Ask the Horse Trainer: Horse Grazes while on Trail Ride

Ask the Horse Trainer: Horse Grazes while on a trail ride 

I have a 7 yr. old TWH, who is having only one problem. That is when we start out on the trail, he ABRUBTLY, without prior notice, stops and starts eating grass. It's a fight to get his head back up, and when I finally do, he may take 10 or so steps, and again without notice, stops and eats. This is the only bad habit he has. He out in pasture from 4:00 pm until 6:30 am and then put in his stall.

He is not under-fed. Most times other riders are back at least a horse's length from me, and his quick stopping usually ends up in a rear end collision.

Vet says I need to use spurs on him. Others say, carry a crop and smack him when he does this. I'm not into smacking him. What can I do?

Ask the Horse Trainer: Getting my horse on the bit

Ask the Horse Trainer: Getting my horse on the bit
Topic_Info: getting my horse on the bit
Location: Australia

I go to pony club on a 15yr old Appy mare and I been riding since I was 7 now I am almost 18. and every time I go to these shows I never get anywhere as my horse will not go on the bit. She can do it in a walk to trot but not neatly and not in canter. everyone else has a Pelham bit with a double bridle they all tell me to use one but I want to know if it would work I'm always soft and caring towards my horses and I know Pelham bits are hard on them but I want to know if it would work with practice.

Ask the Horse Trainer: Panic & Dangerous Horse Behavior

Ask the Horse Trainer: Panic & Dangerous Horse Behavior
Topic_Info: Panic Problem & Dangerous Behavior

I bought a new horse about six months ago and he is a super sweet boy. He is five years old and there is a good chance he was abused before I bought him. The only problem he had when I bought him was that he would stiffen his front legs and panic when you tightened his girth. I found that if I took my time, left him untied, and walked him during the process he would do fine. Last week, I was taking him to a trail ride and when I started to load him, he pulled back, panicked, and threw himself over on his back. He has done this one other time also when he was tied to the trailer. Panic, then right over backward! I really love this horse but I'm starting to get afraid that he will panic and flip over under saddle. This is a hard problem, do you have any advice?

From the Client's Perspective: "Not Knowing What Was Missing..."

This post comes as a result of a recent client's feedback.  She'd initially brought her horse for some specific training, thinking that his foundation and basics were up to par and that he was "such a good boy."  He was young but very willing and very mature for his four years.  He'd injured himself superficially on his hind leg and was a saint about being "tended to."  Didn't care about other horses coming or going, tied, ground tied, bathe, fly spray, etc.  Quiet while he was tacked up and so on.  But...

He was a quiet version of "knowing" the routine or pattern that was expected of him.  Basic things like come over and present yourself to be haltered, rather than just turning and facing me were a little shocking.  The round pen to him was just a place to brainlessly move- even if he wasn't dramatic about it- he still was mentally unavailable.  When I got him, as much as he understood look, then step, once there was forward movement, his brain checked out and he just "meandered" through the motions, rather than stepping with intention.  As soon as he started moving at a faster gait, there was only one energy level within the gait.  If he started moving more quickly, the quality of his brakes deteriorated rather quickly. 

None of  his movement or behavior was malicious, just rather a result of being unclear or not having been presented with "boundaries" of what behavior works and that which does not when interacting with a person.

Three weeks later his owner came out to ride and work with me and her horse to "get on the same page."  I rode around and she said, "I've never seen my horse look like that..." Which is a nice compliment, but for me, the goal is not for the horse to perform for me, but rather that the owner can achieve the same results with her horse, because when they get the horse home, they are going to have to understand what tools and clear communication is needed to not only maintain but also expand quality sessions with their horse.

