Horsemanship and The moment of chaos… Philosophies, assessments and concepts

f you’ve read past blog entries of mine, you’ll see there are certain themes, such as focusing on the horse’s brain and emotions, raising the human’s level of awareness to better understand what the horse is trying to communicate, experimenting with the “concepts” that we often abide by but not always for a clear or appropriate reason, and so forth.

An unnatural reaction...

Why do we put so much effort into focusing on teaching the "unnatural" response of stop, ask for direction and then react in the horse?  Here is a 10 min Budweiser demo gone wrong- if you watch from 4:30-8:40, it is the ultimate display of trust... would your horse handle this in the same way?

Difficulties with our horses...

I have to ability to review visitor “stats” on my blog entries.  In the last few years I’ve had over 2,000 hits on my “My horse won’t lead,” topic, and the most common search words folks have entered on the blog are “horse will not lead, resistant horse, stubborn horse, how to get a horse to move forward.”  Visitors have mostly been from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and the USA.

In the first “half” of my riding career, the horse’s brain, emotions or just plain considering the horse wasn’t ever mentioned.  What always amazes me is how much I was STILL able to physically “accomplish” with horses, even if I was completely unaware/ignorant of just how troubled my horse(s) were.  I was taught to focus on the “end results” not prioritizing quality relationships with my equine partners.   I often wonder how many dangerous scenarios could have been avoided if I’d been taught a different approach; in those days it was almost a bit of a “brag fest” about what you survived.

Fast forward to my current training theories and philosophies and the underlining concept of everything I teach is that the goal be to have a mentally available horse.  I sometimes feel a sense of guilt that a problem so many folks and horses struggle with worldwide, in my mind seems like such an obvious “case” of connecting the dots. 

Most horses with human handling experience typically offer what I call a “teenager” mentality in response towards people.   They offer a “Why should I?” attitude which to me is a defensive and resistant mind set.  But what if instead we were able to influence our horse to start with a “What would you like?” mind set so that as we presented tasks, “jobs,” etc. the horse had an interest in participating, rather than being tolerant and “prodded” through what we asked of them.

If you have a horse that from the moment you attempt to “catch” him (rather than having him approach and present himself in a respectful manner to be haltered,) shows resistance, such as running away, turning his hindquarters to you, hiding behind other horses/objects in the pasture, turns his head away from you as you attempt to halter, sticks his head straight up in the air if you try to halter, what do you think he will be like when you finally manage to lead him?  Basically you’ll feel that you are “towing” 1,000lbs of horse flesh.  Have you ever had a horse that either “drags” on the lead rope, rushes past you out the gate, hovers/crowds your personal space, follows you “fine” as long as you don’t ask him to speed up/slow down his energy or stop when he doesn’t expect it, etc.?

If you start with a horse that is resistant to being caught, resistant to being led/takes over when led, has no concept of following the pressure of the lead rope and respect towards your personal space, ask yourself, is this horse going to be the one who “stands quietly” while tied, groomed, tacked and mounted?  No.  And often people will tell me the horse has “bridling issues, saddling issues, problems when they attempt to mount, etc.” in my mind – if all possibilities of any pain issues have been ruled out- the horse's approach seems to be that the "best defensive is a good offense." 

If everything you’re doing is making the horse uncomfortable, and his behavior shows signs from the start that he is having a problem, unsure, lacking confidence and mentally unavailable, if you keep asking ‘more’ of him, what do you think he will do?  You are forcing him to act more resistant and increasingly dramatic in his response towards you every time you ask something else of him.  You are setting him up to fail.

If you continue to ignore his pleas for help (yes, that really is what his actions are saying when he is fidgeting, looking around at everything except where he is going/what he is doing, crowding you, etc.) and attempt to have a “relaxing trail ride,”  or successful “schooling session” and you’re starting with a horse that is in “survival mode.”  He is defensive about how uncomfortable you may (unintentionally) make him by what you might ask next.   How much quality will your ride have if you keep asking more and more and more until one day the horse can no longer reasonably “handle” what you’re presenting?

