Spring Time Horse and Human Assessments

Every spring after cold, dark winter folks start getting excited at the prospect of the upcoming riding season. For most people in the inland northwest, there is a major decrease in the amount of ride/horse time during the winter months. Below are some ideas to help safely get you back in the saddle!

Supporting vs Challenging the Horse

People often ask "what kind of horse training do you do?" I say I work with people and horses.

In the traditional world of horses, not categorizing yourself meant that you didn't really know a whole lot about anything. Nowadays I find it quite ironic how many students I have that come from "specialized" trainers but are having major issues on fundamental basics with their horses and the specialized trainers are unable to help them through the situations other than forcing the horses into submission through fearful and aggressive tactics.

On any given day I'm working with Colts, rehabilitating the older horse, refining the trained cutting or roping horse, mellowing the endurance horse, improving confidence in the ranch horse, slowing down the jumping horse who rushes at fences, improving the dressage horse's self carriage, and so much more.... And the thing that I keep repeating is, " At the core, all horses are all the same."

First we need to treat, interact, and have partnerships with these animals as Horses, then the specialized focused can come into play.

But there are so many people who are so fixated on accomplishing "stuff" that in the end, whether it's through ego, bragging rights, unintentionally overfaced with goals or otherwise, the human doesn't realize that they are setting up the horse to fail in what they ask of them because they don't have the fundamental Basics nor effective tools to communicate with the horse in order to support him through the scenarios they present.

Nine out of 10 new horses I meet have no concept or good feeling about pressure, whether it's physical or spatial, and are often defensive towards the human. People often want to rush through the motions constantly putting the horse in a position of having to tolerate very stressful scenarios and then afterwards act surprised when the horse no longer can handle it emotionally or physically.

My goal is to teach people how to communicate without relying on the instructor and learn to recognize the horses mental and physical resistance and influence a change in his thoughts and physical Behavior so that the ideal outcome is accomplished without a fight or a tantrum or an emotional meltdown from the horse.

But that takes time, that takes effort, that takes Clarity and intention from the human, and it takes an openness that you may not accomplish what you set out to accomplish in that particular day.

If we spent more time supporting our horses through their troubled moments rather than challenging them through them, in the long run we would accomplish so much more without the drama and stress for either horse or human.

Would you and horse benefit from an individualized Remote Coaching session with Sam?  Click HERE to find out more.

Not letting feeding time control our interactions

Many times humans and horses are stuck in patternized behavior. I find many people get stressed out at the thought of having to take their horse away from food due to fear of possibly resistant behavior. For me, anytime of the day irrelevant of food or anything else going on, I'd like to be able to call the horse over and have him show an interest and a curiosity. I want him to be mentally available, willing to leave whatever he is doing, in order to participate in what I'm offering.

The video of the three-year-old shows this example. I don't use treats or gimmicks or "drive" the horse into yielding and coming to me. It's all about having a conversation with his brain and emotions, and then getting the physically desired response.

The goal is not the physical movement of leaving his food, but rather the quality of the conversation. This horse has been with me for about a month now, and the video was the first time I called him off of his feed. To me it represents all of the other foundational work that makes a horse feel good about wanting to be with the human, even during feeding time.

Following this video clip, I then had him stand loose in the stall while I tacked him up, and then took him for a ride. Yes, even during dinner time.

Working Colts off of experienced horse... learning opportunities

Several decades ago I made a choice to leave any of the cliches in the equine world that are associated with specific types of riding.

Nowadays my approach is a culmination of my experiences from both the competitive and non-competitive world, along with real-life riding such as on ranches, in the mountains, working with livestock, mixed with working with troubled horses after mainstream ways of doing things led to dramatic and resistance and fearful behavior.

Re-educating the troubled horse

I recently had someone inquire about a horse who has bucking issues. It was a person who did not have a lot of experience and had sent their horse to a well-known training program. When their horse returned, multiple times the horse started bucking when ridden.

So their question was if I would be able to help the horse, how long it would take, Etc. This is a very common inquiry that I get.

I thought it would be helpful to share my response to the owner as many people seem to have these issues. The following is my answer:

There are several options for rehabilitating a horse that has become troubled and is now physically dangerous.

Every horse is an individual, so when horses arrive for training, the first week is an “Assessment week,” which allows me time to evaluate his current fears, insecurities, ability and willingness to learn, any potential physical/pain issues, and then approach him in a way that rebuilds his trust in humans.

