A gallop across the field... An alternative perspective

It had been a long time since I’ve galloped.  Literally.

So very often I have people tell me their horse “loves” to gallop, and as I watch the horse move at a faster pace, I often see fear in the horse’s eye and body.  In my personal experience more often than not, the horse displaying what is typically interpreted by the human as having the “desire” to run, when really it is a horse trying to flee the scene.

For me, the more I learned about all the “stuff” I’d missed in regards to my horse’s brain and emotions, the more I realized I had no right galloping for many, many reasons.  My priorities have since shifted to the concept that not until the horse is mentally, emotionally and physically with me, do I ask for the faster speeds. 

Looking back I now would classify most of my galloping experiences as A.) A challenge of surviving the ride based on my ego vs. doing what was best for my horse, B.) A frightful experience for the horse due to lack of effective support I offered to the horse, and C.) Something I’m surprised I’ve did so frequently with as little crash-and-burns as I have had for how sort-of out-of-control I was.

Now you may be imagining me as having been on one “of those” scary riders on “crazy” or “difficult” horses, but I was not.  I actually blended in quite well with the rest of the riders.  Same strong horse, same strong bits to stop, spurs to go, and devices to help keep the horse's head down, and a hopeful mentality every time I swung a leg over the saddle.  

No one thought it was odd to exchange equine related ER stories over dinner, to have dramatic rides or heart stopping experiences.  The collective "we" in my world at that time thought that “that” was what it took to prove that you were up to the task.  Accomplishing the end goal whether within a certain time frame, over specific obstacles, or just surviving better and faster than anyone else had, was our sole focus.

An ex Chef’d Equipe to the USA Eventing team once told me in a lesson to keep a riding journal.  It was some of the best advice I had ever received.  But it wasn’t until years after most of my entries had been made that I then realized the power of what I’d written at the time.  When I read it in present day, it seems as if someone else wrote the journal, as if I can’t even remember how “I” used to be in my approach towards horses.

I have always naturally been analytical, and I believe part of what interested me in teaching others was my “problem solving” mentality.  But when I review the old journal entries I realize, as literal as I was in taking the instruction back then, and how much of it (classical) was addressing major and valid points in my riding and my horses, every single instructor no matter their background or discipline had “missed” presenting the pieces that would allow me to mentally connect the whole picture of the whats, hows and whys I was supposed to be do something.

It was like lessons would focus on what seemed (from my student perspective) as to be some random problem, rather than addressing the root cause, which in my own  riding (and many other riders) was a weak foundation causing the unwanted results.  We kept trying to band aid symptoms, rather than do surgery and fix the foundation.

Most of the instruction was often focused on both what my horse and I were NOT supposed to be doing, rather than creating a clear concept in my mind as to what we were supposed to be accomplishing.  No one mentioned that when the little pieces were connected it would create the ideal “ride” we were striving for. 

I was basically learning how to ride defensively and in a critical manner towards the horse; critiquing each wrong move, rather than communicating to the horse what I wanted from the start.  It was sort of like a game of chess.  I’d wait for his move, he’d wait for mine.  Then it was a mental challenge to see who’d “win” the round.  It was exhausting.  To work so hard to get “it” right and feel like I was still grasping at air and even with the compliments from mentors, I never really felt my horse recognize any relief from my constant demands. 

There was a time when I rode race horses from 6am-10am, then headed to ride for a Dressage international USA representative and judge for three hours, then early afternoons were spent at an internationally competitive jumper facility and finally evenings with my own horses.  I was riding a LOT of horses.  Ranging from mediocre racing lines to hundreds of thousands dollar “super-star” steeds.

And I approached each place as if it were a completely “separate” world from the previous one.  Why?  Because that’s what I’d been taught.  “These” are ______________ (discipline) and this is how we _____________ ride these _______________(breed) kind of horses.  And I believed what I was told.

Never, ever, ever, EVER did I consider the horse was still a horse, no matter the breed, background, discipline or experience level.    I was taught to consider lots of things ABOUT the horse, such as if the swelling I felt in the leg was new or a result of an old injury.  I considered the level of “excitement” the horse would have if he was turned out too long or not lunged enough.  I was taught a lap of walking around the barn as equivalent to a “hack” or let down time for the horse.  I was told trotting on the side of a narrow European back country road in the pouring rain with cars flying past as “quality training” to teach the horse to be reasonable even though every muscle in his body was taut with fear.

I didn’t give a second thought towards the fidgeting, fussy horses.  Or ones that had vices, didn’t like to be groomed or tacked, and were a bit “hot” to start or ones that I had to do things a certain way in order to get the horse to comply.  I worked at barns where horses were kept sedated and with cages on their face to prevent them from attacking humans. 

