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Visualize your success today!
This is the easy part. You don't have to use your body for this part, only your brain. For some people, that's ironically painful. Some folks don't like using their brains but I am here to promise you that it's totally easy and totally fun to make success happen before it happens, which virtually guarantees you will experience that same success you dream of.
Here's how it works: Close your eyes, see what you want, link it in your body, then open your eyes. Just like that.
The next 11 steps go into a bit more detail. Read to step four, before you start.
1. Write down what you want and refine it to a single sentence that tells a short story that's easily repeatable. For instance: "I want to ride my horse with confidence."
2. Close your eyes and imagine that perfect experience without the extra thoughts of negative things that could happen. Make the imaginary vision extremely short. "I get on, I experience perfection. I get off and put my horse away." There could be an hour of unaccounted time in a real situation but for visualizations, it's important to keep it super short. If you can't see the vision without extra negative thoughts taking over, you should keep your eyes closed. Wait for the correct picture.
3. Add an anchor. As soon as you see the picture, link your good thought directly into your hands. Literally touch your finger and thumb together. Use an anchor only when you see the perfect picture, not when other thoughts are running around.
4. Pop your eyes open. Opening your eyes at the right time is critical. If you leave them closed, you open the door for other thoughts to come in that aren't productive. If you open them at the right time, it's like sealing an envelope on the subject, so to speak. It's called ending on a good note that your brain can remember for later.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 until it comes quickly and clearly.
6. Write down a few things that could go wrong, again refining them to a single sentence. For instance. "My horse might buck."
7. Imagine one thing at a time that could go wrong.
8. Now quickly Imagine working through that thing. Example: "I pull on one rein to get my horse to stop, then he calms down.
9. Now, as quickly as possible. Repeat steps 2-4 until you see that healthy fun picture again, and pop your eyes open. There are many, many ways to succeed here. Many techniques, if you know of others, use them. No judgement.
10. Repeat steps 6-9 with that same scenario until you see a clear vision of working through a problem to find the perfect horse, getting off, putting your horse away, anchoring your thumb and finger, then opening your eyes. Repeat until the whole thing is easy and fast. It all happens in a matter of five seconds or less. In reality, it might take forty minutes to solve a problem, in your mind, it should only take a few seconds.
11. Repeat steps 6-10 with different scenarios. Always ending with the picture of a perfect horse in your memory and anchoring that exact thought in your body and mind.
And now you're done. If you're clever, you'll do this exercise for ten days in a row. In total, your mind spends five minutes on the visualizations each day and in return, you will experience more and more of the exact thing you always wanted.
The real tricky part of the whole process is the visualizing of working through a problem to solve it. You might not see strategies in your mind. You may not know of anything to do in reality so there is no reference for the visualization. This is normal but also important. It means that you have to learn what to do. You have to study the technique. Watch others work through the same problem, then steal their success for your own. Study with the best! Join Mastery University.
If the technique, such as visualizing like above, works in accordance to your own conscious mind and you don't feel it's abusive in any way, use it and experience success even before you experience it in reality.
For more on visualizations, join the Mastery University.
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The firm, hard line - Don Jessop
Can you reach the next level without being strict about something, at some point in your career?
Sadly, no you cannot. At some point, you will have to find a leader in you. And I'm not just talking about being kind and rewarding. Most natural oriented folks are good at being kind and rewarding. But I'm talking about being firm, strict, even harsh, in just the right moments, in an effort to make extraordinarily clear boundaries and set a precedent for future progress. It's easier said than done because anyone could say their a good horse owner with a horse that never challenges them. But what takes place in the game of progress is often, a whole other kettle of fish.
It's a hard message to relay for me, and probably for any trainer who has a heart for the horse. The last thing I want to see is abusive training tactics. I'm not abusive and never will be. But there are times with a rambunctious horse, for instance, that being kind is out of the question for a few brief moments. In all my years, and all my travels around the world working with exotic animal trainers, and the best horse trainers the industry has to offer, we all agree on a few leadership ideals.
Number one. You have to bond with the animal. If you don't bond, you're just a jerk with a pet. Number two: you have to set clear boundaries that will absolutely, never be crossed. If you don't set boundaries and constantly reinforce those boundaries, you will never make it to the higher levels of horsemanship.
Imagine these two scenes.
1. Sunny day, calm, interested horse, no distractions, and you.
2. Stormy day, tense, distracted horse, and you.
Only one type of trainer can manage both days. It's the type of trainer that knows how important that firm, hard line is. Do you know that line? Can you set that level of concentration in your horse? Are you willing to be that firm if you have to?
When I write about these things, I'm afraid people will think I'm firm and strict all the time. It's the furthest thing from the truth. Those who know me, know I'm kind, ultra rewarding, patient, and sweet, nearly every single moment of the day. But those who know be best know that in spite of my kind nature, there is no mistaking my leadership in stressful moments. Like when my 180lb body meets a 1500lb body on a windy day. I set a clear hard line that won't be crossed. That's what leaders should do. Then when the horse is connected and calm, back off and settle down.
Many people can work with their horse and do amazing things in the arena, but find themselves holding their breath and choosing not to participate anymore, if you ask them to venture outside the arena. These are the folks that refuse to set a firm hard line. It's okay... It's okay... It's okay to be that way! Just remember, until you learn how to set that line, you will be stuck where you are, waiting for your horse to feel good and the sun to shine again. It's okay, but there is more to learn, if you want to.
It's okay... It's okay... It's okay to be that way! Just remember, until you learn how to set that line, you will be stuck where you are, waiting for your horse to feel good and the sun to shine again. It's okay, but there is more to learn, if you want to.
The trickiest part of this lesson is how different people think and feel. When I teach people to be firm, I meet several types of people. One person believes they can't be firm because it's abusive and they are afraid to rock the boat. Afraid to make physical contact with the horse in a firm way. Another person has no trouble being firm but can't back off when the stressful moment fades. That second person is too quick to be firm and too slow to settle. The first person is too slow to be firm and can only hope the horse settles first.
You can see why it's tricky. I have to help folks who can't raise their stick to block or strike at a horse, learn that horses do exactly that. Horses block and strike. Have you ever seen two horses fight. What happens after they fight? Usually... they eat. That's right. They calmly go about life together as if nothing happened. The lead horse wins the battle then goes back to eating. People struggle with this concept. If they manage to get firm enough to be the leader, they often can't let it go, and will stand there in a cold sweat with fumes coming out their ears. You have to let it go. Resume life like you just had a hiccup and that's it. But in the heat of the moment, you can't back down. You have to set a boundary, unless you want your horse to only be a "sunny day" horse.
With the other extreme personality, I have to teach them to slow down their firmness. But more importantly, I have to teach them to dial up their reward systems. People who are firm naturally, often fail to give fair rewards. They often fail to make the experience for the horse a pleasant experience that the horse can look forward to tomorrow. Have you ever heard someone say you shouldn't use treats with a horse? The person that said that is probably a bit of a hardhead. I know because I've said that in the past. Treats, with clear boundaries, are fine to use. In fact, the firmer you become, the more treats you should use to balance the bonding/training ratio. You should know there are other types of treats besides food treats. There are time off treats, rubs and scratching treats, pressure release treats, etc. You don't have to give more food, but you can certainly give more of what the horse deserves.
In the end... what we really want is balance. We want a horse that trusts us but respects us at the same time, especially when the heat is on. The way you trust and respect your mentors in life. To earn that trust we have to bond. To earn that respect, we have to set a firm hard line from time to time.
Wow... I feel like there is more on this topic. It's a deep, unsettling thing to have to set a firm hard line. Even just talking about it brings up emotion. Believe me when I say, there are many, many ways to do anything so I'm not talking about techniques in all of this. I'm talking about principles in leadership and progress. I hope that by reading, you can dive into your own leadership models and work toward the most balanced approach to reaching higher levels of training.
Thanks for reading,
Measure the quality of your relationship with your horse with these nine standard natural horsemanship ideals. I've listed them in an order that most people would agree to be congruent with progressive relationship ideals. These are things to aspire to but not have all at once. In other words... if you don't have all the pieces, you're doing just fine. If you want all the pieces one day, work toward them methodically and enjoy a deeper relationship. This article was born via my question to new students. I always ask what my new students want to achieve. They almost always respond with a desire to have a better relationship with their horse.
How does one quantify that answer? With these nine idealistic elements of progress.
These nine elements can be things to aspire to and measure against to see where you're relationship is and where it could be if you wanted to go deeper.
A horse that turns away when being caught or when being let go at the end of the day, suggests a poor relationship. If this is you, check out the Mastery University to help fix the issue.
A horse that pushes, uninvited, into your space or pulls on the rope when leading, demonstrates a partnership with little to no respect. In my experience, the people I love and admire as the best leaders in my life, I also respect the most. Would you say the same for you? Would you dare say the same goes for your relationship with your horse? Check out how to gain more respect and therefore enhance your relationship with your horse in the Mastery University.
A horse that won't display positive emotion related to being rubbed or scratched in their favorite spots, either means you haven't found what they like yet, or they won't show you because they don't like or trust you yet. Dig in and find out what your horse likes besides food. It's important to build a deeper than average bond if you want a better relationship.
A horse that comes to you instead of waiting to be caught, in spite of the fact that you're clearly the leader and not just a treat dispenser, shows a higher level of relationship. Some people think they are at this stage of the relationship because their horse comes to them, but the truth is only revealed after some training. After learning they must follow and listen to you with respect and regard, do they still come to meet you in the field? If you've truly reached this level you're on your way to mastery.
At this stage, your horse not only comes to meet you, they come to stay with you. In a small space you can call the shots and your horse doesn't bolt around the arena looking for an escape. Not many people reach this stage. If you have, you're truly heading in the right direction, if natural horsemanship is part of your dream.
Moving to larger, more open spaces and keeping your horse with you, with no rope and no consequences, clearly shows you've reached a new pinnacle in your horsemanship. This demonstrates a deep trust and connection that most people only dream of. I'm not just talking about walking around the field together. I'm talking about walk, trot, canter, jump, turn, sideways, you name it. Your horse doesn't leave you when you communicate in wide open spaces with no ropes. All this is possible in the Mastery University. In fact I have step by step programs to get to this point.
This step can be learned by using treats. In other words you can teach a horse to gallop to you and bypass so many of the other integral parts of training but don't be fooled. It's the person who has reached step seven without skipping ahead that has the deepest relationship.
Many people think the relationship is based strictly on how well the horse likes you. I don't! I base the relationship on how well the horse likes me after I ask him to respond to me. A responsive horse demonstrates clear, calm thinking. I could certainly place this step earlier in the cue but, most certainly should not leave it out. The perfect horse is both responsive and trusting.
The deepest sense of trust comes when you see a horse decide not to listen to the heightened emotions of the surrounding pressures and instead look to you and ask the question, what do you wish to happen next. A horse at this level is not just willing, they are truly trusting. Imagine riding your horse at the walk, calmly marching ahead, while a herd of wild mustangs charge up behind, and around you, and what does your hose do? Nothing but check in and see how you're doing. That is one of the biggest goals we should have as natural horse trainers heading toward mastery.
I'd love to see you on the journey. Join me at MasteryHorsemanship.com check out my books, check out the university. Christmas is coming, don't miss out on some awesome educational gifts for you or someone you love!