By the time a horse is committed to bucking, his original “quiet” pleas for help from the human have either been missed or ignored; whether intentional or not, most folk’s priorities are to “just go ride”, often not realizing how much “help” the horse needs from the rider.

Also, if you have limited experience, you need to keep in mind that even with a lot of quality training, you will need to “be on the same page” as your horse. Sending your horse to the trainer without understanding how/what he has learned, does the owner no good.

People also often think that once a horse is “trained” it will automatically maintain the knowledge or abilities; they don’t. Every experience with the horse is a “learning” opportunity for the horse; so again, whether you mean to or not, you may be “teaching” your horse many things you don’t realize.

Also many training programs are suited to the human, rather than individualizing the methods so that it is appropriate for that particular horse. Just like humans who all have different learning styles, so do horses. Which means that many horses “go through” training programs and the more training, the worse the horse feels about the “human experience,” he may come out with some knowledge, but often there is a lot of miscommunication and defensiveness felt by the horse if he didn’t naturally fit the “program”. But this typically doesn’t show up until the horse has spent time with a less confident person, and only then, does he offer his honest opinion or show his defensiveness with dramatic and dangerous behaviors.

As far as “how long” it takes to both undo a horse’s fear and defensiveness, and re-educate the horse, all depends on the severity of the horse’s current mental and emotional state. I offer training by the week to best suit the horse’s needs, the first week is assessment week, and then we go from there. I’m big on keeping owners in the loop with weekly email updates as to the progress reports on the horse.

I require all owners to participate for at least a week with me before taking their training horse for at least five sessions.

Once your horse arrives for training, they have priority to stay however long you need.

What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?

What can happen at an Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey clinic?

One person might work with a "broke" performance type horse that has been so ingrained with human expectations and patterns, and who has learned to be obedient in order to not be reprimanded, that just by being in close proximity and changing what the horse had anticipated would happen (such as not catching as soon as you enter his pen) and watch the horse's emotional roller coaster as years of pent up obedience and emotional containment are purged...

Another person might work on the nuances of rebuilding a horse's curiosity and trust after years of the human experience causing that horse to mentally shut down and check out causing the horse to outwardly seem physically quiet, but internally is quite troubled.

Someone else may encourage their horse, while at liberty, to learn to mentally search and make decisions, without being "driven", chased or scared into brainless and reactive physical movement, rather instead offering thoughtful and intentional steps.

Another person might practice learning to refine their feel and time while riding, as they raise their standard of softness and clarity towards the horse...

Someone else may be learning how to recognize from how they're sitting in the saddle, where they're horse's feet are underneath them, to offer the clearest aid to influence the ideal movement.

Another might be working with a young horse building a solid foundation of learning "how to learn" with thoughtful intention as new things are introduced, that will be used in future rides.

The horses breeds, ages, experiences are all varied. The disciplines, participants, experience levels, and their backgrounds are even more diverse.

And all the while, it might be blustery wind gusts, freezing temps, peaceful and warm, sleeting rain... The weather is irrelevant... the location doesn't matter... the "accomplishment" of a task is ignored... rather it is all about the conversation between the human and horse. Soft, clear and intentional.

It is only then that you see the worry and peak lines on the horse's face disappear, the muscles in the horse and human's body relax, and both take a deep, quiet, body-replenishing breath of air, while experiencing a shared peacefulness of being mentally, emotionally and physically present.

Less than ideal circumstances leading to better partnerships

Thought for the day...

Often when weather conditions and circumstances are out of our control or are not ideal, we tend to shy away from spending time with our horses in order to avoid potential conflict or issues. For me I find some of the most successful learning situations is when our surroundings are less than ideal.

Yesterday was a great example. Here in the desert of southwest Arizona we had a blusterous 20 mile an hour windstorm that was sandblasting from all directions. Being close to a Marine base, we also had F-35 Jets flying overhead, so close that you actually vibrate from the Jet's power. Trash and tumbleweeds were blowing everywhere. Palm trees were bent over.

I've included two pics which don't nearly give you a clear enough idea, but to see the flag standing straight out gives you an idea of how strong the wind was.