I didn’t realize that a horse could be respectful when led out of the stall or gate, could stand while being mounted or that his pinning of his ears when I applied leg pressure was not a fluke.  I didn’t worry if he swished his tail, or couldn’t halt in the middle of a “work” session. 
I laughed at the horse and all the things he was scared of and “forced” him through those scenarios.  The ones that were difficult I was taught you just had to sedate to shoe or load into the trailer, and these were just normal occurrences.  That” was just how it was, and I had lots of other things to hurry up and do.

Now you might be thinking, sheesh, maybe I just wasn’t “getting it,” and that it had nothing to do with the quality of the instruction.  Over the years my learning experience has ranged from the local Pony Club volunteers to Gold Medalist Olympians to the dying breed of what I call “real world horsemen.”  It is very, very, very rare to have someone who can communicate in a way that makes sense to “everyone,” and who can offer both the detail oriented instruction and still offer the big-picture perspective all the while prioritizing the horse’s needs first.

Way back then I could rattle off all of theoretical cliché dos and don’ts of “classical” riding.  But I had no feel.  I had no timing.  I had no rhythm.  I had no finesse.  I had no awareness toward’s my horse’s brain, emotions and body.  I had no sensitivity in how I used my energy.  I had no concept of pressure, whether it was physical or spatial.

And yet I was still going through the motions of appearing to have somewhat successful rides on a multitude of horses. 

As most people would agree, the horse is usually the best teacher of all.  The problem is most people (not purposely- such was the case for me) are completely unavailable to honestly hear and/or consider the horse.  I know that may sound funny, but it is true. 

Give the person the option of A.) Sneaking past the “scary” object and continuing on as if it didn’t exist, or B.) Stopping and addressing what was bothering the horse and nine out of 10 folks would (and do) pick option A. 

Are they trying to avoid a conflict?  A blow up?  A potentially dangerous ride?  Yes.  And smart of them to think that.  But I mostly believe they choose option A. because they don’t have enough effective “tools to communicate”, they don’t have enough tools to give them options in how they communicate, and they don’t connect the dots that if something is bothering the horse now, that he will not just “let it go” and move on, but rather he will continue to carry that emotion and stress and it will increase as the ride continues if it is not addressed.

So it wasn’t until one day at some low level competition in England where I was grooming that I started for some reason to look around me.  I saw stressed out riders.  I saw stressed out horses.  I didn’t see anyone smiling.  Even the rare pat offered to a horse for a good performance was perfunctory rather than heartfelt.  I saw injured horses being asked to do things too soon in their healing process.  I saw horses still willing to try, even with injury or fear or both.  I saw how much “masking” was going on, all for the sake of the “end result.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I think competition can be awesome.  But what I was finding was that more often than not, the end goal became such a focus point that the quality of the journey to get there was lost.  Perspective was nonexistent.  Why was I having to hand walk  a soaking wet (with sweat) horse at 8pm on a cold winter night after a top international level rider/instructor/Olympian decided the horse wasn’t “getting it” and rode the horse for three, yes THREE, hours for the horse to “better understand.”  Hmmm.

You may say, “oh bad trainer.”  Well this same person is currently coaching top level competitors worldwide.  For me, that was the beginning of the breaking point.  The preparing of horses for photographing the “ideal "ride" to go along with the idealistic and inspiring magazine article by another big name trainer, and then behind the scenes when no one was around next day, to have the same horse run into the ground to “teach him a lesson.”

I also started realizing the more “soft” I was getting towards the horses, the more severe the judgment, criticism and harsh instruction was directed towards me.    And as with anything, once you start questioning the fundamental “basics” of a specific belief, the rest of the thoughts and things you thought you knew start coming crashing down at a rapid pace.

So long story short, I extracted myself from the horse world as I knew it.  I had to mentally and emotionally heal from a life long trauma I hadn't even realized was happening through my experiences.
I had to reintroduce myself to the horse the years later.  The most basic fundamentals of being around an animal, showing it respect, offering my own availability to actually recognize what the animal was trying to communicate.  

For the first time EVER I had no agenda, other than trying to figure out how to get my fire-breathing-red-head-thoroughbred at the the time to keep all four feet on the ground when stressed.  And oh how my world changed.

Every time I thought I’d tried, offered and experimented “enough” to get a change in that horse, he’d demand more of me.  I think he was my karma horse for all I’d unintentionally “done” to past horses I’d worked with.  EVERYTHING was a big deal.  He was either 100% okay or 110% not, and there was NO middle ground.  You couldn’t manhandle his athleticism, you couldn’t “make” him do anything and I certainly was not someone he trusted. I tried everything I knew, and nothing worked.  At all.  In fact it just made things worse.  So I finally had to ask for help. 