There are only so many ways a horse can ask for help.  Often “shut down” horses give the illusion that they are “fine” because they are physically dull and slow and classified as “stubborn.”  Other horses that wear their emotions on their sleeve and leave no question as to when they are having a problem are categorized as “crazy” or “bad” because they don’t “comply” with someone’s training style that are unable/unwilling to attempt to learn how to work with the horse.

Bear with me for a moment while I use the analogy of a wildfire.  Let’s say there is a severe drought.  There hasn’t been rain for a long, long time.  You are walking through a field of dry grass that has no moisture due to months of no rain.  For some reason you see a spark in the grass.  A little red spark the size of a pea.  And as the wind gently blows, you realize that ember is growing into a larger red dot on the ground.   Knowing that you are standing in thousands of acres of dried grass, do you A.) Wait and see what is going to happen, B.) Attempt to “stomp out” the spark, but don’t check when you’re done stomping to see if it the ember is actually out, or C.) use a pile of dirt to cover and completely obliterate any signs of heat.  The last option requiring you to divert from your originally planned path you  had intended on taking.

With horses, all too often when there is the initial spark of a problem, people are often “hopeful” (whether due to lack of understanding, lack of “effective tools to communicate” or are oblivious) and respond with option A of the wildfire scenario.  Then, they act completely surprised when the “fire” erupts from their horse.

Others who may recognize the behavior but perhaps are not able/willing to follow through until they get a mental and emotional change in their horse, so they go through the motions of “correcting” the horse (option B of the wildfire example) but never check to see if they are influencing a QUALITY change in their horse, or if they are perhaps just temporarily delaying the unwanted behavior by addressing the symptoms and not the root cause.

But what if we all approached our “horse sessions” being open minded.  Even if we had a specific intention when we went out to work with our horse, what if we were present enough to HEAR, SEE and RESPECT what our horse was trying to tell us.  What if we had the capacity to forget about our original goal for the session and do what was best for our horse?  How many times of showing the horse that you were available to address, clearly communicate and then help him through his worries, fears, defensive, insecurity and other issues do you think it would take before he started to trust you?  Before he started to realize that if he tried to do what you asked, he, the horse, would feel better afterward?  How long would it be before your horse would start to take an interest in what you were presenting rather than always being defensive towards it?  How long would it be before he displayed a curiosity about “life” and your time together that would make the sessions really rewarding for both of you? How soon before your horse would offer more effort and "try" without you having to ask as much or get into an "argument?"

So the list below all share one thing in common- the root cause is a mentally unavailable horse, which makes him unable to “hear” what you are communicating, unclear of your intention, defensive towards your aids, resistant to “changing” what he thought was being asked of him and usually leading to physically dramatic and dangerous scenarios in the long run.

My horse won’t be caught

My horse won’t lead

My horse won’t stand still

My horse only has one speed

My horse is heavy on the bit

My horse is herd bound

My horse won’t cross water/pass the tarp/walk on the bridge/etc.

My horse won’t load into a trailer

My horse has to walk in the ____________ of a group on a trail ride

My horse always has to ______________

My horse bucks when I ____________

My horse doesn’t like to leave ____________

My horse is spooky all the time

My horse has to be worked (“lunged”) for 20 minutes before I ride

My horse is good after the first ________ min/miles when I ride out

You can only use this “method” to get a response from my horse

You get the idea.  It is all connected like the string on the grain bag.  You start pulling at one end and the whole thing quickly unravels.  Yet somehow people are hopeful when working with their horses.  They don’t believe how big and fast things can go wrong.  I can’t tell you how many folks have voiced their shock when their scared horse went straight down the cliff, or when their “baby” turned around and bit them in the shoulder/chest/etc., or when their "stubborn" horse who never liked to go forward “suddenly” had a bucking/bolting fit.

Was the moment the horse started acting in a way that could no longer be ignored the true cause of the unwanted behavior?  Not at all.  The resistance may have started last week, last month or last year.  The point is not “if” but “when” the consequences from not addressing our horse’s brains will appear. And yet people are hopeful that “it” will solve itself on its own.  A horse only has so many ways of telling you he is having a problem, and whether you think it is appropriate or not, you MUST believe what he is telling you.