Sincerely, Don Jessop
From our hearts to yours we say thankyou. Thanks for always listening or reading when we post articles. Thanks for participating in our programs. Thanks for helping elevate the horse industry with your own positive, progressive, and inspirational activities. Even if know one else sees what you do with your horse in your back yard, we know what you do, we know how you care. And together we're shaping a new world.
It would be folly to forget the pain we've all lived through and the losses we've all suffered. We will never forget what we've endured in our society today, and we will always remember how, because we work together, we are still here. Still making every day a blessing. You are a blessing. Thank you for everything.
From our hearts to yours. Thanks for joining us on this fantastic ride.
Don, Rachel, and Shona Jessop
Don't worry, no profanity here. Just want to grab your attention and hold it for 37 seconds. Start counting.
Fear is okay. ('Okay" is also a four letter word)
Its okay to feel fear. ('Feel' is a four letter word too)
Fear is normal and everyone experiences it. What's not normal is... when you feel fear and choose to sit on the couch watching a movie or any other version of the world going by, instead of doing what you really want, because when you see the fear, you tend to see the whole bad picture all at once.
Life experiences should be tasted and chewed on, not swallowed whole. As yummy as apple pie sounds, can you imagine trying to eat the whole pie without tasting it and chewing smaller bites? Nobody does that. But with fear, when it comes to our big dreams and favorite pastimes, that's exactly what we try to do. We try to do the whole experience. Stop doing that! With that image in mind, you should be able to do a small piece of what you want right away, in spite of the fear.
If you're a horseback rider with fear, don't ride, go lean over his or her back from the mounting block for a week or so and enjoy that small bite. Savor it, taste it, remember it, for heaven's sake, don't ride off into the sunset yet. If you're a public speaker with fear, don't schedule a big event, do a live video on Facebook and don't tell anyone, rebuild your confidence in small organic bites. If you're a writer who doesn't write because the thought of a new book is overwhelming, don't write a new book. Write a blog post. One day, your piled up blog posts will be a book in the making.
Bottom line. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Do a small part of it. Taste it. Chew it. Live it. Love it.
('Live' and 'love' are also four letter words)
Join me on the journey to following your dreams. Sometime it takes a boost. Click here.
Comment below and share with your friends.
"Take just one bite at a time, okay...." - Don Jessop, Mastery Horsemanship
I've written about dealing with negativity before (see link). So why am I writing about it again?
Well... you can probably guess how negative comments affect the human psyche. Imagine posting a video or picture on YouTube or Facebook and generating thousands of views. Naturally, comments will arrive. Ninety percent will love what you do, what you have to say, and ten percent will beat you up. No matter how clever you are or how perfectly structured every thought is, you will still get a percentage that beat you up. Even as we speak I hear the critics' voices pulling apart my grammar, spelling, or thought sequences. Pulling apart the title picture I chose and so on. To say we shouldn't have critics isn't necessary. To say you should have a thicker skin isn't necessary either. What's important is to be real, be the best version of yourself in public and let the critics say what they will, then seek to understand ourselves better.
Here's what modern social science tells us. We all have a negative bias. It's a simple survival instinct. Negative bias means: If nine out of ten people love me and one hates me, then I'll gravitate to trying to understand the hateful person, almost completely forgetting the other nine people. On one hand, seeing the negative helps me grow and understand my communication better. But on the other hand it can spiral me into depression. Anybody who's spent time on Facebook, twitter, YouTube, or any other social platform will attest to the same feelings. If you dive into the comment section of your posts, you're opening up to your own negative bias and the harm that can be generated as a result.
So here is what I've learned about myself related to all this. Maybe it will help you too.
If I read the comments, inevitably I'll find a critic. Its helps to identify the person behind the poison. Sometimes the critic is actually a competitor. For instance, one critic on YouTube blasted my liberty video and added links to better ways to do liberty. I followed the link out of curiosity and guess what I found... His own training video! Right then I knew I had found someone whos own insecurities led him to beat up on other trainers in hopes of generating his own business. His video was actually pretty good, but his practice in finding clients was sad to see. However for me, understanding his situation softened my experience about his criticism. He didn't hate me, he was just competing for business. "Business is business," as they say, "try not to take it all too personal."
Other times, the critic has nothing to do with business. It could be someone just finding that one thing to direct their own turmoil at. Someone venting, and it just so happens to be directed at you, but in reality has nothing to do with you. I imagine that I've inadvertently triggered something in that person, something that already existed, some pain, some hurt. Instead of feeling horrible for how they reacted to my post, I try to feel sympathy for how much pain they are in, not related to me at all. From this perspective, I identify the critic as a wounded person, and once again. I take it less personal. At least, most of the time. :)
If I read the comments for too long, my own negative bias clicks in and I find myself only seeing the negative comments. I know myself well enough by now to limit my time spent on comment reading. I genuinely want to read comments to find where people might need help and strive to support them, but if I read for more than about ten minutes, I start diving into the negative. I start taking it personally. Because I know this about myself, I can stop myself before it's too late. You might have shorter, or longer limits than I do. If you have no limit, or if you go straight to the negative and straight to taking things personal. I recommend not reading comments at all until you get a handle on your own insecurities with the help of a coach or mentor. You should still post and add value. You have value to add! But be careful not to read the comments. It can do more harm than good. Imagine if you had something special to share and you didn't share it because you were afraid of the comments, of what happened last time, that would be a tragedy in my eyes.
3. Understand deeper thinking
Sometimes I forget that negativity is real. It's genuine. It's visceral. Like most people I know, we don't tend to like pain. But when I remember that pain is also real and genuine, even necessary for growth, I tend to stop reacting with too much intensity when I see negativity show up. I have to have a clear head to think that way, but in fact, I don't want to be numb to life. I don't want to live in a fantasy world without taste, touch, prickly things, and hot or cold. Those things make me feel alive. What I'm saying is, I don't think having only positive comments show up on every post is realistic to hope for. I think to really live, you have to experience that hot and the cold. This double sided experience adds perspective and vibrancy to our world. I'm not saying I like it. I'm saying it's real. It's normal. It means I'm alive and feeling, which always beats the alternative.
4. End on a good note
If I read comments, no matter how many negative comments I inadvertently see, I'll always make sure I read at least three positive comments before I click away from the post. I'll literally hunt down three or more exceptional comments and process those, rolling the words back and forth between my ears and eyes in that magical grey goo inside my head until I feel confident I'm not alone in the world and I clearly have value to add. Then I click away being sure not to spot any negative comments on the way out. By doing this, ending on a good note, I'm ensuring my own negative bias isn't the last thing I think about. Maybe it could help you too.
There is more, so much more. But in this case, less is more. Keep it simple and stay positive.
I want your comments below. Please add them. If you need help, ask a question. If you want to vent, go ahead, you have my permission, I'll live. I won't take it too personal. Like my mother always said, fight anger with laughter, not anger.
Thanks for reading, comment and share below.
Because I've written about this before I'll be brief and to the point.
noun - The attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
It's common in the horse industry to hear the term anthropomorphism from trainers. Horse trainers say, don't apply human emotions to your animal. They say your animal doesn't experience human emotions. But they're wrong!
Animals experience grief, fear, pain, frustration, anger, hypertension, anxiety, depression, sadness, happiness, excitement, contentment, awkwardness, playfulness and many more emotions. Just like humans. Anyone too blind to see this in their animal shouldn't have animals. Animals shouldn't be treated like slaves or inanimate objects. They should be treated with reverence and respect, the same way we would treat a child, a student, an athlete on your team, or an employee in your organization.
Here's the "kink" in thinking about horses however. Here's where people get stuck...
Most natural, positive or progressive minded horse people know that animals feel emotions, even human-like emotions. Where people get in trouble is when they apply their own current emotions on the animal.
In other words... "If I feel sad, then my horse feels sad too." This is not true. It could be true by sheer coincidence, but certainly not true by any other means. When we as trainers say not to anthropomorphize, what we're really saying is, don't put your current feelings onto your horse.
Sometimes, I'll hear a student say, with a great big smile on their face, "My horse is having such a great time." Then I'll look at the horse and think. "OMG, that horse is NOT having a great time." If you feel happy, don't assume your horse feels happy in that moment too. If you feel scared, don't assume your horse is scared too. If you feel angry, don't assume your horse is angry at you or trying to make you angry, which could easily lead to a fight. Try to read the horse. I have courses, inside our Mastery University, dedicated to reading the horses current emotions rather than applying our own.
If you can learn to read the horse, you can be a true leader.
Take a look at this picture and tell me what this is horse feeling.
Ten people will have ten different answers and the answers will be most often be dictated by the current emotion of the person looking at the picture.
The reality is that it's nearly impossible to get a good reading from one picture. Motion helps read e-motions better. But, better than trying to read the feelings, try and read the attention and energy output. At least if you can determine that, you can begin to make simple corrections to guide the attention and change the energy level. These, and many other tools, are available to you in the Mastery University. Check it out today!
Being happy is either a lucky experience or a conscious one. Which is it for you?
Which could it be for you?
If you think you can consciously be happier, you are right. But it can seem like an overwhelmingly large amount of work. For instance, if you need money to be happy, you'll have to work hard to get it. If you need people to be nice before you feel happy, you'll have to work hard not to step on toes so as to never arouse conflict. If you need health to be happy, you'll have to be pain free and fit. All of which takes a lot of work. I'm not saying you shouldn't need those things, or go for those things, but maybe there is an easier way to be happy. Maybe happy doesn't come from getting things or having things.
Organically, happiness seems to show up when we feel at peace, or when we feel excited. In fact there are five types of organic happiness. If you'd like to read more about it, comment below and I'll send you a link. But... just to be clear, those are all lucky experiences, leaving you subject to circumstance once again rather than taking time to make a conscious experience of happiness.
In order to be happy using your conscious brain, I could list a dozen difficult tasks. Tasks like twenty minutes of meditation. Daily affirmations and so on. All good stuff. But what if it was even more simple than that? Because sometimes it's not about what you do, but what you don't do, that matters.
Here are five things, that if you simply just stop doing them, you will feel happier.
If you stopped complaining, you would be happier. It's the easiest thing in the world. All it requires is being lazy about complaining. Just don't do it. When you feel like complaining, put it off for another time. Don't speak until you can say something nice.
If you stopped watching the news you would free yourself from the electric fence effect. What that means is today's media is designed, not to inform you, but to shock you. There are other media sources that give you news, data, updates, without all the drama. Seek those instead. Stay clear of the drama slinging, sensational media sources just like a horse should stay away from the electric fence. Once you do, you'll notice how your cortisol levels drop and a clear head prevails.
It's not rocket science. If you hang around wealthy people all the time, you get rich. If you hang around negative people all the time, you get cynical. If you hang around toxic people all the time, you get poisoned. If you love these people and think you can't stop hanging around them, you're wrong, you can! Just stop hanging around them. You could tell them their toxic, but that might not go over so well. You could instead, just be less toxic yourself and when they choose your company, you could lead by example. As a result, you feel happy by being less poisoned.
This one is rocket science. The article titles suggests that happy people don't do these five things. I know lots of happy people that do eat sugar. But if you're looking for a useful tool in finding conscious happiness, try this one out. If you eat sugar, you get a sugar high that feels good. Then, just as everyone knows, you lose that high as your body begins to digest the acidic fuel. Choosing to eat one less cookie, one less ice-cream bar, one less five dollar coffee, can all leave you feeling happier. In part, because you showed resolve. And in part because your body doesn't have to work so hard to untie the knots you swallowed. Don't tell yourself you're never going to have it. Just have it later. Use the power of procrastination. Learn to put it off for another time. This becomes an easy habit and before you know it, you're just not tempted anymore.