I remember laughing when I reminisced about the “old” galloping I used to do at a break neck speed, and here I was just trying to get this darn chestnut to walk a straight line at a reasonable pace without rearing, bucking or _____________. 

On one hand I was in awe of him because of his acute awareness, his infallible timing, his athleticism and his persistence at not becoming “submissive” towards me.  On the other hand it was overwhelming to feel no progress, and only a worsening in his fear, worry and discontent.

With nothing to lose, I reconnected with an old timer who wasn’t fazed by much.  When I unloaded my red steed, the cowboy straightened up by about four inches.  His eyes danced with enthusiasm at my “project.”  I was open to trying anything, so we started at what should have been the “very” beginning of establishing a connection with the horse in order to create a mental availability. 

I was standing in the middle of a round pen while my horse was having a nervous breakdown over something happening a mile away (literally), when that cowboy stood up and asked if he could go in the pen.  Ever have that feeling where you can’t wait to “get away” from your own horse?  I had it.  And then I watched. 

It didn’t even take a full two minutes and there was this HUGE but almost unintelligible conversation happening between my horse and the cowboy, courtesy of using the lead rope.  He’d wiggled the rope with a finger.  He’d shift his hand ever so slightly; he’d pick up the energy in his fingers just a notch.  My horse hadn’t moved; no circles, no fleeing, no dramatic behavior other than what at first appeared to be just a few nods of his head.  And suddenly, he was blowing his nose.  Over and over again, dropped his head and let all tension out of his body, passed manure, sighed, breathed, relaxed his eyes, and cocked a hind foot.  The worry peaks over his eye were gone; there was a softness and alertness in his body, rather than defensiveness.

I wanted to scream, “Why hadn’t anyone told me about …. About… THIS?” How had no one ever, EVER offered me the idea that my horse’s emotions could change everything?  I mean, we talked about stressed out horses, and how to contain them, sedate them, wear them down, etc. but never had anyone I known even considered that we could influence a mental and emotional CHANGE by doing so LITTLE if we were specific and clear.  And then to imagine what we could ask physically of a mentally and emotionally happy horse?  Wow.

So that week I had to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew.  Years after the fact, I was still having epiphanies about what had happened that day.  And from there everything gradually became clear.  There was NO option for me to NOT address my horse’s mental and emotional availability in order to accomplish the physical tasks I presented.

Which brings me to my most recent present day galloping.  With a refined sense of awareness and understanding of the horse, as I increase my horse’s speed, I want it to be a reflection of his brain.  Although the steps may be larger and faster, there still needs to be softness, lightness and balance.  If at any moment I drain all my energy, my horse needs to immediately halt balanced on his hindquarters, WITHOUT me pulling on his face.  If while cantering I feel him asking to drain into a slower gait, I need him to relax if my aid asks him to go forward, rather than pinning his ears or becoming defensive towards me.  The irony is the faster you go with quality, the slower it feels, and the more time it seems you have.

So I spend a lot of time going slow nowadays.  Very, very slow.   I mean slower than you’ve probably ever imagined asking your horse to go.  As in, one-step-at-a-time slow.   I always joke it takes me forever to go nowhere.  

In the long run, by the time I’m asking a horse to move forward, my goal is that the horse offers to do so with a willingness, confidence and availability, and perhaps that carefree romanticized version we all have in our heads of what galloping across a field felt like as a kid.

And the other day it happened.  I hadn’t planned on it, it hadn’t been my goal.  But there I was working with a horse that had come a long ways from his shut down, fearful, insecure self that I’d met a while back.  As we rolled up into a light canter, there was a moment, almost indescribable, but where you can “hear” the horse reaffirming he is okay.  So I asked for a larger stride, and as my seat instinctively lifted out of the saddle and I lowered my upper body, almost floating above the horse, I could feel us shift gears and we were off… He stretched out all 17 hands of himself and all I could feel was the softness of the gigantic stride below me.  Time stops in those moments.  Nothing else exists.  It is why we all ride.  It is the ultimate escape and emotional release for us humans.

As I slowed him back to a lovely trot, I realized my adrenaline had kicked in.  When I sat back down in the saddle I instantly felt my fatigued muscles quivering in my lower back and legs reminding of just how long it’d been since my last gallop.  So even if for the rest of the day my legs felt like Jello, I was still grinning, and so was the horse.  And to me, that is what the gallop is all about.


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? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUt1c_2v0fw

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