Two days before, a three-year-old horse had arrived for training. The first day we had just worked on the concept of softening to pressure on the leadrope. We didn't move farther than 40 feet from his stall. I introduced the ideas of being able to first look and think, and then move. Also the concept that he looks where he's going while he moves, rather than looking at everything except where he's going. The concept of personal space and that if he is asked to do something, he needs to try to address what is being asked of him the first time and not that it takes a huge amount of energy to get him to listen. Also the concept that he can stand over grass and wait quietly without constantly trying to lunge for the grass and eat. It was a lot for his young brain. And yet there was no running, no fleeing, no chasing, no driving, no scaring him, in order to help him learn. Just simple conversation creating boundaries of what behaviors worked and those that did not. Lots of blinking, licking, chewing, and yawning from him.

So the second day is when the wind storm hit us. It was so bad you couldn't see 40 feet out because of the sand and debris in the air. And yet I brought him into the round pen to work with him at liberty for the first time. For me the round pen is not a place to chase/run the horse into submission. It is rather a safe setting that allows the horse to learn to search to find what is being asked of him, without scaring him or driving him into giving up. There was distractions of other horses running around, other animals running around the farm, metal roofs flapping, and yet through simple trial and error (communicated through spatial pressure and release w the lead rope hanging at my side), the young horse was able to let go of all of the mental distractions until he could focus on just me. He learned how to be with me without spatially walking on top of me even though he was loose. He learned how to stop and look at the distractions and then bring his attention back to me when I asked him to. And then he learned how to leave me to move around the rail of the pen, without flee or chaotic energy, rather mimicking whatever energy I was offering from the center of the pen. Then when I decreased my energy and moved away from the center of the pen, he learned to come in and be with me respectfully, quietly waiting for whatever I asked of him next. If you had only seen him you'd never know there was so much distraction and Chaos going on around us.

So the next time the weather or situation is less than ideal, remember it might be the perfect opportunity, because you may have to face addressing small issues that in the past you've wanted to mask or smooth over rather than getting to the root cause. Being forced to confront those small issues is a wonderful preventative measure for them not to evolve causing major issues further down the road.

Christmas Certificate for that Horse Lover!

Looking for that last minute gift for that horse lover? Get them a gift certificate for lessons, assessment, ground work or clinics with Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey.

Certificates may be purchased via PayPal, Check or cash. Valid one year from date of purchase.
Email for details

Client feedback... Success over time

Over the past few days I've heard "feedback" from clients both in the States and abroad. If you've ever read anything from my blog, website or posts on FB, you'll quickly realize I do not offer the "quick fix" or "easy answers" in my approaches to helping horses feel better about life. It is slow, intentional communication, and often it requires a rebuilding of the foundation of the partnership, in order for the rides to be successful. 

I always say I try to teach and offer "tools" in how we communicate with our horses so that clients don't "need me", but rather they can assess, think through, and then help their horse through scenarios in order to have a positive, confidence building outcome for both the horse and rider.

I LOVE hearing stories of success; not because "my way" works, it isn't about me or the ways I've found work, it is about owners/riders being open minded enough to put their own egos aside, and to BELIEVE their horses when they are troubled, when they ask for help. Time and again, those who support their horses through uncomfortable moments, rather than challenge them through them, see amazing, long lasting changes.

So "Good on you," as I say, to those folks dedicated to being open to having an honest conversation with their horse, patient enough to respect what the horse is saying, and kind enough to search within themselves to how best to help their horse.

That is how we reach those almost perfect moments of being completing in sync with our equine partners, and it makes it all worth it. Happy riding!

Learning through Auditing: Improving your Horsemanship

I recently finished offering a three-day-long Full Immersion Clinic. I've titled these clinics because we cover so many aspects of horsemanship and riding. I never have an agenda as to what we'll accomplish. Depending on the participants and what their horse's needs are, things evolve organically. These are not the sit-in-the-saddle-for-8-hours types of clinics. These are an opportunity to mentally slow down and really raise our level of awareness within/about ourselves and our horses, to better understand the conversation the horse is offering, and learn how best to work with the horse in order to get the ideal ride.

Proactive Riding- Raising the Rider’s Awareness

Creating conditioned and patternized behaviors, or routines, while interacting with our horses can lead to “dishonest” conversations between the human and the horse.  Whether heading out on a trail ride or focusing in the arena, there frequently is a sense of “wonder” from the rider regarding what the ride will “be like” on any given day.  I dislike repetitive movement as there becomes a familiarity and “dullness” to the conversation between the horse and human leading to brainless responses and a lack of adaptability. The day the person changes the routine their “quiet” horse becomes a fire breathing dragon because the pattern has changed.

