A Different Horse…….

In my last blog I wrote about the paradigm shift that I’ve had to go through in order to truly meet horses’ needs. It has required me to let go of my agenda, get out of my “trainers brain” and stop going first to the “tools” that I’ve built up over a lifetime.  The shift begins with taking a few moments to look, listen, and feel of the horse before approaching him. Then you have to learn the language well enough so you can translate the information you are receiving and respond appropriately, in a way the horse can understand.  

A common sight, especially at events where horses are in a new environment, is the horse with his head up, eyes wide, and nostrils flaring, as he looks off into the distance. He is asking, “What about that?” Before I proceed with my agenda I have to offer him a meaningful, believable answer.  In Horse Speak© this could be a look, a point, a shout, a sentry breath or all of the above. Then, most importantly, those must be followed by the “all clear” signs by the leader of a few big, deep, audible breaths and postural relaxation. By doing this I have answered his most pressing question, is it safe? He will always tell you how each conversation needs to begin if you are observant and listening.  

A recent experience with my Cheval Canadian Riley was the opposite of the last one I wrote about. (In case you haven’t read it, The Paradigm Shift, is the last Blog I wrote.) Our previous interaction consisted of him basically saying, “No” to everything from catching to mounting.

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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

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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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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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.   

Read moreWhen You Know You’ve Done It Right