You really do have the ability to influence a long term, quality change in your horse.  But people have a hard time getting out of their own way-  it is on YOU to realize “people problems” forced upon the horse are only adding fuel to fire.  Things such as:

Not having enough time and rushing how, what and why you are asking your horse to do something

Being distracted by work/family/stress/others at the barn leaving you not mentally present when working with your horse

Having unrealistic and inappropriate goals for both you and the horse

Getting distracted by the end goal that you are unable to see what is happening in front of you

Focusing on quantity rather than quality

Challenging the horse to “get it right” rather than helping him be successful

So the next time you experience a bit of resistance from a horse, perhaps re-evaluate how you’re interpreting what you think your horse is doing.  Remember, his physical behavior is a reflection of his mental and emotional state.  If you could change how he feels on the inside bout what you’re presenting, what sort of physical change might follow and imagine what you might be able to accomplish with quality in the long run!


The mirror... Thoughts on the reflections we might be seeing in our horses.

As the year is coming to an end, I find myself looking back towards my equine related experiences.  This year in particular I’ve enjoyed a balanced blend between new and past students, their horses and participating in their ongoing journey.  As I mentally started to review different teaching and training highlights, the most common theme throughout the year has been the “mirror” one.  I know have stated many times that often our horse is a mirror of ourselves, and we don’t always like what we see.

The statement above sounds a bit basic, and everybody says, “Yeah, yeah,” when they hear it, but rarely do folks put what I feel is the necessary effort in addressing “the mirror” by asking themselves, “Well, what is my horse “seeing” in what I’m offering him?” 

So rather than writing my typical “on going thoughts” on one topic, this time around I’m just going to offer basic thoughts I’ve had, things that have come up in lessons or clinics, or just overall assessments I’ve made in this past year all related to the “mirror” concept.  These are written in no particular order.

Each person will have a different interpretation of my thoughts written below, based on their own experiences, but I encourage you to perhaps explore some of them with a bit more energy rather than just accepting your initial reaction as you read them.  As with most things, the light bulb moments often happen days, weeks or months down the road.  Something you’ve heard many times, somehow suddenly makes sense, perhaps some of my thoughts can help you too!


Your ride begins when you THINK about going for a ride and it does not end until you have turned your horse loose in his stall or paddock.  All the time in between you are communicating with him, whether or not you realize it.

Carrying anticipation from “what happened last time” prevents you from remaining mentally present while with your horse.

I ask my students to ride in “real time,” this means there is no pause button when things don’t go as expected with the horse.

A majority of riders do not maintain a “standard” in their life outside of horses, but when it comes to their horse, they are expecting/hoping for the best possible outcome in the worst possible scenarios.

Reactive riding versus proactive communication with the horse; always having to fix/correct after the unwanted behavior occurs rather than clearly telling the horse what the plan is ahead of time.

Fear.  Horses have it.  People have it.  The horse cannot rationalize his way through a fearful scenario without the help and active support of the human.  Most humans hope that by being “nice” and doing nothing, the horse will figure out how to get over his fear, and then the human will start interacting with him again once he is more reasonable.

90% mental, 10% physical.  There is a reason why a daunting, scary scenario presented often by the “child who doesn’t know better” turns out with horse and rider fine, unscathed and feeling confident, whereas the “experienced” rider often has premeditated everything that could possibly go wrong and ends up having a very dramatic experience with their horse in the same exact scenario.

The more people “know” the less they actually see what is happening with their horse.

A majority of pleasure riders initially get involved with horses thinking it will be their “outlet” and time to let down from the rest of their life (stress, drama, work, kids, etc.) Few realize how much the “modern day horse” often needs them to be at their BEST to help the horse feel better about life.

Working with horses requires a continual adaptability within us.  For humans, this is often a struggle because complacency, routines and patterns require both less mental presence and less physical effort.

More than half of the horse owners I encounter are not partnered with the correct horse, but continue to maintain a relationship with their horse based primarily on guilt and a sense of “I owe it to the horse.”  What few realize is how dangerous this sort of partnership can be.

People do not realize how “light switch” a horse’s emotions can be; even if a person is not getting the changes they want in their horse, it all can change for better or worse as fast as the flip of a light switch.

