Spring time considerations: Horse Health, Horse Trailer and Tack Assessment

It has been a long, snowy, wet winter and thankfully it looks like spring may be nearing soon! As the upcoming riding season approaches there are a variety of factors to consider when preparing you and your horse for safe, fun, and fulfilling rides in the near future.

Exploring the use of a round pen- an alternative perspective

A FB friend posted an article on anti round pen usage... Here was my in depth perspective/answer:

I find 95% of folks misuse a round pen, whether under the guise of "exercising" or teaching conditioned responses, such as the lesser of two evils is to turn, face the human and be caught; which is a bullying tactic. The problem with teaching conditioned responses and patterns is the day you change the routine, you get a fire breathing dragon instead of your docile horse. 

So what happened? Most horses learn the pattern in order to get the human to leave them alone. There's not a lot of thought or clarity, it is just a form of "escaping" the pressure created by the human. The human in turn incorrectly assumes that because the horse is being so "helpful" by automatically doing something they might ask of their horse, that the horse is okay. More times than not, he is not.

For me the round pen allows an opportunity in a safe place where the horse and I can have open two way communication. It is an opportunity to assess if the horse is mentally available to physically participate with me. If any sort of fast movement or continuous movement occurs, there's typically a brainless-ness and flee to it.

Most horses that arrive with "behavioral issues" (which is often a symptom, not the issue) is a direct result of constant mental and emotional stress. The horse is rarely considered when the human has an agenda. So often the horses are bullied into doing things that really bother them and "all of a sudden" they act dramatic, resistant and dangerous. No, it wasn't all of a sudden. Most folks do not notice, put value to or address if their horse is asking for help, until the person can no longer ignore the escalating dramatic behavior displayed by the horse.

So as I start a colt, re-educate an older horse or fine tune a finished one, the round pen can be a tool. Could the same conversation happen while in the pasture, being led or tacked? Yes. It is not about location, shape of fence or teaching a patternized response. It is about a quality conversation that sets you and your horse up to be successful. But folks are looking for patterns and conditioned, brainless responses. 

If the horse is physically and mentally bothered, fearful, insecure or shut down, why wouldn't I want to address that and help him sort out his concerns BEFORE I get on? There's no need to "wait and see," what the ride will be like; if I see he's bothered now, it'll only get worse in the saddle. 

Imagine if all these amazing athletic creatures were supported to compete without being in the the continual state of stress and duress, then what might their movement look like?

By not offering a horse TIME to sort through his emotions, rather just attempting to physically exhaust him, but never address what he's bothered about, is setting up the horse to be defensive.... 

As with everything, something that can be a safe, confidence building and supportive tool based in how it is presented by one person can also be a horrific experience for the horse if someone with ego, time limitations, and ulterior motives uses it...

Just my thoughts.

Horsemanship Pressures : Making appropriate choices for you and your horse

The initial romanticized idea of what equine ownership can be, inspires many people to commit to buying a horse, but it can quickly diminish with the realities and learning curve they experience.  I’ve found that there is a preliminary assumption, that because someone is able to financially “buy” a horse, there is an expectation that the horse is “waiting” to do whatever the person asks of him. 

Demo Day April 10, 2017 Oakzanita Ranch

FINAL CA Clinic of the season... April 7-11 Oakzanita Ranch, Descanso CA. Here's what's special... there will be a DEMO day!
There are still a few one hour, private, participant spots available, Clinic audit/participant info
Photo Credit M Canfield
ASAP to sign up!
Auditing is free every day EXCEPT Monday April 10 from 9-4 which will be a demo day. I'll work with five different horses (spots already filled) that I've never worked with before! Cost is $50/day to audit and here's why...
Below is the "sales pitch" blurb and explanation as to why the audit fee is on the DEMO day:
"Sam does not offer books or DVDs to read or watch as her utmost priority with her teaching is clarity for both the horse and human. Spending the day auditing her working a variety of horses will allow you an intensive opportunity to watch real life scenarios unfold. As they do, as an auditor, you will be able to ask, discuss and mentally digest many of Sam's approaches and training theories that contribute to building a solid foundation and partnership with the horse. It will be the chance to watch in a short period of time how to assess a horse, "start a conversation" with the horse to achieve mental availability, and then a variety of ways to communicate spatially and with the use of aids to build the horse's confidence, focus and willingness to participate, which in the long term then leads to the ideal riding partner. There will be lots of opportunities for discussions, Q & A and much more than what is covered when folks audit individual sessions."
If you have questions or would like to audit you may PM or just show up with a chair and lunch!
Hope to see you there!

Sending your horse to the Horse Trainer: Things to consider

The idea for this blog has been in the back of my mind for a while, but the other day as I was about to cross-post a different blog on a blog directory, three titles of articles written by other folks caught my eye.  Each of their blogs was mocking/sarcastic comments about horse trainers and their cliché attitudes towards clients. Sadly, there was a lot of truth in what was being written.