Unhappy people are always trying to compare their position in life to someone further up the ladder. Stop doing that. Instead, forget your position on the ladder. It's not about the ladder. It never was. It's about other peoples needs. Don't get me wrong. I love climbing the ladder and I get great joy seeing my own accomplishments. But when I highlight my position for too long, I begin to see how far I am from the people that inspire me, and I begin to resent my position and beat myself up. If happiness is a goal, it's faster and easier to forget your position related to where others are and instead, focus on what others need. This instantly puts you in a position as a generous thinker. Which person is happier? A generous person, or a resentful person? I know you I don't have to answer that one.
There are, of course, thousands of resources waiting for you to discover related to happiness. But consider the above tools as easy suggestions. All you have to do... is do nothing. Doesn't that sound easier than everything else you've ever heard? Don't do the things that unhappy people do, and find happiness. I'd love to hear your comments, and you're suggestions. Not for one minute do I pretend to know everything on the subject. Perhaps you've discovered tools to your happiness too. Please share below.
PS. I usually write about leadership and training. I hope you can draw the parallels between happiness and leadership. God bless!
Believe it or not, horses are still often treated poorly in our human world. In part, it's because people assume that horses love being ridden or worked with and don't take the time to learn and read their horses body language. This type of thinking leads to poor experiences for the horse and often dangerous experiences for the human because, if you expect things to be fun and easy, and then they aren't fun and easy, this leads to frustration, which leads to cruel or inappropriate communication. Some horses do genuinely love human activity, but most don't naturally. However, they can all learn to love it, if... you don't make the mistake of assuming they enjoy it and instead, constantly work to ensure they enjoy it.
Training seems hard. That's why so many people send their horses to trainers. The truth is, training isn't hard. It's very simple and anyone can do it safely. All you need is the right support. We have that support. It's called the Horse Mastery University. Sending your horse to a trainer can be a hit or miss experience and you don't want to mistake any old trainer for a natural trainer that has the horse's experience in mind. Too many trainers think they know it all and don't give a hoot about how the horse interacts with people, further exasperating the feeling of imprisonment for the horse.
I love clean, functional places to work with a horse and enjoy a ride. However, this drive for perfection can go too far. Lots of horses end up in perfect facilities, and never get to experience real life. On one hand, it's sad that the horse doesn't experience more life, locked in a stall or safe riding area. On the other hand, it's horrific to see how these horses don't handle normal life situations because they never experience them. If a plastic bag flew across the field they'd jump the fence in a panic. You can't trail ride a horse that doesn't understand rocks, fallen trees, streams, bicycles, sudden movements, cars, pedestrians, umbrellas, fallen down fences, etc. Be sure to leave a couple of normal things in your horses life on a regular basis, so they know how to act when they encounter them.
Extreme bullying is simply not acceptable in any environment. When I see a human bully a horse into a horse trailer or sit on a green horse and bully them into submission, I cringe. But the other thing that makes me cringe is when I see a human coddle and baby their horse through every negative emotion. I see people back away from their dream of riding with friends on a trail because their horse gets nervous and then that person becomes an avoid-acholic, constantly protecting the horses emotions, hoping to gain the horse's trust. It doesn't work that way. Trust comes from leadership. Leadership isn't bullying. It's guiding with repetition and rewards. It's consciously exposing the negative emotions and working through them. Babying doesn't work. Bullying doesn't work. Find the middle ground and find your true partnership with your horse.
Feel and timing are a learned thing. You can't be good at real estate or construction or law practice without having some experience in the field. Same with a horse. You have to dive in, make some mistakes and learn from them. One ironic mistake people continue to make however, is to NOT learn from their mistakes. For instance, when a horse pulls the rope out of your hand to eat grass, and you let them continue eating the grass. This type of inadvertent rewarding of bad behaviors happens all the time. Check your daily activities. Check to see if you are doing this kind of thing. See if your horse is learning to get away with something negative and you're allowing, even accidentally rewarding it.
Ouch! This one cuts deep. Lots of people don't balance their life very well. We've all seen it. We all have obsessions, addictions, neurotic behaviors, stress relieving strategies and so on, but how well we balance reality with fantasy and distractions is important. Diving into one thing just to avoid another, possibly more critical thing, is not healthy. I've seen people throw entire fortunes away in horse activities. One close friend literally lost $750,000 in pursuit of the perfect horse and bankrupted himself and lost his family in the process. Another close friend divorced her husband because he wouldn't support her unbalanced time and expenses with her horses. She told me personally how she regrets not looking for balance at the time. It's great to be passionate. It's irresponsible to be addicted beyond a healthy balance.
If you lined up ten qualified horse loving individuals along a wall, seven of them would defend their position as a "know-it-all" horseman or horsewoman. When in reality, not one of those seven has taken a horse course in years. Three of the ten would engage in quality conversation, not about what they know, but about what you might have to offer them. It's not easy being in that smaller percentage of people, willing to expose your weaknesses and learn from another person, even less qualified people. I am often learning from my students. I learn things about horses, things about myself, better ways to teach and so on. That's why I encourage comments, conversation and healthy debate. Don't be among the majority of horse people who stays close minded or acts threatened by other peoples experience and knowledge. Keep open, keep learning, keep growing. Find out how!
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Drill isn't such a bad concept but it gets a bad rap in the natural horse training industry. "Don't drill you horse!" Have you ever heard that?
But you shouldn't be afraid of this word when it's defined properly. Horses need consistency to learn concepts. Do something once, and they won't remember it. Do something 100 times, and they will be sure to remember it. Do it with finesse, rewards, kindness, firmness, and patience, and you will see how he doesn't just remember it, he enjoys it.
Horses don't like too much variety when it comes to learning. They might enjoy variety when it comes to casual riding or play, but not complex riding. For that, they need consistency. Try teaching a horse to not be afraid of dragging a tarp... Sure you can get results in one day, but how well do those results stick? What happens when you're out riding one day and your horse encounters a plastic bag blowing across the field? Will your horse, who's only experienced with one day of tarp training be able to handle it? Not likely. But the horse that has ten days, or thirty days of training will not blink at it. How do you get to that kind of confidence and understanding except by drilling it?
Sure, some people think drilling is bad, but only because they define drilling as negative, slave driven work. It's not. You didn't learn your ABC's by slave labor. You learned them with songs and play, through fun drills. Your horse can have the same fun learning experience. You just have to learn to value drills and repetitive exercises. When you do start valuing those drill type exercises you will become more masterful with horses.
I'm not talking about you... I'm talking about your horse. I tell my horse all the time to stop getting offended. Horses get offended easily when we ask with the wrong pressure, the wrong timing, the wrong feel. It's easy to upset a horse. But in the end... if your horse gets upset, does that mean you should change what you're doing, or does it mean your horse should stop getting offended so easily.
There is no blanket answer. Each situation is different. I always encourage my students to speak with more finesse, to be more elegant in their requests. But occasionally you run into a horse that has learned to be upset at every request. If that's the case... at what point do you say, "Stop getting offended?"
The important thing with almost all aspects of horsemanship is to pay attention to patterns. Your patterns, your horses patterns, and so on. If the patterns become negative, for instance: always walking on eggshells not to upset your horse, you've got to break free of the pattern. You've got to be willing to be direct, even offensive (at least in your horses eyes), and train your horse to stop reacting to it.
Example: At liberty (training without ropes), you have to use your stick to direct the horses motions. Some horses do fine until you ask them to speed up into a trot or canter. At which point, the stick you're using is too much pressure for them, and they leave the scene, galloping away from you, creating a troubling outcome. If this becomes a pattern, does that mean you should stop using your stick, or hope for a calm day where he's not agitated so easily? NO! It means your horse needs to stop reacting when you use your stick. You can train him to stop reacting. You can train him to turn and run to you when you use your stick with intensity, instead of turning and running away.
There are thousands of different topics to cover here. This week I'd like to leave you with a simple message without going into all the possible scenarios. Here's the message: Don't get offended! Tell your horse not to get offended. And maybe, just maybe, if you're the type of person that gets offended, you can step up and show your horse how to not be offended too.
As a fun challenge in leadership, expose yourself to something that would normally offend you, ie: race, gender, politics, age, shape, anything... and don't get offended by it. Try it. Then bring that leadership to your horse and say, "If I can control my reactions, you can too."
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Are you hoping that if you give him what he wants, he'll eventually give you what you want?
It doesn't work that way. That's not leadership. Please read on.
Instead of giving what he wants first, give it second. You should almost always get what you want first, then be the person that gives him what he wants. I'm speaking strictly of emotions here. I always give my horse his basic needs, regardless of effort. Food, water, shelter, and health care are essential, but when it comes to his education, I don't give into his emotions before I get what I want. IN FACT... if you do it the other way around, where you give into his emotions, you're going to get nowhere fast and possibly make everything worse. A good friend gives a partner what he needs, not as a trade, but as a gift. A leader has to think differently than a friend. A leader always gets on track for results first, not second.
That's not to say a leader can't be a friend too. I give to my friends without any expectations of getting anything back. But when its time to lead... I don't hope for a trade. I don't hope he'll give me what I want simply because I've been such a good friend. That hopeful thinking is false hope. I focus on getting results, and I control the trade. As a leader, I give rewards when I get results, not the other way around. This sounds horrible to some people. Some think it's so cruel to be so demanding. But those same people struggle to get results in many aspects of their own life because they struggle with the basic concept of leadership.
When it comes to leadership, you must lead, you must control the trade, not hope for the trade.
Example: I want my horse to go into the horse trailer but he doesn't want to. He wants to eat grass. So I say to myself, "Okay, let's eat grass for a while, then we'll get into that trailer." Is this a good model of leadership? NO! It works best the other way around. Trailer first, then grass.
I see the same thing happen with people. Someone I know says, "I want to eat less sugar." I say, "Great, throw that candy bar in the garbage then." He says, "I don't feel like it now, I'll do it when I feel like it." Is this a good model of leadership on his part? NO! Leadership requires action, then rewards. Not rewards, then action. It's simple. But it takes being clear and sometimes tough.
"Leadership requires action, then rewards. Not rewards, then action."
Not to worry though. You could be way tougher than you think and balance it out with bigger rewards in the end. Stay reward oriented, just reserve your rewards for after action, not before. You will notice your horse will love you even more for it. Because horses love clarity and leadership.
Be brave, be bold, be clear. If you struggle with one of those three things, (bravery, boldness, or clarity), call me asap. Let's get you on the right track to leadership on a personal level.
If you want a call from a professional click here. First call is free. We will call you and support you.
When the main character in your life (which is probably you) stands in a room with closed doors leading to who knows where, and all you have to do is turn the knob to any door and risk finding out what is behind that door, what advice would you give that character?
Are you in a space in your life where you don't know what's gonna happen next for you? It's okay, neither does anyone else. It's rare to have complete certainty for the future. Are you playing a waiting game? No worries. So is everybody else. It's common to impatiently wait for new information to add clarity to your situation. We are all always seeking answers to our future. We want windows in those closed doors and when there aren't any, we get nervous. We want direction, sometimes to the point of just giving up our will to others, asking them to tell us what to do. One long, sad, hard day I stood at my father's grave asking him to give me direction. It's normal, even natural I suppose, to need certainty in our lives and eventually, thankfully, often with patience and often with persistence, we do get to see the next steps. But sometimes...