Rarely do people believe they can A.) Get a change in their horse, or B.) Realize how little physically effort and more clear communication it takes to get a big emotional, mental and physical change.

The “That’s good enough,” mentality that occurs when people try to be “nice” to their horse often leaves the horse in the gray area, with the horse lacking understanding, rather than when the person follows through until the horse really understands the emotional, mental and physical change that is being asked of him.

Most folks are hopeful.  “I hope he slows down.”  “I hope he doesn’t spook.”  “I hope we have a good ride today.”  “I hope he goes over that jump.”  You can decrease the “hopefulness” and increase both you and your horse’s confidence based on how you help prepare your horse for the upcoming scenario.

If you are carrying a “Let’s see what he does…” mentality, please stop and ask yourself would you challenge your horse to getting “it” right, rather than helping him be successful.

Often people have an initial specific interest in what “type” of riding they will do, rarely do they realize that if they are going to prioritize helping their horse, it will be the horse that is going to “direct” what their “interest” will be.

Just because you may not agree with your horse’s resistance, does not mean you cannot believe it. 

The moment of the dramatic behavior is often the symptom and not the issue.

Attempting to finally address and “fix things” at the peak of stress, worry or fear in your horse should not be the first time you start participating in the relationship.

You can be actively supportive without the partnership feeling like a dictatorship.

The more gear, equipment, and tack a person has to communicate with their horse, the less they actually convey.

Talk to the horse, rather than shout at him.

Making a decision to do something is better than doing nothing.

Breathing and smiling while working with the horse are two of the most undervalued behaviors a human can offer.  It affects the person mentally, physically and emotionally.  It affects the horse mentally, physically and emotionally.  Breathe, smile, breathe, smile.  Seriously. 

Often people are aware of their own behaviors/personality (amped up, high strung, talkative, introvert, etc.) but just accept that that is how they are, rather than attempting to learn how to be adaptable in the way in which they communicate with their horse.

Often when the horse needs us the most, we humans attempt to avoid the situation entirely.

There are only so many ways a horse can ask for help, and more often than not he is ignored, not addressed, or forced into scenarios where his behavior has to increase dramatically until the person can no longer ignore that the horse is having a problem.

Don’t leave your horse in the tantrum, don’t avoid the tantrum.  Embrace the tantrum, but help your horse get to a better spot on the other side. 

And the most major theme, for all riders, for all disciplines, for all experience levels, is:

Slow down.  Mentally, physically, emotionally.  Slow down.  What is the rush?  What MUST you accomplish? The slower you go the more time you have to influence what is about to happen, to help both you and your horse think through a scenario, to be present to feel what is happening, to be able to learn to have a real time, ongoing conversation with your horse rather than a shouting match.  You will accomplish so much more by slowing down and achieving quality, than rushing with brainlessness behaviors in you and your horse.

My hope would be that you take a while let this all sink in.  It is a lot.  Then come back and review it, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now…

Looking forward to more fun with the horses in the upcoming year!


Assessing the Horse Instructor and Student Relationship

Today I was catching up with a student who I hadn’t seen in a few years, we wound up having a conversation that was all too familiar.  Irrelevant to the discipline, level of “competition” or desired end goals, I believe the human student is often “failed” by their equine instructor. 

The honesty in horses...

For me personally one of the things that keep me “motivated” in working with horses is their honesty.  Even if I don’t like “what they are telling me,” they are keeping things very real.  If they are having a problem, behavioral issues, insecurity, fear or are feeling “quiet” it is real. 

I was talking with an older farrier and a vet over the last several days and a common theme of owners not wanting to admit what has been going on with their horses came up in our discussions.  Whether it is an obvious physical issue or an emotional one, if you are willing to listen, the horse will often tell you his story.

The question I pose to most clients, and yes most wait until it has “gone wrong” before they seek out someone like me to help, is “what is your underlining goal with having/riding horses?”  The initial response is usually a self-centered based thought, i.e. I want to relax and trail ride, I want to compete, etc.  And often it is not until owners find themselves with a horse that is not able to “tolerate” what humans are asking/presenting to him, that they realize, the relationship between human and horse cannot be a one way interaction and reach a rewarding and successful partnership.

