The Paradigm Shift-Part 1

“Your Paradigm Shift article is off the charts.  I feel so blessed to no longer feel so alone or crazy thanks to you and Sharon.  You are amazing! Thank you so much.” Debbie

“Thank you, thank you. I have just begun this transition in thinking with my horse and myself. After years of mastering traditional natural horsemanship training and “liberty” work, I realized there was no liberty in what I was doing. Such a lot of rethinking for me to learn but I am experiencing a shift in our relationship that I feel is right. I am in Ontario Canada. Your article was just what I needed to read.”

Letting Go of Your Agenda……

Riley, “If you hitch me to that rail I’m going to pull back.” I knew the look because I’d seen it before, albeit rarely. And last time it happened just like he said it would, because I didn’t listen. It happened when I had an agenda and thought, “You are 13 years old. You are a trained horse. You are not a puller”….… until he was.

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Holistic Horsemanship-Beyond “Natural Horsemanship”

If you are looking for a different way to connect with horses then Holistic Horsemanship may be the answer you are seeking. My holistic approach to horses has evolved over a lifetime of caring for, riding, living with and working with horses. In my quest for knowledge I studied under many different trainers with a focus on “Natural Horsemanship”. After years of study I still felt like something was missing. I could get horses to do what I wanted them to do but felt that the relationship with the horse was lacking. I didn’t want a trained robot. I wanted a willing, happy, interested, invested partner. One that wanted to stay when turned back out to the herd.

I’ve learned that when looking for answers it is always best to return to the herd. Observing them in their natural state offers us a deeper understanding of how they achieve leadership and co-exist in a harmonious, peaceful way. We don’t see them repeatedly disengaging one another’s haunches or driving each other in circles. They communicate with amazing subtlety, releasing the request and returning to neutral the moment the request is granted. What they really value is harmony and peace in herd.

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Naked Night Ride

Oh my goodness.  This just brought big tears to my eyes.  I am so deeply grateful that there is an educator like yourself dialed in to showing up like this with horses and passing it along to all of us.  There is so much to take away from this share.  I am really touched and reminded.  Bless you for leading with such an example.

Tuesdays are dedicated to Snow Frye‘s amazing Body Awareness class followed by work with Sharon & Laura Wilsie on our Horse Speak Educational program. Upon arriving home last night I headed down to the paddock. Everything was blanketed in the newly fallen snow and it was finally, a warm, lovely evening. Riley was standing by himself in the middle of the paddock. We shared a quiet greeting, I inhaled the wondrous smell of his neck and offered him some long, low strokes. Then I walked around a bit, called him to me and wondered what we should do. Riley looked at me and held up his foreleg, indicating that he wanted to do some copycat tricks. I had a few treats in my pocket so we played. We crossed our front legs, worked on bowing, danced back and forth a bit, backed up and just had fun. He was all in! I moved the mounting block into the paddock and got one of his fetch toys. We played fetch a few times and then I stood on the block. He came up, but not quite in the right spot for me to mount. We talked about that for a while and I could tell he wasn’t sure this was a good idea. I threw his toy down about where I wanted his head. He understood that, went to retrieve it, handed it to me and stood still for me to mount. I shared some breaths with him, rocked the baby a bit on his withers and asked permission. He stood still and I climbed aboard, not really sure where he might take us.

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Awareness Through Adversity

I’ve much to be thankful for but an ankle tendon injury is trying to get me down. It’s challenging me to find the “good” in it. One rewarding and hopefully long lasting “gift” came last Wednesday when I took my monthly Western Dressage lesson from Cathy Drumm at Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center, host of the Northeast Western Dressage Championships. I might have cancelled this lesson due to my discomfort, not being able to put my foot in a stirrup and feeling low. However, as a fellow instructor I didn’t want to cancel on Cathy. Deep down I also knew that if I sucked it up I would feel better for it. Riley and I needed this last chance to practice with “eyes on” before the Championships which were two weeks away.

I ride bareback as much as I ride in a saddle and actually prefer it. Therefore, riding without stirrups in my lesson was not a big deal. About half way through the lesson Cathy mentioned how much she loved my position without stirrups. We discussed this a bit and continued on with the lesson. Riley came up beneath me beautifully when I focused a little less on forward and more on upward, as Cathy prescribed. At the lope we are still working to improve strength, balance and rhythm in hopes of moving up a level next season. Therefore, we always throw in a few lope transitions to check our progress. The transitions happened easily with Riley getting both leads correctly on the first try.

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Offering a BLM Mustang Something New

Fiddle at the end of our session………

Last winter in Florida I was asked by friend, student and Yoga teacher Melissa to do a session with her horse. Fiddle was a BLM Mustang that was captured as a three-year-old stallion, gelded and adopted out three times, only to be returned three times. This earned him the title of a “Three-Striker”. Not a good place for a horse to be. Melissa was planning on adopting a different horse but then noticed Fiddle. She watched him canter across a field and felt him canter straight into her heart.