Sometimes, it's important to embrace the uncertainty. Call it "letting go." Call it "opening up." Call it "trust!" I like to call it "embracing the mystery," and it has given me freedom lately. I hope it can give you some too.
Embracing the mystery means this for me:
Trust it will be ok. Be optimistic instead of doomsdayish. Believe in good over evil, address the best qualities of humanity and celebrate them because tomorrow is unknown. I mean, why drag around all the baggage of yesterday and the people squealing like idiots today, only to be lost again tomorrow. Right a wrong with a right. Give credit where it's due. Believe, no matter how bleak it looks, that you can't know the outcome yet. Not fully. But you can know that you'll get through it, somehow, someway, because you're stronger than you think.
But most all. Embrace the mystery means letting go the things that you can't control and marching into the unknown with curiosity rather than resentment or fear.
Will you embrace the mystery of life with me?
Dare to live fully in uncertain times. In spite of uncertain times. Just say yes to this opportunity to embrace the unknown and I believe your life perspective will be even more free than normal.
Ps. Some people might ask what all this has to do with horses. Answer... maybe everything, because leading a horse isn't much different than leading a human ;)
Comments are welcome 🙏
It happens. Short of breath, feeling like you're gonna die, feeling like blacking out and so on. Anxiety is a real, visceral feeling. It's not just in your head. It's chemistry flooding through your whole body. I know... I've been there. Once while sitting on my living room couch with a blood pressure monitor around one arm and a diagnosis from the doctor about my heart problems in the other arm. The other time I experienced anxiety like this, I was sitting on my horse, her nose inches from the water's surface and her legs deep in mud beneath the surface. Both times, I lived. And it turns out, most every time a person experiences anxiety, they live. Generally, and you can ask your doctor about this, anxiety doesn't kill you, even when you are afraid it will.
Anxiety is however a big problem, worth finding solutions for because it can paralyze you and keep you from doing what you want. If you know you'll have it during certain situations, you'll avoid those situations. Like my dear friend who doesn't drive her car, because she knows she'll have anxiety in the car. Or my other dear friend who won't ride her horse, because she knows she'll have anxiety on her horse. Without the consent of every doctor and background of every medical journal on the subject of anxiety, I can't possibly pretend to give you advice if you are experiencing anxiety yourself. So I won't. Instead I'll just say, I've been there, and this is how I got out of there.
The first example, when I sat on my living room couch, wondering if I was going to die because my heart felt funny, was mitigated by finally going to the hospital and discovering the truth about the underlying problem. It cost me an emergency room visit to be certain my heart wasn't quitting on me, but once I was certain and after many tests to be certain that I was certain, I could let go of the anxiety. Now when my heart sputters a little, I don't hyperventilate and exaggerate the situation. Now I breathe. The solution I came up with to overcome my anxiety was to find professional help to ensure I was going to be okay. Professional help is important.
The second example was during that moment where I nearly drowned my horse in the water, which of course, could have led to my own drowning if I got stuck there with my horse. My heart raced, my life flashed before me and, by the grace of God, my brain kicked in gear long enough to turn my horse around and back to shore. From there it was her job to jump up and down frantically until her feet became free and inch by inch we made it back to shore where both of us nearly collapsed with exhaustion. In that moment of fearing for my life I learned something about myself. I learned that my mind can look for solutions, even in the heat of battle. If I just don't get paralyzed, I can think through the situation and turn around or forge ahead. The point is to not get paralyzed and when I feel it coming on, I have to say to myself, "Breathe, find a way. Don't just stay stuck."
I've since used these strategies for many of my students. If I see them struggling, I invite them to ask for support. Getting professional help gives you a confidence boost you can't imagine. I also encourage movement because movement prevents getting locked up. Imagine standing on the mounting block, trying to convince yourself to get on your horse but you can't. You can't step down from the block either because then you feel defeated. So you're stuck. In that moment I've helped students remember to move, even subtle movements like stepping down and back up, over and over, prevent the mind blocking and the heart from racing toward an anxiety attack. I invite the student to touch there horse then immediately touch the horse in a different spot from the first touch, over and over, until the mind clears and the heart settles. Eventually, the door opens for riding and the rider will be confident.
What I don't like is when a rider, stands still waiting for confidence to come. You can work on getting instead of waiting. But even worse, is when I see a student willing there way forward only. Two things could happen if you force yourself deeper into your fearful situation. One, you will get on that horse, using your will power, and fail to read the signs of the horse telling you he's not ready, all because you're so involved in your own progress. Which of course could lead to the horse throwing you away and making your chances of enjoying riding diminish to zero from that day forward.
The other thing that can happen is you do get on, and your horse is fine, and you fall into a false sense of confidence because you never tested yourself, your body, and your horse for quick movements. In other words, by moving back and forth, up and down, in and out, you train your body to adapt to any kind of horse movement. But by moving only forward, only up, only in... you never truly learn to adapt and be a free moving rider or leader. Movement is, in my experience, a great key to avoiding anxiety. With movement comes breath, new ideas, resourcefulness and mindfulness.
As always, I love your comments. I'd love to hear from you. Comment below and share this article with anyone you feel could benefit.
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Have you ever asked your horse to do something then wondered why he or she wouldn't do it? Even if you don't like chocolate, or peanuts, you should remember this acronym, always eat chocolate covered peanuts forever, because it's a fun, simple way to figure out why your horse doesn't do what you want. Think of it like a mechanic, looking at a car, wondering whether the fire, water, or air system is off line and determining a plan to get the offline system, back online.
The first letter in each word stands for an important part of the solution.
Always - A - stands for Alignment:
Horses often malign their body in relationship to the task. For instance: Your horse approaches the trailer then doesn't jump inside because his nose is looking to the outside and his hips are pointed at an angle from the point of entry. By simply re-aligning your horse's body parts you can see how this simple strategy makes a massive difference in your results. The same goes for nearly everything else. Alignment in the left lead canter vs right lead canter, alignment in your upper level half passes, alignment in your basic confidence building games, and more. Think about alignment, as your first solution to solving your next horse related problem.
In a deep dive conversation with the Horse Mastery Group we discussed the 5 types of alignment to observe and correct. You can get access to this deep dive session as part of your membership to the mastery group. Check it out!
Eat - E - sands for Energy:
Have you ever seen a horse deliver insufficient energy to complete a task and as a result not get the task done properly? Like when a horse doesn't put forth the energy to clear the jump and instead knocks off the top rail, or worse yet, plows through the whole thing. I once had a horse tip over backward after stopping midway on a steep hill from fatigue. Had she shown more energy to get to the top she would have maintained her balance. She didn't get hurt luckily and the next attempt was flawless.
Interestingly enough, it's not always the lack of energy that's the problem. Sometimes, the horse displays too much energy for the task and fails to coordinate their body and mind. Diagnosing an energy imbalance is an important part of reading the situation and the better you get at neutralizing high energy or raising the low energy, the more masterful you become with your leadership. We continue to deep dive into this conversation as well, inside our mastermind group.
Chocolate - C - stands for connection or concentration:
Distraction is the opposite of connection in this category. Have you ever asked a horse to do something only to get absolutely no response at all? Often this is a distraction issue. The horse is disconnected from you or the task, thinking about something else altogether. Learning how to regain that connection and influence in spite of the distraction gives you the edge to truly be a leader. Diagnosing distraction is easy. Your horse's head will be looking off to some other area. Sometimes, if it's not his head, it's a lack of response, that signals you he's gone internal, distracted by his own thoughts and emotions, and unable to respond to you.
Covered - C - stands for confusion:
Confusion is one major problem in horse training. For example, horses that seemingly know how to canter, can't do it on cue... why? Because they are confused about what we want. The horse has to literally read our body language and learn to interpret it in a moment's notice. When they get it wrong we often label the horse as a "bad horse, stupid horse," or we blame ourselves as "bad trainers." In reality, the most likely culprit to the reason your horse won't do what you want is he or she is confused and simply needs you to slow down, repeat the question, and all repetition and rewards to clear up any confusion. We can even take another leap forward with the concept of confusion. For instance: Why does a horse load into the trailer day after day and then one day decide not to? The obvious answer is because he's confused about what the trailer means. He thinks it's a human designed tool to take him to a slave driven workplace. My advice is to work with his alignment, and connection and energy, and get him in the trailer, but don't take him to work. Feed him in there. Travel to a nice place and graze him. Don't ride him. After a day or two of that, he'll start to see the trailer in a less confusing, more balanced way. It might seem like a stretch to call it confusion, but the only other option is to call it obstinate behavior. If you call it that, you'll treat him even more like a slave than before. Be careful. Be quick to call it confusion first.
Peanuts - P - stands for pain:
Pain is a major factor in horse training too. Did you know that horses often fail to do tasks because they feel pain when we ask them to do it? I remember one horse at a clinic in Vermont that would buck when asked to canter. For months and months, I guided this student to treat the problem as a behavioral issue and correct the horse for bucking. Ironically, months later, with the help of a vet, we diagnosed a severe nerve pain issue in the hind leg and hip. With treatment, she stopped bucking when asked to canter. If the treatment lapsed, she resumed bucking. She was literally reacting to the motion of canter because of pain. There was no fear, no ill intent. Just pain. Now, whenever I see a prolonged, insistent behavior, I seek out veterinary assistance to dig deeper into the issue and uncover any physical problems. If none exist then no time was lost and I can continue down the road to behavioral therapy and change. Never rule out pain as a possible component to the problems you see in your horse.
Forever - F - stands for fear:
Fear is the most obvious of all the six reasons our horses don't do what we want. The horse says, I can't. They pull back, then flip around, and try to go the other way. They snort and raise their heads up high to ready their body for escape. The signs are easy to see. Ironically, there are signs that look like fear that aren't fear and those are the ones you need to look out for. We dive into those signs in the Mastery Group. Fear is easy to treat. Simple approach, retreat, and repetition destroy fear and build confidence.
Now you've got it. Always eat chocolate covered peanuts forever. This is your diagnosis tool for uncovering why your horse is not doing what you want, which gives you instant insight into what to do.
I always want to hear your comments. If you have something particular you'd like me to write about, please post it below. Thanks for reading and sharing.
If stand still isn't a gait, then what is it? We consider backing up to be a gait. Walking, trotting, and cantering, are gaits. Gallop is a gait. So, in the experience of masterful horsemen and horsewomen I know, and in my own experience, stand still is also a gait. The reason that is important is two-fold.
Most importantly, if the stand still is a gait, then you'll put attention toward improving the gait. At least most riders will. I've never met a rider who walk, trots, and canters regularly, not value the quality of each of those gaits and occasionally work to improve them. For instance a trail rider will notice how poorly their horse maintains the walk down the trail and spends a day or two improving that gait for the benefit of not having to fight it the next time they go out with friends. Another example is a performance rider who notices how their horse struggles to hold the canter. Inevitably, if they want to improve, they find the time and resources to fix the canter and make it better. (article coming soon about fixing the canter)
The odd thing is however, that most riders don't consider the stand still to be a gait, and therefore don't work on it. But if it is a gait, then you'll have to notice how poorly your horse does in certain situations and make the time to remedy the response you get. For instance, if your horse can't hold still while other riders are warming up, you have a horse that sucks at the stand still. Don't you think you should work on that? Or do you fall prey to the common techniques of avoiding the real problem and just getting into motion because that's what the horse's anxiety wants? Think of it like a gait. Think of how you need to improve that gait with exercises and experiences tailored to teaching the horse to stand still.