So what is considered “successful”? Depends on who you ask.  For some it is the ribbon won in the competition for others it can be as simple as “surviving the ride.” (You may laugh at the later, but I cannot tell you how many people are riding in constant fear due to the “survival” approach.)

Successful to me means a mentally, emotionally and physically happy/comfortable horse.  What is “done” with the horse (trail riding, working cattle, competing) I believe should be an after affect, rather than the sole focus.

If you took a vehicle that had mechanical problems, or even something as simple as a flat tire, and used it to “perform” (drive, haul a trailer, etc.) you may be able to cover some ground or get to some destination.  But without addressing the problems the vehicle has, you’d always carry some worry, stress and concern about whether you’d make it without breaking down, having an accident, etc.

And yet so often with our horses, we get easily distracted by our goals and wants, that our vision becomes clouded as to “what is really going on” with the horse.  Sometimes we “see” but don’t want or know how to deal with what our horse is experiencing.

I believe it all comes down to time.  I know in past blogs I’ve mentioned time and not rushing interaction with your horse, but I cannot stress enough the mental “urgency” we as humans tend to carry with us when we don’t even realize it.  Why are we really “rushing” and not addressing what the horse is doing?  Is whatever we had planned so important that we cannot take an extra few minutes to address the horse, or perhaps even “change” what we’d planned on doing with our horse that day?  For most riders, there are lots of “old wives tales” that seemed to have misdirected and influenced their intentions.

Often I believe the biggest “gift” I can give to students and their horses is allowing them the opportunity to slow down.  Literally explaining that they don’t “have” to do anything, letting them experiment with searching for how to help create a change in their horse’s mental and emotionally state.  With the removed self-inflicted mental “urgency” so many people get so much more “done” with their horse. 

The irony is often in the rushing chaos, little is accomplished, and as soon as a student’s mental chaos is slowed down, they immediately see changes in their horse, and are usually shocked at how quickly they can influence a change.  But most folks don’t know how or even recognize to pursue helping their horse until the horse reaches that point of change for the better.  Often they accidentally leave the horse in an uncomfortable state, only setting up the horse to be more defensive/worried/anticipative during their next encounter.

So whether anyone else around you is doing it or not, even if you’ve owned your horse for years, please recognize any excessive movement, chaos, busy-ness, distraction, anticipation, or other behaviors are not an accident.  The horse is being honest in what he is showing, so please be proactive and see if you can mentally and physically slow down to start to address your horse, in the end what you’ll “accomplish” will be rewarding to BOTH you and your horse’s well-being!

Believing the horse

Thought for the day... "Believing the horse." 

I cannot explain why or when in society us humans learned to "ignore" nature, quit paying attention, and don't believe what we were seeing, but it certainly becomes apparent when working with our horses.  So often the horse is doing everything he can to show he is in need, is having a problem, is stuck, etc...  I wish more folks to the time to PAY ATTENTION to their horses. 

The odd behavior, the uncommon whinny, the slightly amped up energy or worried look in his eye.  These things are real.  They only have so many ways of asking for help- whether trying to show the water trough is tipped over, not loading because of the bee's nest in the trailer, not going down the trail because of the unseen wildlife, attempting to prevent saddling/being mounted because of painful, ill fitting tack.

Perhaps take a few minutes and assess how much do YOU believe what your horse is telling you, or do you tend to "blow off" unwanted, unexpected or resistant behavior?

The more you become available to hear your horse, the more you'll be amazed at what he shares with you!


July 25-27 Full Immersion Clinic

Full Immersion Clinic Reminder: Come spend three fun filled, mentally stimulating days with me at the July 25-27 clinic here at The Equestrian Center in Sandpoint, ID.  Learn how to clearly and effectively communicate with your horse, decrease fear issues, improve your confidence and much more.  Both individual and group time, this is a safe and supportive setting for you and your horse to learn in.  Limited to eight participants and auditors are always encouraged.  Please click HERE for details and registration.

DeCluttering and simplifying our Horsemanship

I believe there are various ways to approach teaching people and horses; my personal theory is to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. By offering a clear, intentional thought process in how, what and why we “do” something with our horses, a student can learn to “think through” scenarios to help their horse while eliminating a reliance upon an instructor. The less complicated the communication offered the easier it is for the horse to trust, believe and try.