Pain in horses- an unaddressed common denominator

Pain in horses- an unaddressed common denominator

Let me preface this blog by saying I am NOT any of the following: veterinarian, equine nutritionist, equine dentist, farrier, equine chiropractor, equine naturopath or any other medical-related equine professional. 

What I am is an equine professional who sees/handles hundreds of horses a year of varying ages and breeds, with differing degrees of training and exposure/experience in both competitive and pleasure disciplines. 

Time and the illusion of multi-tasking

For people who are new to my teaching and training theories, there are many questions and frequently a great deal of pondering and brooding as folks start to question “the way they’ve always done things” with their horses.

An introspective assessment, rather than seeking “answers” by imitating others, frequently leads people to an uncomfortable stage, of not so “pretty” revelations about themselves, behaviors and patterns in their interaction with their horses.
Unfortunately in our western society we are often praised for how much we can multi-task, seemingly “accomplishing” more tasks in a very limited time.

It may appear that individuals are achieving multiple tasks, but when it comes down to quality, clarity and intention when completing those responsibilities, they often are lacking those traits. The difficulty arises when we take a highly sensitive animal like the horse who will “feed” off of our energy, and we head out to the barn carrying chaos, distraction and tension.

Since we no longer rely on horses for survival, most people want to ride or be with their horse and use the experience as an emotional outlet.  The problem is horses are highly emotional and sensitive creatures.  They also are mirrors to those around them, and reflect what people “bring” to the experience. If folks are rushed, distracted, and stressed from “life” and unintentionally carry “baggage” from the daily demands of job, family, life, etc. to our equine partners, it makes for a less than desirable experience for both participants.
So the next time you are THINKING about riding, stop for a moment.  Take 10 (I’m not kidding) deep breaths, mentally scanning your body for rigidity, distraction, or tightness.  With each breath, feel that you can let go of “reality” for an hour or two while you head out to the barn.  

It may sound a bit “touchy/feely” but horses are not machines sitting and waiting to “serve” their human’s purpose.  The horse within seconds of your arrival has assessed where your brain and emotions are.  If you aren’t present, neither will he be, leading to a less than quality experience. They can be fantastic partners, but only if offered fair and respectful communication. Why not spend quality time, rather than “dutiful” time with him?

And trust me, all those “urgent” problems will still be waiting for you when you’re done spending time with your horse. So, leave reality at the door, and literally give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy the ride!


Finding the ideal equine partner- and selling the unwanted one

Each spring receive inquiries from people wanting to sell their current inappropriate horse, and how they can find a better suited one.  I could write a book on the things that should be considered when buying a horse, but I'll leave it for now at the below synopsis.

The illusions of the "broke" or bombproof horse...

I recently had a mare arrive for training that had been used as a trail horse. Her job had been to take care of a handicapped rider.  She’d supposedly “gone everywhere” and had done everything.  When some folks tried her out, they put a novice rider who hadn’t ridden in many years on her and rode out.  She was “fine.”

Herd Bound Behavior- Resistance between Human and Horse

Many of us have experienced varying degrees of resistance from a horse due to their strong desire to be with another horse.  Scenarios may arise when leaving stablemates at the barn area, during competitions with the constant calling to a buddy horse who is out of sight, to not wanting to be ridden in a different spot on a group ride, or when attempting to leave another horse on a trail ride, etc. Whatever the case, the herd bound horse’s behavior is frustrating, can be dangerous, and does not lead to a satisfying ride for either the rider or the horse.

Unwanted scenarios- opportunities for improving your partnership!

Many times when folks are working with horses, they’d like it to be a relaxing, enjoyable experience.  Yet often horses and humans need to build a quality partnership in order to achieve a rewarding ride for the both of them.  What most riders forget is that no matter how “trained” a horse is, they are still looking to their rider for guidance, confidence and boundaries.  They are a herd animal and they are deciding if they or their rider is the “leader” of their herd. 

The horse will question the pecking order of the herd the rider and he create, but it may not seem apparent on calm, ideal days.  When circumstances beyond our control arise, and stress levels increase, typically only then do we as riders start to realize that perhaps the quality of the partnership we share with our horse is not as “ideal” as we would like to think.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, if you give most riders the option, they will do everything they can to avoid a confrontation or uncomfortable scenario with their horse.  Horses often realize this and have mastered becoming fantastic “people trainers” as I say- teaching the human how to work around them in order to avoid any conflict.  The ideal for me is that the horse asks “What would you like?,” and learns to work around the human.

The idea to write this blog came up as I went to work a horse this morning.  I spend my winters in the desert, where one would think life is a lot more boring than my summers spent in the inland northwest, but actually that is not the case.  Down here near North America’s largest sand dunes we have wind, (it took ten years before it occurred to me that ALL of that wind was what built the sand dunes), and when I say wind I mean sand-blasting, scary-discarded-trash blowing, tarps constantly flapping, scary-animal-dashing-from-citrus groves, horse-tails standing straight-out-to-the-side kind of wind. 