Be patient, of course. The stand still practice, like any other gait, can take a few days, up to a few weeks to master. Like the canter, it will take years to master in every single situation. But it's a goal worth working on. Work on it while you're saddling. Work on it while you're mounting. Work on it while you're riding and resting. But don't avoid it, because if you expect it to just work out. You clearly don't understand horses. Canter work is hard for the body, but stand still work is hard for the brain. That is until the horse starts to experience balance, both mentally and physically. Then it becomes easy!
The second reason it's important to consider stand still as a gait is simple. Stand still practice calms the mind and builds to the next gait, just like walking for a distance calms the mind and builds to a nice slow trot. And trotting for a distance calms the mind and builds to a nice slow canter. Most riders know that if you bypass that mental warm up you could get fireworks. I've just spent about two weeks rehabilitating an eleven year old ranch horse who clearly sucked at standing still. Now he's a champ. And guess what....? He doesn't display the problems that he showed up with, such as... hard to catch, cross-firing while cantering, and more.
So if two weeks of stand still practice can influence my horses, it will work for yours too. Grade your own horse on how well they stand still. Use this simple grading tool to check.
Take this quiz and use the simple grading tool to see where you and your horse are.
This blog post is short and sweet. It's a follow up post from the recent article that so many of you have commented on already titled "Frustration is the enemy."
In that article, I hinted about managing expectations. To be clear, the easiest trick to never getting frustrated is to manage your expectations. If you've ever heard that having high expectations is a good thing, you've been misled. High expectation is a recipe for disaster. I have high standards instead. I don't expect the best, I work toward it. In fact... I expect anything could happen, good or bad. Does that make sense? I certainly don't expect the worst, that would just keep my focus in the gutter. But I don't expect the best, because that keeps my head in the clouds. I expect instead, that anything could happen and put my attention to working on progress and standards.
I can't tell you how many students I've helped with this exact problem. They expect the horse to behave, then the horse doesn't behave, then the student is sad, frustrated, or angry. You never have to feel that way. Don't expect the best anymore. Don't expect your horse to behave anymore. Don't expect your body to adjust to everything all the time. Don't set yourself up for failure that way. Instead, commit to staying through any challenges to end with progress and positivity. Commit to navigating problems instead of being surprised by them. And expect that anything could come up. I'm never surprised when a horse tries rearing, bucking, biting, kicking, or barging. I expect those things. I'm also never surprised when they act and behave perfectly. I expect that too. I like to read the situation in front of me, not set up a bunch of pre-determined guesses about how it should go.
Just two days ago I asked my horse to load on the trailer. He never has trouble loading. Never! But that day, he did. Was I frustrated? No. I knew anything could happen, and it just so happened that he was distracted by a new horse racing up the fence line toward him. Did that bother me, that he was distracted? No! A horse is a horse of course, of course, and I always remember that anything could happen. I instead gave myself a moment and then asked again. Within a few minutes he made his way into the trailer with peace and calm written all over his expressions and we made our way to our favorite trail ride.
Remember this from today's post: Expect anything, good or bad. Don't have high or low expectations, have them both. Remember that what you want, is not to expect your horse to be great but to work toward greatness, moment by moment. With this simple message flowing through your mind, you will become unstoppable in your goals and relationship with your favorite four-legged friend.
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If I told you I've broken the code to advanced maneuvers with horses, would you believe me? If I told you that you could have anything, and do anything you want with horses, if you just understood this one concept about training, would you listen? I hope so.
Let's break it down.
Everything you do, EVERYTHING, has these three stages, part of a puzzle, that creates a whole picture.
Access, Quality, and Quantity.
For example. Cantering while riding has these same three stages, starting with access to the canter. The biggest mistake most trainers make is they practice quality and quantity before they have good access to the canter. This means, they kick the horse with brute force, into the canter then go about training the horse to hold the canter. Do you see what's missing here? Do you see how, if that's what the trainer does, they are not practicing making access to the canter better, they are only practicing making the quantity better? I never do it that way, and if you want to unlock the code to better horsemanship, you wouldn't do it that way either.
Imagine yourself cantering. Ask yourself as you canter along... was it easy to get into the canter or have you already forgotten about that because you're in the canter now and all you can do is think about the quality of the canter? Most people do it that way. They forget to practice going in and out, and in and out, and in and out, and in and out of the canter until access to the canter becomes super easy.
When I told you I've broken the code to advanced maneuvers, this is what I'm talking about. Don't skip, don't ignore, don't bypass the first stage. Let's take something more complex, something like trotting in place (piaffe, for my dressage riders). Should you get the horse stepping in place with brute force then try to hold the rhythm? Or should you work toward improving the early signal/response system?
After, only after, the access is easy to master trainers begin to work on quality or quantity. Sometimes these goals flip-flop. In other words, it's okay in some situations to work on quantity before quality, but in general, it's better to work on quality first. Imagine accessing the canter with ease and softness the noticing how the horse is unable to canter straight ahead, perhaps he keeps dropping his shoulder... The quality obviously isn't great. Go ahead at this point and start to change the quality. Ask your horse to keep his shoulder up now. Ask him to lower his head, and soften his neck muscles. Ask him to push from behind without tension.
Once you feel like his quality has improved for a few steps, consider asking him to increase his endurance. You're free at this point to begin training the quantity of his canter. At this point, you will have absolutely no fear about injury or repetitive stress syndrome because your horse is balanced and ready to begin building stamina in that activity.
In summary, if you've read this far, I'm asking that you, the trainer, the owner of your horse, work on these three pieces independently. If you do, you will join the elite trainers club. You will become more masterful.
More complete resources here: click to become a master!
It's true. Backing cures biting. I've never met a horse that bites people and continues to bite after being taught to back up nicely.
Lipping, although less dramatic, is still considered biting and can be cured in the same way.
Nipping, although not technically biting, is considered to be annoying enough for some people that it warrants the same strategy. And again, the same strategy will work to cure it.
The reason it works is that horses use personal space bubbles as protection against each other. If one horse invades the others space without permission, they are driven out. Backing a horse simulates this same activity. Your goal is to literally drive the horse backward away from you. In that light however, if you back the horse up and fail to create space, in other words you stay at his head the whole time, its not as effective. You need to create space.
More importantly to remember then is... creating space cures biting. Try it out. Back your horse up next time she gets too mouthy, and notice how your horse stops lipping, nipping, or biting. Be assertive and match the energy output the horse is giving and then be kind and rewarding whenever you get the feeling your horse is a willing partner.
PS. If your horse bites others while you are riding, back up works here too. But if your horse bites you while riding. Consider getting a little extra help. I know exactly what to do and all it takes is a quick phone call to find out. Call 406-360-1390 and get a First time free coaching consultation with any horse related challenge you face. I want to hear from you.
God bless and stay safe
It's important know when you're doing things right. This pre-ride and post ride checklist will ensure you do. Print out each poster and laminate them. Place them on your barn door. Especially if you have other riders at your barn. Help the world see how great your natural horsemanship ideals are and how important it is to stay on track with all the little things you do.
To your success! Don and Rachel Jessop - Mastery Horsemanship
Please don't think I haven't experienced frustration just because I write about how detrimental it is to horses, mules, people and other animals. I have been there. I have let my frustrations overwhelm my decisions and I have made poor decisions as a result.
One time I got so fed up with the horse I was working with, I resorted to using a "running w" technique on the horse. When he would run, I would trip him up. He stopped running but I never forgave myself. And I know in my heart he also didn't forgive me. Sure I claim to be natural and positive-reinforcement oriented but I wasn't always that way.
At first I was just an ignorant teenager, making my horses do what I want. (Maybe I should have got a motorcycle instead.) One day, I got a horse that I couldn't handle and I found myself getting frustrated every single day. My passion for learning led me to some of the greatest horse trainers on the planet. I studied, I practiced, and I got progressively better. I thought I would never get frustrated again. But I did.
A few years after my formal education with horses I ventured out on my own to earn a living. It was here that I met the most challenging horses. Year after year I grew my business. People saw me as a wonder trainer. I was always good natured, skilled, kind, and patient and, somehow, still effective. Then one day I met a mule. And my journey into myself began again. What I mean is this... I thought I was done with frustration. I thought I had mastered that emotion. But looking back I see how naive I was.
In a nutshell. Here is what happened. I got hurt. That's it. I overstepped my own confidence and asked for something he wasn't ready for. He bucked me off, then for the next week I proceeded to "MAKE" him do what I wanted so he would be "perfect" for me and not ever do that dangerous bucking thing again. From the outside looking in, you might have thought I was measured and calm throughout, but I know I was burning up inside when he wouldn't immediately do what I wanted. Day by day he would make small improvements in his skill sets but big slides backward in his relationship with me. My frustration was costing me dearly. Eventually, he would lose too much ground and become one of those evergreen, untrainable animals. Gratefully I have always been connected to people who know me, love me, trust I'm doing the best I can and whole heatedly want me to succeed. That's what real support is. That's part of why we made the Mastery Coaching Group (check it out if you want that kind of support)
These people, challenged me to look deeper. To see how I was tense and upset and helped me reset my perspective. As a result. The relationship healed and as time passed, that mule and I could do everything together. The point is. Frustration, whether with an animal or another person, always destroys the relationship. Frustration is the enemy!
So how do you avoid frustration, or get out if you feel it?
Breathe, take ten, reset your perspective with the support of loving people. Be willing to start over. Don't confuse standards with expectations. People often make the mistake of having high expectations and when they aren't met, they get frustrated. Have high standards instead. Standards for yourself. For how you'll act if your goals aren't met. For how your horse will act in the end, not the beginning. Most of all, know that you're not alone. Even the best trainers and teachers in the world feel frustrated when things don't go as planned. How long you stay frustrated is the key. Stay too long you destroy the relationships around you.
Stay cool, and may the horse be with you!
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In case you don't know what "cold back" means... It means your horse likes to buck with the saddle every day before a ride or during the warm-up. "Cold back" also means your horse isn't safe to ride unless you like a bronc ride to start your day. So how do you fix a "cold back" horse?
If you want a video supporting the theory below, comment in the comment section and I'll be sure to make one for you. The more comments I get the sooner I get it to you.
With everything horse related, there are no rules. Drill that into your head. If I say to do something, you can be sure there are one hundred other ways to do it, so please stay open minded and positive with each other in our fragile horse/human relationships.
Here we go...
Generally, when a horse bucks with the saddle it's because of these four factors.
1: It's new... This should be expected, but should also cease after the novelty wears off in a few minutes and cease altogether in a few days.
2: It hurts... The novelty wears off and your horse is still bucking, maybe you should look into the quality and consistency of your saddle's underside and cinches.
3: It pinches... This should be expected at first but day by day, the pinching feeling from the cinch shouldn't be a surprise anymore.
4: It spooks... The visual movement of the stirrups or leathers make for a spooky sight for some horses. But again, the novelty should wear off.
But most of those reasons above are novelty related or easily fixed by changing saddles. If the horse continues to buck day by day with what we call a "cold back" you have a different reason to consider.