Fast forward three years to last winter. Melissa had made some very good progress with Fiddle using Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement training techniques that she had learned. She hired a few different trainers to help her problem solve and start him under saddle. However, there were still some issues that needed resolving. Fiddle could become very fearful and skittish in the ring. At other times he would just take charge of the ride and give Melissa a very hard time.

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Bringing Leadership Qualities in 4 Sessions!

These photos represent where we finished on our fourth session with Vaka. Our goal was to achieve relaxation under saddle. Check!

A few weeks ago Vaka’s owner Tahnit contacted me about helping her develop more meaningful, trusting relationships with her two Icelandic horses. In our first session we focused on creating a safe, peaceful environment within the 4-horse herd and on helping Tahnit become all that her horses needed her to be. Vaka is the lead mare and Galen, her gelding, is at the bottom of the pecking order. In the paddock we practiced being centered, grounded, aware and clear in all that we did. The horses took note of our calm, effective leadership as that is of high value to them. We created meaningful conversations about space and who moves who, keeping the energy as low as possible.

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A New Experience

Yesterday I had a profound, new experience with Riley. I walked up into the back pasture where the herd was nibbling some late winter grass. I checked in with a couple of the horses and then stopped about 30′ from Riley. I just stood quietly, breathing and relaxed, hoping that he would come up to me. He stood looking at me, but didn’t move. After a few moments the young Morgan named Night came over to say hello. I greeted him and then asked him gently to move off as he is a bit of a trouble maker. Next Mike, the old QH/Percheron came over to check in with me. I greeted him and then moved away, returning my attention back to Riley. I was then about about 20′ away and once again stood quietly with relaxed posture, just breathing deeply. Riley kept his eyes focused on me and then proceeded in my direction.

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When You Know You’ve Done It Right

A couple weeks ago Mother Nature blessed us and I was able to spend a couple hours playing with my Cheval Canadien horse Riley. When we were done I returned him to his paddock and 4 pasture mates. After removing his halter I took a moment to just breath and share space standing next to him. I did a couple of the Horse Speak “go away faces” and moved the front end over a step when he inquired about treats. I remained there, took a few more breaths, sniffed his yummy neck, turned, gently swishing my “tail” and left. The amazing thing to me was that Riley stood rooted to this spot for nearly 15 minutes.

Our time together had included some liberty play, a couple new and slightly challenging training exercises, riding up and down the hills of our driveway, practicing some lateral work, a few circles, walk, trot, canter transitions and a couple of new tricks taught with clicker training and treats. We finished up with a bit of grooming and some stretches. We had done quite alot and yes, there was even some sweat involved:) What was the most rewarding for me about the whole experience was that once released Riley didn’t run off to join the herd. He simply stood there and kept his attention on me, watching until I had almost reached my house up on a hill. The fact that he stood in that spot for so long, along with his body language, told me that I had done it right. I had shared quality time with him. We had conversations about what he wanted and what I wanted. I balanced out work with fun, learning and some positive reinforcement training. I always try to strike a balance because it is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Done right they should want to linger a bit, not immediately run off the moment they are released.   

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Developing “Feel” & “Connection”

“Your arms and hands, from the shoulder joints to the tips of the fingers and through the reins, belong to the horse.” Sally Swift

Riding is like tapping your head and rubbing your belly, on steroids! Different body parts must be doing different things all at the same time, and all without disturbing the horse. This is no easy task. Luckily for us, and for the horse, Centered Riding founder Sally Swift developed exercises and techniques that offer us the opportunity to “feel” of each other. I personally take a feel of each rider’s hands when I get to the “developing a soft, clear connection” part of my clinics. This exchange of energy and movement gives me great insight into how they might feel to their horse. After helping things go a little smoother I have participants be each other’s horses. They experience how small changes can drastically impact the message and feel that goes through to the horse. These exercises are challenging and sometimes cause distress because nobody wants to be the rider who pulls or troubles their horses mouth. Riding is not about the mouth, it’s about the feet and body of the horse. First as riders we need to focus on our energy, our balance, our clear intent and carrying ourselves, then we can complete the pretty picture with subtle support through our hands to the horses head. These pictures illustrate some of the exercises we do in a clinic. They always serve as one of the most enlightening and effective teaching tools.  Whenever we can experience something from the horse’s perspective things always improve. Check out the event page for a list of clinics near you and experience it for yourself. I guarantee that you will find them fun, educational and inspirational! Your horse will  you for it! 

Teaching & Playing-The Sensei & The Student

There is alot of “action” here at the New England Center for Horsemanship, especially in winter. While they all like to romp the majority of the action involves our senior (28ish) gray Percheron/QH “Mike”,  and 6 year old Morgan Named “Night”! While it all looks like fun Mike is constantly teaching Night the ropes of reading horse language. Night didn’t get the socialization he needed as a youngster and so Mike is tasked with the majority of the teaching. It just never gets old!