So the owner hopped on and I gave a very brief overview of increasing and decreasing your energy, visualizing riding "straight" as if you were on a tightrope- this does not mean not turning, but rather riding a straight line on a turn which begins with your horse thinking around the turn then physically moving. We talked about having intention when you ride, although every few steps your specific direction may have to change.  We talked about not adjusting to our horse constantly, but rather through slow, specific and intentional mental and physical steps to establish clear communication using our seat, hands. legs, energy and brains.

The owner was in totally shock by the simple act of just changing the energy within her posting how much of a change her horse offered her. She also started to recognize when her horse would get mentally distracted and how she could simply tune his brain back in by wiggling a rein.  The concept of"taking the horse for the ride" rather than just "going for the ride" where the horse dictates what happens helped her to assess and make decisions to influence the horse before he was committed to an unwanted behavior.

Day two of her working with her horse gave her even more confidence that she could be "believable" and that whatever she wanted to ask of her horse, he could offer it immediately rather than with the "slow" and "teenager" like delayed response.

A week after she brought her horse home she sent me the following note:
"Thanks again for everything you've done with me and my horse.  Riding has become more fun rather than a battle.  I now look forward to going out to ride, rather than wondering what might happen."

Initially, when this client brought me her horse, she didn't even recognize that she was "battling" him when she rode.  It wasn't until the "standard"was raised that she then could realize how much had been "missing" in the communication and intention between she and her horse.

For those of you who've read some of my Ask The Trainer answers, many times you'll see that I sound like a broken machine repeating myself in saying that the "issue" the person has written about with their horse is usually a symptom of an issue, rather than the real problem itself.  The same goes with the above mentioned horse.  I could have given you a list of ten physical behaviors that most people would have considered "issues"- but instead, by addressing the horse's brain with clear communication through using "tools" I could change the unwanted behavior by engaging the horse's brain to slow down, think, commit and have a "standard" in his mental and physical participation.

As you know riding and our relationships with our horses is an ongoing journey.  To me, it's exciting that there is no "end point"-there's always room for improvement and expansion in just how far we can create a quality and lasting partnership with our horse.

Unwanted Behavior: Lowering Head At the Lope

Topic_Info:    lowering his head at lope
Website_Info:  google
Location:      Sedona AZ
Date:          May 03, 2011

How do I prevent my horse from lowering his head while loping?

When a horse carries his head at an unusually low height while moving it is typically a sign of them "avoiding" what is being presented... It can mask insecure or worried feelings and so instead of looking ahead with intention as to where the horse is about to move, he is "going through the motions" without mentally participating in what you are asking of him.  A horse's physical behavior is a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state.  When your horse feels good about what you are asking of him, he will move in a fluid, balanced and natural manner.  When he is worried, concerned, unclear or fearful he will move in an unnatural state.  Also you need to realize that most unwanted behaviors are not the issue themselves, but rather a symptom of an underlying issue.  In this case your horse's lack of thinking and participating to move forward may be the issue, and his low head carriage the symptom.

I would slow down and review the quality of your walk, jog, trot and transitions.  You should be able to get multiple different "energies" from your horse within each gait.  You'll want to assess if you increase the energy at one gait, does your horse start to show signs of stress which could include: shaking his head, "grabbing the bit," swishing his tail, grinding his teeth, taking short and fast "sewing machine steps" as oppose to quality forward steps using his hindquarters to push him forward, etc.  As you gradually increase or decrease your energy in the saddle, he should match the change in his energy willingly and without any abruptness.  Horses who are avoiding thinking and literally looking forward as they move tend to react as if they are being "pushed" forward.  This may be from a rider's heavy hands, inconsistent aids, fear of speed when ridden created in the horse from not moving balanced, and a multitude of other factors.

First a horse must be able to offer relaxed, fluid and consistent changes of energy within a gait, then quality transitions from one gait to another and then I start asking for more energy in the faster gaits.  If the horse starts to "dive" down on the bit or forehand as I increase my energy in the saddle (this does not mean kicking him forward or relying on spurs or whips as an aid,) if I just pull back on the reins I'm offering him something to resist- the bit.  If I offer a "consistent resistance" challenging my horse to a game of tug-o-war guess who will always win?  The horse.