The horse at this point isn't scared, isn't hurting, isn't a newbie anymore. The horse at this point is what we call "patterned." It's odd but true. Some horses learn to buck in the warm up. Or put more clearly... don't learn not to.
That leaves us with an ingeniously simply solution. Are you ready for it?
Don't allow them to buck anymore.
This means stopping them when they try, then asking them to warm up without bucking. They still must warm up. It's not worth the risk getting on a bottled up horse that hasn't been allowed to let off steam. But just consider the fact that your horse might be "patterned." Meaning they might think they have to let off steam every single day. But they can learn a new pattern. One where they don't have to let it off. They can let it go.
It looks like this. Instead of pushing my horse through a bucking episode (which doesn't always work), I demand they stop in their tracks, stop the bucking, and look at me. After a moment of collecting ourselves, I ask them to finish the warm up. My warm up includes walk, trot, and canter on the circle, so the likelihood of them bucking again is quite high. Meaning... I get more opportunities to interrupt the pattern again. Hurray for us!
The point is, since he has to canter, and he isn't allowed to buck, he learns how to canter without bucking. If he aces the test I know I can ride him. If he still looks tense, I know I need more warm up. But at least he's not bucking anymore. After several days, maybe weeks in some cases, you will find out he or she just doesn't buck anymore.
Comment below, share your stories. Be positive!
You bought a horse, you designated a riding area, and researched for hours on what the best saddle and tack is for you and your horse, and now you sit at the window and wonder why you don't ever have time to ride your horse.
Life gets busy, but don't fool yourself. It's not that you don't have time to ride, it's that riding isn't a priority. Playing with your horse is on the back burner while the rest of life takes over. This is normal for most horse owners. But maybe normal isn't what you want. Maybe what you want is what those friends of yours have. The ones that actually live and achieve their dreams with horses. The friends that are riding off into the sunset or practicing their arena patterns each day. Maybe what you want, you think you can't have, because you don't have enough time. But maybe, just maybe, time isn't the issue at all.
The real issue is usually energy. At the end of a long day, riding your horse in the hot arena sand seems about as fun as going to the beach, only the ocean dried up, so there is no water to swim in. At the beginning of the day, when your energy is highest, you have to use that energy to get the important things done. Things that pay for your horses and property. You can't win.
The bottom line, however, is still an energy issue. And that leads to the question of how to get more energy.
In my experience, energy is chemical, mental, and physical. In that order. What that means is your body might not be producing the right chemistry to give you a long lasting, high output battery cycle. I recognized this early in my career and started to supplement with the right vitamins and minerals for me. Avoiding sugar, flour, and dairy also helps. And that brings us back to the priorities. Would you rather eat sugar at noon, or ride your horse in the evening. You can't do both. The sugar might rob your body of its energy. Of course, lots of people eat garbage and keep going all day. But are you among that crowd? Or does your body react poorly to a poor diet? Your biochemistry is important to your energy. Make it a priority and notice how much better you feel.
Next is the mental side of energy. We've already stated, you need a high-output, alkaline battery source to power yourself to go after the things you want, but lots of people literally lack the inspiration to do anything at all. And sometimes it's fear that holds you back. Inspiration is critically important. When was the last time you watched your favorite horsey movie? You should watch it again. When was the last time you booked a lesson with a riding instructor? You should book another one today. If you aren't constantly opening your eyes to what's possible and letting someone help you break through confidence issues, you won't find yourself taking your saddle off the shelf anytime soon. You have to book in time. You have to be accountable, and most of all... you have to be connected to something that truly inspires you, like our Horse Mastery Group. Inspiration is motivation.
Last is the physical side of energy. This only comes from doing something. When you do things, you get stronger, when you sit on the couch, you get weaker. After a two week lag time, where everyone's physical energy struggles at first, you will notice a spike in your endurance. You'll notice you can do more because your body has more to give. Physical energy is fantastic to have. I can go longer than most people I know, day by day, out in the sun, but why is that? It's certainly because I have better chemistry... Chemistry that I support consciously. It's certainly because I have tons of desire. More than most, because I consciously support that desire with videos, instruction, and learning. But it's also in part due to the muscle stamina inside me. I'm no elite warrior, but I have tons of stamina compared to most horse enthusiasts. This has nothing to do with my age either. I've met folks older than me who can go for longer than me. This is because the body is conditioned for it. Is your body conditioned to do long hard days and still get in the saddle at the end of the day?
If you don't have that kind of stamina, just know that you can get it. But to get it you have to do things when you don't want to do them so the muscles build and the endurance grows. But to do things you want to do when you don't want to do it requires tons of desire. Do you have tons of desire? Do you need more? Join the Horse Mastery Group and get desire by the bucket loads. And come full circle now to find the resources to even be conscious about all these things, you need better chemistry. Drink more water, take some B-12 vitamins, do the simple things often and start noticing the shifts in your energy within a few days, sometimes within just hours.
In conclusion... stop blaming time and start gaining the energy you need to ride off into the sunset like you and your horse deserve!
May the horse be with you and you with the horse.
Thanks for reading, comment below, and be sure to share with your friends.
PS. This is a fun, short video we made recently to spark a little fun and inspiration.
Imagine the precision required to draw a picture in the sand with your horse as your paint brush and pencil. Watch this video and be inspired to create your own art in the sand.
PS. Comment below if you'd like to see an arena writing/art competition. We're thinking of posting registration for an arena writing competition with a cash prize. If this sounds interesting, let us know if you would like to see it take place. If we get the interest... we ignite the fire. BE INSPIRED - Mastery Horsemanship
Most people who have horses in their life learn a tip or two from a close friend or family member who also has horses. They learn about steering, and pulling to stop. They learn about saddling and getting on, but few people learn about cinching up the saddle in stages. There is a term for a horse that holds their breath when the saddle goes on. It's called "cinch/girth bound." A cinch bound horse can rear, buck, or even flip over onto his side when the rider steps up into the stirrup. Most horses won't do this, but enough horses do get tight to warrant this issue as a rookie mistake.
The best practices for saddling, cinching, and mounting is to cinch in three stages. Stage one is just tight enough the saddle will stay on when the horse moves. After moving the horse around in a walking circle or two, even backing a step or two, it's time for stage two. Stage two is tightening the cinch a little more, not as much as you need for riding, but the horse should be breathing now and have some room for a tighter belt buckle. After moving a second circle at the walk or preferably the trot, it's time for stage three. Stage three is tightening the cinch for the ride. Just another notch or two. Once your weight is in the saddle the cinch sags, just a bit. That last cinching is to prevent the saddle rolling as you mount. And after all the moving, your horse is less likely to buck, rear or flip out when you step up in the stirrup.
Some people ride to enjoy nature, the scenery, the mountains, the fresh air, to take pictures, and socialize with their friends. Others ride for the horse, to exercise and prepare for performance. Preferably, one should have a bit of both personalities. On the extreme left, the rider is ignorant to the horses nature, to potential hazards. This rookie mistake could get you hurt. If a duck quacks in the pond as you near it and you didn't see that as a potential hazard, you could be spooked right out of the saddle. There are dozens of hazards to be aware of. Noises, sights, smells, pokes, pinches, bumps, you name it. Your horse, even good old horses, can be like a ticking time bomb. If you aren't aware of how your environment stimulates the horse you will be subject to whatever happens without the ability to check in with the horse before and during unstable situations.
Riders on the extreme right, or performance oriented riders often make the mistake of putting too much pressure on the horse in an effort to get the most out of the horse. Although these riders aren't at risk of injury like the others, they are at risk of ruining the relationship with the horse. It's good to take a balanced look at riding. Is it just for you, or just for your horse? Or is it for both of you? Can you open your eyes to your horses expression, experience the relationship with you and the environment you're riding through?
Rookie mistake number three is cantering or galloping on a horse that is unprepared. Cantering triggers extra emotions in the horse. If the horse is trained, it's not so bad, it's all okay to canter. But related to cantering is the concept of cantering up behind another horse. Once a rider gets the confidence to canter, they often make the mistake of cantering whenever they want, regardless of the horses and riders in the group. This type of rookie mistake wont injure you, it will injure the rider on the slow horse. Horses buy into each others emotions and when another horse comes galloping up from behind it can cause the other horses to bubble up in anticipation of the flight energy required to evade a predator. If you're a rookie, reading this, you can avoid this mistake simply by communicating what you want to do before you do it. The other group members will let you know if what you think is fun, will also be safe. And if no-one is sure, then you probably shouldn't do it. Take things slow and keep things safe until you're no longer riding with rookies, then the world is your oyster.
Among many things that bother horses, there are two that really stand out. One is being approached too quickly by others. The second is being left behind. Horses are herd animals and when one rider trots or canters out ahead of the other without communication and practice, this leaves the lagging rider in a very vulnerable position with a horse that can rapidly lose it's mind. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say they won't ever ride with a certain person or that group again because they just don't communicate and they don't seem to care about the others in the group. If you're a rookie, reading this, just ask the other riders to ask before they make any sudden speed changes on your ride, even in the arena you can get in trouble when a rider speeds off ahead and leaves the other. If you're an advanced rider. Don't make this rookie mistake anymore. You are now smarter than this.
Rookie mistake number five is riding all the way home and getting off at the barn or trailer. It's tempting to have the horse carry you all the way back, but it's just lazy horsemanship. You should get off your horse about a hundred yards from the destination and walk back in calmly. You don't want to cause a pattern where the horse gets in a hurry to get home and dump you off and your gear. You want the post-ride to be as pleasant for both of you as everything else. Maybe you've heard the term "barn sour," or "barn sweet." It depicts a horse that prances or runs back to the barn because they knows the ride is almost over and he's excited to get back to normal life and be left alone. You can ensure you never end up with this type of horse by not making this last rookie mistake.
For more on horsemanship and the subtle things that make you masterful, sign up to get more article. Post a comment below and share this with friends. If you have any questions. Me and my team are just a phone call away. 406-360-1390
Can you read a horse well enough to determine that he/she is calm and responsive enough to keep you both safe?
Reading your horse is paramount when it comes to riding. A high headed, tightly wound horse is not the kind you want to be on. I low headed, dull horse is also not that much fun. Can you read a horse that lives in the middle? Do you know a handful of tests that can easily be implemented to determine ride ability in each gait? If not, comment below. I want to give you what you need to succeed. You need to be able to read into the psychology of the horse. Not just in general but in every specific moment. You need to be able to read the emotions and thoughts as they ebb and flow. If you can, you will know when you have a right to ride. If you can't, you're just guessing and I know where that leads. I know because I used to "think" my horse was ready, only to find out I was wrong. You have to look deeper. Learn the signs. I can show you. Comment below, ask for more.
Can you get up from the ground?
I know lots of people who ride regularly, but struggle to get up from the ground. They prefer to use a mounting block. Me too! I prefer to use a mounting block but I can get up from the ground if I must. The real reason for making this an item in the "to-do" list of riding is simply to know that if you have to get off on a trail somewhere you are practiced at looking for ways to get back on in weird places. I use hillsides, stumps, rocks, ditches, logs, and whatever I can to get on when I need a little extra support. Don't get me wrong here. If you can't get on without support, I still believe you can ride. You just better have a much better horse than most people dream of having. In other words, you don't have to ride a green horse if you can't get on and off easily.
Also, getting on and off from the ground can be good for a horse. It's certainly not as comfortable as getting on from a mounting block but it's still a useful thing to have a horse get used to, just in case.