I remind people that a horse’s skin twitches when a fly lands on it. So why does a horse tend to “lose” that level of sensitivity the more he is handled by humans? People frequently send unintentional or mixed signals and accidentally desensitize their horses when not meaning to do so. As time progresses it sometimes seems to take increased effort and energy from a person while getting less participation from their horse. If it is taking a “lot” of energy from you to get a response from your horse, something isn’t clear.
A horse arriving for an assessment I approach having no assumptions irrelevant of his age, experience or past training. People are surprised at how many “finished” horses still have some major holes in their basic education.
My goal is to see a horse think BEFORE he moves. I want to see his eyes and ears focus towards where I direct them, to see a relaxed emotional and physical state and consistent breathing. Once he offers these things, a horse is usually mentally available to “hear” what I am asking of him physically.
I suggest folks evaluate the clarity and effectiveness of their communication with their horse through both spatial and/or physical pressure using something practical to communicate with, such as a lead rope.
The initial “conversation” with the horse should include (not necessarily in this order) yielding to light pressure, a willingness to following pressure, the ability to think (without moving) towards the left, right, forward and backward. Assess if the horse offers to softly step on or towards something and shift his weight when asked? Is he respectful of “personal space?” Does the horse’s curiosity increase when something new is presented? (Sadly sometimes the more education/experience a horse has the less curious and interested in “life” he becomes.) Does the horse happily “search” for what is being asked, or does he try one or two options and then mentally check out and physically shut down if he didn’t figure out what was being presented?
Excessive/unwanted movement from the horse usually develops from too much chaos created by a person who may be doing things such as “driving” with the lead rope, micromanaging, endless repetition, patternized routines, etc. I’d like for a student to move less casually and more intentionally. This will help their horse’s brain to focus on something specific, and then offer how much “energy” they want their horse to move with through increasing their own energy.
Whether lining up with the mounting block, crossing water, standing on a tarp or loading into a horse trailer, the focus should not be on accomplishing the final “task” at hand, but rather for the horse to be mentally present and available, offering a “What would you like?” mentality as oppose to the more typical and defensive “Why should I?”
A new client recently attempted to load her horse into her trailer the “old” way by pressuring the horse’s hindquarters. She never noticed that her horse was not looking at the horse trailer. I suggested through using the now effective “tool” the lead rope had become, she could narrow the horse’s thoughts from looking at everything EXCEPT the trailer to directing them to thinking solely into the trailer. Once the horse finally acknowledged the trailer, the horse quietly and reasonably offered to place one foot in the trailer, paused, then offered the second front foot. He stood halfway in the trailer and took a deep breath.
They stood, they breathed and they relaxed. He backed out when asked. She asked him to “think in the trailer” and again he gently loaded his front end and paused. When she asked him to think “further” into the trailer, he loaded all four feet, quietly waited for her to ask him to move up to the front and stood nicely while tied.
The owner was shocked by how little effort it took when compared to past experiences. I explained adding “gas” or “driving” the horse with pressure to get him to load, without having a “steering wheel” was going to add chaos to the horse’s already distracted brain and add to his insecurity. Instead slow down his thoughts until he focused on one simple, attainable task, such as “Think straight.” Then add, “Think straight, take one step.” We just happen to be thinking “into” the horse trailer.
Mental and physical “baby steps” can decrease overwhelming feelings that stress humans and horses in new or unfamiliar scenarios. Slowing down allows the opportunity to mentally digest what is happening and it gives the person time to offer their horse specific and clear direction. Learning to help SUPPORT the horse will increase his confidence every time he tries something new.
I smile as I remember various scenarios where I’ve casually taken away numerous quick-fix training gadgets that people truly believed would help improve their horsemanship and help their horse “overcome” a problem but really were Band-Aid “solutions” for a short while.
Teaching people and horses to think first, then physically act, and by using simple tools to communicate effectively and clearly, will allow both to achieve a calmer, safer and satisfying partnership.
Here is to keeping it simple…
Would you like to find out how I can help you and your horse? Learn more about a Remote Coaching session me. Click HERE

Spring is here, now what?