There should be no mystery when working with our horses. Every interaction with the horse is an indication as to what is about to come.  Weather issues, location limitations, and time urgencies can influence people and horses falling into behaviors that contribute to a lack of awareness, lack of clear intention and lack of mental presence.

Unfortunately the standard with horses is that as long as the horse isn’t offering enough resistant behavior that the human sees their life flashing before their eyes, dramatic behaviors from the horse are tolerated.  Anticipative movement, the lack of softness towards a light rein, seat or leg pressure, the dramatic, flamboyant responses to an aid, are all indications that the horse’s brain and emotions are having a problem, and therefore his physical response will mimic the worry, fear, pain, insecurity, misunderstanding, leading to a less than ideal ride.

Assess your relationship with your horse by asking yourself the following:  Do you work with your horse at the same time of day? Catch him in the same manner?  Enter/exit the gate the same way? Tie/groom/tack up in the same place? Mount from the same side, in the same location? Start off always tracking in one direction?  These basic behaviors when done without intention, lead to mentally unavailable and resistant horses.

The moment you think about going for a ride, the ride begins.  “Reality,” other distractions and stresses from life need to be put on hold.  To be proactive by making decisions to influence how the ride will go, you’ll need a mental clarity as to what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it.  Every moment you’re in close proximity to your horse, you are teaching him something, whether or not you mean to. 

Mental presence allows you to honestly assess what your horse is offering in his behaviors.  My approach is to first address the horse’s brain, and then the desired movement will follow. Opportunities for assessment can begin in the pasture or stall; notice if your horse moves off as you approach?  If so, why?  Is he distracted by new events at the barn? Wildlife that recently passed by? Does he prefer to stay with the herd rather than being ridden? You may not initially have a clear understanding of his behavior, but it will be the beginning of awareness from you of noticing initial resistance from him and be able to prioritize addressing it before you ride. 

As you lead, is he ahead of you physically and actually “leading you”? If so, he’s already telling you what the ride is going to be like.  If he believes from the start that he is in charge, by the time you’re in the saddle, you’ll be at his mercy. 
If he is pulling, hanging or ignoring your pressure with the lead rope while you’re on the ground, he’s already telling you he is going to be heavy on the bit and slow to respond with the rein.  Why wait until you’re in the saddle to address his concept, or lack thereof, of following, softening or yielding to pressure?
If he’s become fussy as you tack up as you ride more frequently, have you assessed if your saddle is fitting correctly? Perhaps pain issues from ill fitting tack have begun, and you’ve assumed he’s just being difficult with his excessive movement.  He only has so many ways to convey his distress before he has to increase his behaviors until you can no longer ignore them.

Humans often anthromoporphize equine behaviors, giving human characteristics to them and wrongly interpreting what is occurring. Taking the time to slow ourselves down from the rushing mentality, by addressing the little details, can help us break down overwhelming scenarios and understand our horse’s behavior.

By learning to recognize the signs leading up to potentially unwanted behavior, we can influence a change within the horse, before he has committed to doing something we don’t want.  But the small details, the finesse isn’t the “fun” or “exciting” way of doing things, therefore we humans bring chaos to horses, causing much turmoil.

Let us raise our standards.  What if the new “normal” became a horse that presented himself quietly to be caught irrelevant of if feed had just been put out in the pasture or riding at an odd time of day? Ignoring discipline, riding goals or experience, what if we could straight tie, ground tie or cross tie our horse in a field, to a trailer, or to a post, as we groomed and tacked up, without any fussing, wiggling, pawing, swinging of the hindquarters, holding his breath while we tightened the saddle, or tossing his head while we bridled him? Let’s be practical and forgo outdated tradition and learn to mount/dismount from either side on the ground, from the fence or a mounting block, without having to lead our horse to a spot and quickly scramble on while holding the reins tight to prevent him from walking off.  What if at any point we expected our horse could stand mentally and emotionally calm and therefore physically relaxed, rather than anticipative of what we might ask next.

If the above mentioned behaviors became our basic foundation that we built our partnership with our horses on, imagine the possibilities.  Here’s to proactive riding and raising our awareness!