Can you get off quickly in an emergency?
More important than getting on is getting off. I've seen students struggle to get off their horses and I think to myself. "What are you even doing up there? What if something bad happened, suddenly? Would you survive?" If you've got a calm, well trained horse then maybe it's not a problem. But even the best horses can react without warning. I think if a person wants to ride, they should first show their abilities to climb up and down from a horse quickly and with ease. I know some people cannot get off without assistance. I have a close friend who won the Paralympic games in dressage and she lives her life in a wheelchair. She can't just get off. But she never rides horses that aren't perfectly secure. You shouldn't either unless you're an expert at getting off in an emergency.
Does your horse have a history of excellence?
If you answer yes to this one, you're living the good life. A solid, true blue, horse is exactly what everyone needs. Unfortunately, it's not what everyone has. Therefore, if you want to ride, you should be sure to ride only when things are good. Like on a calm hot day in a sandy arena or safe trail with great horse friends who also have calm horses. The good thing is, if you have a horse that doesn't have a history of excellence, you can get past it with good training. That's what Mastery Horsemanship is all about. Check it out.
Does your horse know you actually care about their experience?
This is the biggest one of all perhaps. Everything up to this point has been about your experience. But what about your horse? Does your horse know you care? How does he or she know you care? What do you do at the end of the ride? What do you do before the ride, and between all rides, day to day? Do you prove on a regular basis that you are the coolest person in the world when it comes to your horse and the way he looks at you?
Right now I've got a mule in training. He doesn't like people. So... should I ride him? NO! Of course not. Why would I ride an animal that doesn't like me? I would be asking for trouble. Even if he never bucked and never bolted, I would still be a horrible partner for that animal if all I wanted was to ride. I like to think about horses in this light. 50/50 bonding and training. That ratio keeps me moving forward and making progress and it also, always ensures the horse knows I care about his experience. I bond with treats, grooming, looking for itchy spots, rubbing all the most sensitive and reactive areas daily to build in a deeper bond, hanging out while grazing, exploring fun new places calmly, and sticking around for long enough after each ride for the sweat to dry.
With sore hands, a sore brain, and a sore heart, I kept the pressure on the rope. I knew if I let go I would be teaching the wrong thing to this pretty, not so little draft cross, reinforcing his turn and run behavior. But if I held on... I would be no better than a slave master forcing a horse to bend to my will when he clearly had no desire to do any such thing. I was literally at the end of the rope, holding on for dear life and, metaphorically at the end of the line, trying to decide if what I was doing was moral and just.
In a time, nearly one hundred years ago, forcing a horse to do what you needed was just life as we knew it. We needed horses. They had a purpose with us. That also meant they had to do their job well and without too much fuss when it came to training. Horses that didn't fit the mold were tossed aside or forced through more radical means. But today, we don't need horses in the same way. Sure there are still pockets of people who do need them for farm work or business, but most of us need them for a completely different, but some would say, equally important and valid thing. We need them for psychological reasons instead of physical reasons. We need them to bring us back to nature and away from tech. We need them to bring us joy. But this horse brought me no joy. This horse brought me to the end of the rope. A place where the old me had to die, and a new me could live on.
He finally yielded to the rope. He gave his will to me. I was in control. I held on and my hands healed but my heart did not. Not yet anyway. I knew there was a better way. I teach better ways, but this horse tested everything I knew. He tested my patience, my persistence, my timing, my feel. He tested my knowledge and skill at every turn. He came to me with baggage. He'd been abused by ignorant owners and he did not forgive them, nor anyone who came near him. Humans were bad news and I was no different. No amount of skill I could conjure cured him of his distrust for what humans might do to him. He wouldn't let go, wouldn't let me in until finally, one fateful day where we both met the end of the rope.
What follows is what I believe we both learned...
He learned he must yield. He learned there is no value in resistance. That there would be no peace until he gave up. He learned that he no longer governed his choices at the same level. The good thing is he learned that I care about him more after he yields than before. (This is the same with people too. We seem to care more about them after they fall in line than before they do.) He learned that he could trust me not to kill him, but he must always comply. Was he happier, calmer, more docile in general after yielding? I believe so. Was he more suited for human environments? Definitely. Was it necessary to go to that breaking point to make the difference? Maybe.
What I learned is that patience and persistence are paramount to get past that breaking point. But I also learned I didn't like doing it anymore. I never wanted to force another being to bend to my will. I did not need this horse to be my slave, to give me joy. I needed him to stop giving me pain. I needed to win. And when I won, I broke down. I saw that how I won wasn't fair. I saw that trying to be quick and get through hell together, wasn't fair. I could have made it through if I gave my self more time. I could have taken a year instead of a week to get that point in his trust with me.
As a trainer of horses that aren't mine I understand that I have to teach the horse to comply for the owner spending money on the project, but as a human at the end of the rope, I met my spirit that day and my spirit said to tell this story. Be vulnerable for your audience. Don't judge people, just open your heart and let people judge for themselves what to do at the end of their own rope. My heart says to let the animal take a slower road to learning. My heart says double down on my bonding efforts so they balance out the training. My heart says that if I ask so much... I should give more.
The reason for this article is that I want you to know I've been where you are. If you've ever struggled to hang on or let go... I've been there. If you've ever wondered if you should push harder or wait longer... I've been there. So you're not alone, and there is no judgment on right or wrong. We are all just people doing the best we can.
Thanks for reading. Comment if you care to share your own thoughts.
How many times have I talked about pre-ride tests and safety? Maybe a thousand times... If you've been a part of my learning programs for a while now you've heard me talk about setting things up for success early, but I haven't talked a ton about how to enhance and preserve that success at the end. Hence this article.
After doing your exercise programs that either enhance the sensitivity of your horse, or if you've simply taken a ride from point A to point B it's time to cool off. This is usually as easy as walking around to ensure the joints stay fluid. You don't want a warm horse to get stiff. It's the same for people. The worst thing for your body is to go from a sprint to a lying down position. You want to decelerate, allowing your body the time to breathe and distribute blood flow without seizing up. So remember, after trotting or cantering exercises, walk about the arena or pasture.
Don't just get off and unsaddle when your horse is sweaty. Cooldown first. If you want or need to get off, it's okay, just don't rest right away. Walk about for a little while until the breathing is stable and the mind is calm.
There's another important element to this strategy that most people don't know about. Related to trail riding, if you simply ride at home and get off, you create a mental, "barn sour" issue with your horse. By walking around the barn area for just sixty seconds or so, you ensure your horse doesn't shut off and think you're done. Some horses will walk directly to the unsaddling station and say, "It's time for you to get off." You don't want this. You want a horse that's willing to go back out if you need or a least stay responsive to you as a partner until the moment you part ways in the paddock. A minute or two of walking and yielding to your legs and hands near the trailer or barn will ensure you have a true partner for life.
When it's time to get off, don't just get off. Check in with your horse. Reach to acknowledge the horse like you see me do in the picture below.
Getting off too quickly can cause an unintended brace in your horse. People get hurt often while dismounting and it's because they fail to tell the horse what they are about to do. Rub your legs on the sides of the horse. Bump and thump your hand a bit. Do a few simple things that could save your life on the way down, in case you accidentally bump with your knee, boot, or stirrup. Prepare properly for the dismount and notice how much happier your horse is.
Once you've dismounted, the next obvious thing is to unsaddle. Be sure to undo all the buckles and ties in the right order. In other words, don't undo the front cinch first just to find out later you left the back cinch buckled. This might cause your horse to lose his marbles. Take off the saddle smoothly and demand your horse stands quietly for the exercise. If he moves away or spooks from the saddle as it comes off, put it on again and pull it off. Repeat the on-off cycle until your horse is calm and happy about the experience.
Once you've unsaddled, you can,... at least I do, wash your horse. I like warm water, and guess what... so do horses! You can find outdoor, mobile water heaters for cheap on Walmart or Amazon. Ask your horse to stand still for the exercise. Don't allow drifting around or mental disconnection. The whole idea of post-ride priorities is to maintain the connection with your horse to the end. Don't finish your ride and forget about your horse's brain. He's supposed to stay engaged with you. That's the whole point. Too many people allow the horse to wrap up their day distracted and disconnected. Use your washing time to remind them or if you're not going to wash, then groom them, brushing off all the crusty parts. One benefit to washing, at least on a warm day, is the option to encourage rolling and lying down. If you want to teach it one day, at least your horse gets exposed to lying down with you in the area.
If you know about mastery horsemanship, you may have heard about the 50/50 rule. 50% percent of the time you spend with your horse should be training, so they make progress and learn. 50% should be bonding, so they always remember how much you care. I like to stack my bonding time into the post-ride time. I'll spend an extra thirty minutes or so grazing with my horse, hanging out, or even finding a great place to roll together and scratch those itchy spots. Where people go wrong here is they fail to stack on bonding time at the end and the next day the horse doesn't see any value in coming to meet you. Or they leave their horse to graze alone on the lawn while they clean their tack. That only makes your bond with your equipment stronger. For bonding to work you need proximity and relaxation time. It needs to be enjoyable for the horse. Once you feel your horse has not only cooled down physically but mentally too, it's time to let go and put him or her away in their paddock.
The biggest mistake by far, that I see people make in their post ride priorities list is the way they release their horse back into the paddock. Please, please, please, read this part twice. If your horse leaves you when you take the halter off, go catch them again. Do not let them leave you just because the halter is off. This is what creates the "hard to catch" horse. I always ask my horse to stay with me after the halter comes off. I leave my horse, not the other way around.
Ask your horse to bend toward you as you take the halter off, then wait a few seconds, give a treat if you like, and walk away when you feel he's willing to connect. Don't walk away when he wants to leave you. My horse will often come all the way to the gate with me after I take off the halter. One day, maybe your horse will too. That's a good sign your horse still likes you in spite of a long ride or tough training session.
Either walk around a bit at home before you get off or... get off before you get home and walk in. You don't want to create a "barn sour" horse. That means your horse is always in a hurry to back back to the trailer or back to the barn or back home, wherever home is. By getting off and walking the last hundred meters or so, you encourage your horse to wind down as he approaches home, rather than wind up.
Tell me how this article impacts the way you think about post ride priorities. If I get enough comments I'll post a video related to it. Would you like a video? Comment below. Thanks for reading.
How do horses pay for themselves? What value do they give us? What is the currency we require in trade for food, shelter, and health care? Answer...
We require them to pay attention as we interact. That's it. Of course, the side benefit is that they also give us great pleasure, but not when they aren't paying attention. Have you ever ridden a horse that won't pay attention to you? One that looks at everything in the world except you? That's no fun. In fact, it can be dangerous. That's not the kind of horse anyone wants to ride or play with.
So when it comes to training, what I'm about to say will seem extremely obvious. Blindingly obvious!
"The goal of teaching tasks is not to learn the task. It's to learn how to pay attention to the one presenting the task."
I'll say that differently. Some people are so busy training horses to do "things," they forget to train the emotional, cognitive part of the mind. Masterful trainers are busy teaching the horse to be attentive. The task, is simply the means to that end.
If I ask my horse to stand still for saddling, for instance, I'm asking him to hold a thought, and I'm hyper-aware of when he loses that thought. Where this goes wrong for most people is they continue saddling regardless of the fact the horse is not attentive anymore. They start saddling on the north side of the arena and finish on the south side. Sure they got the saddle on, but the horse learned nothing.