Here in the Pacific Northwest many horse owners are lucky enough to keep their horses at home and have the opportunity to “just ride” whenever they would like; though the ease of accessibility is awesome, it can often become an “isolated” experience without other equine enthusiasts to share ideas, thoughts or experiences with.
For horse folks that are not competition motivated, or are not focused on basic education with a young horse, I find that sometimes those who ride for pleasure experience a “gray area” in regards to the direction they are taking with their equine partner.   
A person’s lack of direction can create patternized routines and rides, which is when a horse learns what to expect with each human interaction.  This can lead to resistance from the horse the day the person decides to “suddenly” change the routine.   The routine can also lead to boredom for horse and human; how many times would you be interested in doing something over and over again?   Without intention and clarity in a person, it is difficult to create a quality partnership with their horse.  A person’s lack of mental presence also conveys to the horse that he is “own his own” as far as leadership goes.  This can lead to problems and unwanted behaviors in the future.
At the other end of the spectrum sometimes “overly” participating in large group gatherings can be overwhelming for a rider and their equine mount.  In trying to expand their equine associated acquaintances sometimes busy social activities may not be appropriate depending on a horse and rider’s experience and abilities.
So what can you do?  Here are a few ideas…
1.)          Every two weeks “add” one small new concept, idea or thought to YOUR knowledge base regarding anything equine related.  This can be read, watched, and/or heard.  You don’t have to “totally get it, understand it or want to use it.”  But it will be something new for YOU to think about.  It can take a long time of “mulling something over” before you can have an opinion about it.
In this day and age media allows us the opportunity to see, hear and read things we would never have had access to in the past.  Take advantage of it.  It could be as simple as watching random amateur horse videos on YouTube, auditing a local competition or volunteering at a horse related gathering.
2.)          Take a lesson (whether focusing on ground work or riding,) or better yet if you can, first audit a lesson with a QUALITY instructor.  Remember just because someone can ride well, does not mean they can teach well; take your time in finding a suitable instructor.
Lessons sometimes have the stigma among pleasure riders that they are only needed if the person/horse is “having a problem.”   Instead they should be thought of as a great opportunity to get an equine professional’s assessment.  The instructor may offer appropriate and specific ideas and suggestions for future improvement in you and your horse. 
To get the “most” for your money, find someone to video you (have them practice filming moving horses ahead of time.  The video should be recorded in close proximity to the instructor so that when you watch the video later you can hear what the teacher is saying in relation to how you see yourself riding.  Being able to review the video multiple times may help you better recognize problems, and continue to improve upon them in the future.
3.)          Find a riding buddy.  I don’t mean someone you will brainlessly gossip with when you ride out on the trail, but rather someone with similar horse related interests, approaches and goals who you will ENJOY  spending time with. 
I cannot begin to tell you how many times when a client is explaining a past scary or dangerous riding incident, in hindsight folks realized that the manner in which they “handled” (or didn’t) the unexpected scenario was partially or completely based on feeling “pressured” from direction and instruction by good intentioned but not experienced enough fellow riders.
Find a pal to who shares your equine related approach, enthusiasm and goals to help you both stay motivated and safe.  There are always notice boards at the local feed store, Co-Op and online are plenty of websites (horse and non horse related) where people can search for others with similar interests. 
It might take a little time and effort, you may have some “misses” in searching for potential riding partners, but eventually you’ll find at least one person who will share your enthusiasm. 
4.)          Sometimes especially with younger horses and older riders, owners tend to send their horse away for a spring tune-up, which can definitely be helpful.  BUT I also try and explain to folks that if you are not on the same page in understanding how your horse is being worked and how the trainer uses their aids to communicate, even if the horse returns home “tuned up,” you as the owner often are not. 
Sadly every year owners invest a lot of money into their horse’s training thinking they will have a “finished product,” not realizing that they too must learn what their horse is learning.  Otherwise within a few days often there is miscommunication, frustration and deterioration in the relationship between human and horse.
Hopefully these ideas can offer you realistic, attainable and affordable options to help jump start to your riding season and improve the partnership between you and your horse over the long term.
Have fun,