Make sure as you ride that your intention in your own mind is clear and that you are "taking your horse for the ride" as oppose to waiting to see what he'll offer you and then telling him if he's reacting wrongly.  Your goal is to get your horse to think forward, then he'll move forward.  It's a bit like the child's game of "hot and cold."  You'll need to quickly and effectively convey to your horse that his reaction to thinking and then moving forward cannot be addressed by his diving downwards as you increase your energy.  The faster you can communicate that when he tries to dive that his behavior will not work, the faster he will "let it go" and quit diving on the forehand.

There are many ways to communicate that "a behavior your horse is offering isn't going to work," and it comes down to clear and effective communication.  Again a foundation of clear aids or "tools" needs to be established so that when you need to show your horse that something he is doing isn't going to work, he can understand and accept the aid, rather than becoming defensive towards the aid itself.  Too many times people think they are correcting a horse, when in reality they don't have enough tools to work with to clearly communicate with their horse.  So when they try to reprimand the horse, it just creates "another issue" that adds more confusion to the horse, which typically creates a defensive demeanor in the horse towards the person.

One such example of showing a horse his behavior is unacceptable (assuming there are quality tools established ahead of time) is by using an indirect inside rein.  If the aid is used correctly with accurate timing and an appropriate energy of the rider's hand, the rein will "tap into" the horse's brain and ask him to shift his weight and rock back onto his hindquarters.  In order to do this, he will lift his withers and lighten his weight off of the forehand.  As he moves in a more balanced state, he will then offer to carry his head at a more normal and natural height.

The problem is, too many people do not understand all of the many options in how, when and why they use their reins.  They do not asses their own sensitivity (or lack of) when trying to communicate to the horse.  They do not understand the difference between a direct and indirect rein.  They do not understand when to recognize and accept a "try" or effort from the horse, and when to ask more.  So too many times people wind up "picking a fight" with their horse when they are trying to correct an issue. 

Good Luck,

Ask the Horse Trainer: Balking in Young Horse When Ridden

Ask the Horse Trainer: Balking in Young Horse When Ridden
Topic_Info:    Balking
Location:      Bulverde TX

Question:  I have been working with a young horse for the past year (Just turned 4 last week).  I feel like I have moved very slowly with him.  I worked for approximately 6 months in the round pen before mounting him.  I started riding him about 4-5 months ago.  I was still lounging 2 to 3 days a week and riding him on the weekends after about a 10-15 minute lounge.  I was at my trainer's about 2 weeks ago and we had moved from the round pen to riding in the large arena.  He did wonderfully and we had just finished up and I was walking him out when he suddenly stopped.  He just would not move.  The trainer even came over and tried to hand walk him and nothing.  I dismounted and walked him out of the arena not thinking much about it.  A few days later, I lounged for about 10 minutes and mounted and he would not move.  He drops his head to the ground and would not move a muscle.  You can pull his head from side to side but the hooves do not move.  I took him back to the trainers this past weekend and the same thing.  He lounged beautifully and once mounted, he just feels like the life has been sucked out of him.  I can not imagine that he was pushed too far...I must have worked basic walk/trot skills, spiraling in and out on the lounge line for over 3-4 months before even asking for the canter.  The first time mounted, he was wonderful.  The trainer was there to hand walk him.  We gradually proceeded to a lounge line while mounted and within about 2 weeks~ we started riding in the round pen on our own. I am completely lost!  I have put him up and thought maybe I need to give him a break and see what happens in about a month.  I have never run across this before and really don't know what to do.  I thought I had built up respect with all the lounge work.  He listens to all my verbal skills and is really well mannered.  He is such a sweet horse but I fear that I have really gone wrong and am fearful of creating a habit so I am at a standstill.  I would appreciate any help or suggestions that you might have.  Brandi