I’ve experienced wind in other notorious places such as Texas and Wyoming- and of course the ever present wind in Patagonia, but somehow the wind here in the Arizona desert has extra elements of “scariness” in terms of horses.  Add in the fact that this is the produce capital of world during the winter, so heavy duty farm equipment randomly appears at various times.  There’s also a marine base and I’m near the flight approach/take off path; military personal from all over the world come here to “practice” and so it is very common to have a “Top Gun” show as a daily occurrence.  Nothing like getting on a colt for the first time with the horse’s body literally vibrating from the sound of six F18s flying low and overhead. 

Then of course there’s the sheep.  The town here is a mixture of new and old, traditional and modern.  Often after several cuttings of alfalfa hay have been raised, herds of sheep are escorted down the main roads (herded by a few men with flags, a couple of dogs, a ram and a goat,) and will randomly appear in an old hay field with three strands of temporary hotwire fence strung up.  A few days later they’ll be moved on to another field.  That’ll get every horse in the barn to stand at full attention and often they display physical feats of aerial acrobatics as if trying out for the Spanish Riding School

In this desert, there are no mountains in sight.  Any activity happening can often been seen and or heard from miles away; to the A.D.D. horse you can imagine how distracting that might be. 

Anyhow one of our wind storms began brewing last night and by this morning the sky was thick with sand and debris, the trees were bent over and the air was heavy with the horses concern.  Most people avoid heading out to work with a horse on a day like today, but for me, I see it as an opportunity.  Just as when I look to buy a horse I want to see the “worst” side of the horse rather than the sales pitch, when I’m working with a horse, I’m looking for opportunities to create a solid citizen.  I’m not striving for the “perfect” ride, but rather to be there to help and support him experience a naturally scary scenario and perhaps influence a change in his brain and emotions as to how he perceives the chaos around him so that he learns to react in a physical respectful, calm and safe manner.

Because the horse is a prey animal, the natural instinct when unsure is to run.  But my job is to teach the unnatural response of, “Stop, think, and ask what the rider wants,” then offer a physical movement.  This not only decreases the chances of a dramatic reaction from the horse, but also builds confidence in him and the fear switches to a curiosity as to what is happening around him.  Changing from the instinctual fleeing to curious mode literally allows more “time” for communication between rider and horse, a mental participation from the horse which in turn creates a physical softness.  This builds his confidence emotionally and mentally when a situation isn’t ideal.

So rather than “challenging” the horse to be obedient on a scary day, I would rather break down the “scariness” of it all- starting on the ground.  Rather than trying to avoid what may be bothersome, I will break things down and ask the horse to only mentally consider one or two things, and then offer ways for him to find softness in his body, brains and emotions, so that he can figure out how he really feels about something.  The more he learns how to think while I’m on the ground working with him, the more this increases his confidence while I’m in the saddle. 

The other part of avoiding the less than ideal circumstances is that people are taught that things cannot get “ugly”- by this I mean many people have the goal be striving for the ideal ride.  But often the ground work during less than ideal scenarios, such as when a horse mentally and emotionally is falling apart needs to be addressed so that the horse can learn how to let go of feelings of concern, worry and fear.  If he is taught to “stuff” those emotions, they will continue to build inside of him, even if on the outside he is appearing as being obedient.  It will only be a matter of time before all of those pent up emotions come out physically dramatic.

I on the other hand I would like an honest “response” from the horse for whatever he feels.  That being said, there are spatial and behavioral boundaries that need to be established before the scary day along with effective communication aids, so that when the horse becomes brainless and reactive, the person has a way to help the horse work through the stress, rather than reprimanded him for not behaving.  As I say, embrace the tantrum, but don’t leave him in it.  Help the horse “get” to the other side.  Remember the physically dramatic behavior is a reflection of the horse’s brain and emotions.  Change how he feels on the inside, the behavior on the outside will decrease in dramatic, dangerous reactivity.

Every time a horse starts to get bothered and a person critiques him or instead uses it as an opportunity to build his confidence can detract or contribute to the quality of long term partnership and physical behavior of the horse.  Unwanted behaviors/insecurities/worries/fears do not randomly disappear.  Attempting to “desensitize” the horse through repetitious behavior may temporarily work for that scary tarp, but it is only teaching the horse to tolerate the scary tarp, rather than changing how he feels about it.  The day you move the tarp, it’ll feel like you’ll have to start all over again.  Instead, change how he feels about the tarp, then it will not matter where the tarp is.

So the next time you have an opportunity in a less-than-ideal circumstance, of course prioritizing your safety first, perhaps experiment with approaching your horse’s concern with being a supportive influence, rather than a critical one or just avoiding the situation all together.

Good Luck,


Full Immersion Clinic 2016 Dates with Samantha Harvey

2016 Full Immersion Clinic Dates Finalized...
Please visit the link for details http://www.learnhorses.com/Full-Immersion-Clinics/
­June- Full Immersion Clinic #1
The Equestrian Center, LLC, Sandpoint, ID
June 3-5, 2016­­
July- Full Immersion Clinic #2
The Equestrian Center, LLC, Sandpoint, ID
July 15-17, 2016­­­
August- Full Immersion Clinic #3
The Equestrian Center, LLC, Sandpoint, ID
August 5-7, 2016­