Consider then, that good trainers reward the horse for paying attention, not for accomplishing the task only. Recently I stood next to a watery ditch, asking my new horse to walk through it. He refused, I asked again, and a cycle of refusing and asking ensued. Then out of the blue, he turned his head, rolled his eye toward me, and checked in with me, mentally. I immediately dropped what I was doing and rewarded him. He didn't cross the ditch, but what he did was even better. He gave me his attention. Within a few minutes of asking and him giving, we started to progress to walking through the ditch.
Keep it simple here. You want to reward your horse for paying attention. This enhances your liberty work, your desensitization work, your bridle-less riding work, your transitions, performance maneuvers, and everything in between.
Ask and reward your horse for paying attention. I know I'm repeating. Repetition is the mother of skill. Ask and reward your horse for paying attention in every task, in everything you do, and life with horses will become a dream come true.
For more on Mastery Horsemanship go to www.masteryhorsemanship.com and get a free course.
Also, check out my book, Leadership and Horse right here.
Please share and comment below. May the horse be with you!
Everything you are about to read is a bit of a rant on my part. I apologize upfront. I remember attending a Ray Hunt clinic many years ago and I was shocked how insensitive he was to the audience when he said, "I'm not here for you, I'm here for your horse. If you get anything out of it fine. Just remember, I'm here for your horse." I thought I would never say that kind of thing. And yet, here I am, a decade later, saying nearly the same thing. This blog is a rant for the horse set against the dangerous, mountainous topic of circles.
Beware the circle game for without proper understanding your horse will go lame. Ask any experienced trainer who's been to the top levels of training and riding. Ask them why there is such a high attrition rate in horses within programs like Parelli or dressage training programs that require excessive ground lunging. You can guess the answer... too many circles. Especially unbalanced circles. If you get anything out of it, that's a bonus for sure.
So how much is too much when it comes to circles? And are there ways to use circles in a productive and safe manner?
Every horse is different so don't assume I know how much is too much for your horse. I can, however, after decades of working with thousands of horses begin to make generalizations. Horses can do a lot more than you think, if... they have a rest between training.
Just like us, we need recovery windows when we are unfit. We need more recovery time when we are unfit than when we are fit. So when answering the question of how much is too much, in a general sense. Four circles of canter, on a twenty-two foot line is too much... if done all in one go. Straight lines are different, you can go for longer. Unless that horse is fit, four circles of cantering or more will risk injury to his or her joints. If you don't believe me, go demand four circles from your pasture horse right now without any breaks. Make them hold the circle, don't let them break gait. And within a week, your horse, if he's unfit, will start to show signs of lameness. The irony is that people forget this simple fact when they start circling. They can often demand too much because when the horse breaks gait, they get annoyed and ask them to maintain it. Even when they haven't supported the horse in any canter related fitness program.
The point is, ten or twenty or even fifty circles is not too much, if... breaking gait is allowed, if resting is allowed, if the effort is encouraged with rewards, if no more than three to four circles at a time, and per direction are forced. The point is... you can do a lot, but don't force it all at once. Programs that tell you breaking gait is bad and the horse should know better, are harmful to your horse's health. Think about how your body progressively grows strength and endurance. If you hired a personal trainer you wouldn't expect them to say. "The human body can run a marathon, so you should too, and if you don't I'll beat you with this stick." Your body would break down. But if you slowly build up that endurance, you could do more and more every day.
Here's where it can get confusing: Four circles is no marathon, so why is four circles of canter so hard for a horse? Horses canter all the time right?
Answer: NO. Horses don't canter all the time. Only top level, fit horses canter all the time, and usually on a straight line. If you have the luxury of having your horses in your back yard, you know how rarely they canter on their own. Maybe a couple times per day and in short straight lines. So asking them to hold that gait for too long in the beginning, especially on a circle, will destroy their joints. Please don't do that. Can they do it? Yes. Should they? No!
You can ask for a canter, but don't ask them to hold the canter for long. Build their endurance slowly, don't expect it to just be there naturally. Don't disregard the physical aspect of circles. When they break gait, in the beginning, allow it and don't get frustrated. Don't play circles to demand mental submission. Play them to slowly build their endurance. Play them to slowly encourage balance. Play them to slowly encourage more sensitivity to your signals and transitions. Play them to gain more trust in your partnership and ride-ability.
But don't play them because your bored and think it would be fun for your horse. Don't play with circles because your instructor said so. Don't play with circles because your horse is anxious and just needs to run around for a while. It's okay to use circles to burn off steam, but be sure to change directions and ask for transitions often to encourage more mental and psychical connection to reality. Don't play with circles without a clear plan to enhance your relationship and preserve their body and mind. And never play the "don't break gait" game without first knowing how long is too long for your horse's body type and current fitness.
On the subject of "don't break gait," I suggest generally, avoiding that game. If your horse breaks gait, it's because he doesn't want to keep going. But why doesn't he want to keep going? Is it because he's sore? Is it because he's unfit? Is it because he's being rude and not holding his responsibility to do what you believe he should? Be careful here. Breaking gait is a great thing. I love it when a horse asks me if he can transition from a canter to a trot or walk. It tells me he needs a shift in his balance. It tells me he might need a break mentally or physically. I don't always allow it because I am also trying to improve my horse's endurance, but I do always love that he wants to communicate with me. I don't want a robotic horse. I want a thinking and sensitive horse. One that I can ask to stay in the gait for just a few steps more to grow that muscle strength and mental fitness, or one that I can ask to stop, because stopping is a great idea too.
Okay, hopefully, I'm done ranting. Let's clear all this up.
Too many circles, generally, unless your horse is fit and trained for it, is four circles of canter all in one go without transitions or breaks. In the beginning, one circle of canter is too much for some horses. Be cautious when playing with circles.
When it comes to trotting, depending on your horse, 4-6 circles is too much.
When it comes to walking, depending on your horse, 4-6 is too much again, mostly because it's boring for a horse, without transitions, or breaks in gait, or breaks in general. It's easy to see how horses suffer from too many circles.
One last thing. I like to break circle games into two categories. One is transition training. Where I don't care how long the horse holds a gait, all I care about in this stage is how easy it is to access all gaits, up and down. Does my horse respond with an A+ response to my signals? The second type is not transitions but quality of gait instead. Does my horse look balanced? Can my horse grow his endurance? Does my horse look ride-able? I choose one topic. Not both! When I play with that kind of clarity, my horse loves me even more. And yours will too.
Be there for your horse. Be playful, creative, encouraging, smart, and observant. Don't listen to me, listen to your horse, and grow in your goals together. And if you're clever, in no time at all, you and your horse could be cantering along at liberty, or riding, or long lining, or even performing flying lead changes in perfect harmony and balance without the frustration of all the problems that arise when dealing with circles.
Thanks for reading or listening. Be sure to share this with someone you believe might be doing too many circles and don't forget to subscribe for more if you haven't already. Feel free to comment below.
PS. Here's a road map to developing circles that I use with every new horse or every spring re-start.
Ground in prep for riding: walk one circle each way, trot two each way, canter one each way. I slowly build to this, allowing confusion and breaking gait to occur naturally in the beginning. In other words... not getting frustrated by the process to this goal.
Ground in prep for performing arts: walk one each way, trot two each way, canter two each way. Again, I slowly build, stride by stride to canter fitness and balance.
Riding: walk two each way, trot two each way, canter one each way. Again, slowly building to this control stage of riding. Most of my riding is in bigger spaces, allowing more straight line work.
Riding in prep for performing arts: consists of better transition control and speeds within each gait. Then lateral control (meaning sensitivity to hands and legs moving the hind end, front end, and head independently) in each gait. Eventually I can canter on a small circle (pirouette or spin), or jump a course dictating speed and striding, or canter half-pass, and flying changes.
PPS: Some people believe you need to make a horse circle for long periods of time to develop rhythm and balance. They aren't completely wrong, just unaware of the hazards, and unaware of other, better methods of training rhythm and balance.
The idea is the same, always. Slow, thoughtful progression to bigger goals. Good luck out there.
Raise your hand if you are confident enough to throw a rope while riding your horse, catch the hind leg of another horse, dally that rope, and stop the horse from running away! That's one masterful, challenging technique, that can go wrong very quickly.
If you're not that confident and skilled, which most people aren't, then why do trainers show off these types of techniques? Do they somehow expect you to be able to do that too?
Have you ever watched a horse training video where the trainer gets on a young horse and bucks the horse out until the horse stops bucking? Can you do that? Should you do that? If you cant, then why do trainers insist on showing these extreme training methods? Are they showing off? Are there real applications for these methods? Are these extreme methods even humane? With your permission, I want to share my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, these extreme techniques may not be as inhumane as they seem, more on that in a second, but these methods, such as roping a hind leg, are extraordinarily tricky to do right and can end in disaster. So if you're considering using extreme tricks to get through to a tough horse or mule, think twice before trying to be a cowboy. I've seen horses react so poorly that they permanently damage muscle, or spirit, or worse. One time I saw a horse flip over backward and die instantly when his head hit the nearby fence post. In short, you must exercise caution and there are probably other methods, less extreme methods, that will get the same job done.
Now because these methods, like holding a horse's leg by a rope or bucking a horse out for the first time are so dangerous for obvious reasons, that does not mean they are inhumane if done correctly. Here's why...
If a domestic horse or mule is unwilling to participate in our human activities, that horse has two options left in life. One... if she's lucky, she'll be left to a home that only feeds and watches from a distance (which can only last so long before feet have to be trimmed or health has to be managed in some way) or two... she'll be sent to slaughter. The most humane thing to do is to help that horse adapt to human life and participate with a sense of peace. Extreme strategies can be very effective with extreme horses, in part because it can make almost instant changes if done right, rather than dragging out a slower process. This benefits the animal immediately. Think about it like this... Is one really hard day better than one hundred less hard days? Extreme fixes, if done right, shorten the amount of time to bring the horse to peace about human activities. If done wrong, however, it may injure or destroy the animal's body or spirit (and maybe you too) in the process. What I'm trying to say is, if the horse has limited options and if you have limited time, extreme strategies can work, but there are still other methods.
That means you don't have to rely on extreme strategies if you have an extreme horse or mule. You don't have to buck out a horse or rope a hind leg. You can do it the slow way. You can influence that animal to love and trust you, and over time, enjoy participating in human activities. If you've been taught to push a bucking horse forward, I apologize on behalf of smart horse trainers that are dumb people trainers. Not everyone can do that and not everyone should. There are other methods. If you've been taught to tie a horse to a rail and flag out the horse, again, I apologize on behalf of creative horse trainers that are dumb people trainers. If you've been taught that to start a colt you have to buck them out in a round pen, which most people can't do, I apologize on behalf of great bronc riders who think other people should also be that good before they break a colt.
Mastery horsemanship doesn't ignore the value of extreme strategies but it doesn't lead you directly to them. Mastery is about finding out how to get through to your animal without extreme measures, which requires less technical expertise, which means anyone can do it. That's right, anyone can start a young horse and live to do it again. It doesn't matter how old you are or how skilled you are. If you think you can't work with a young or challenging horse because you can't do those extreme methods, you've been misled by old traditions. If you know other methods, you can safely navigate the most challenging horse experiences. Mastery horsemanship can help you do that. In fact, within the Horse Mastery Group, we guide individuals to start their own horses, gain their full confidence, maintain integrity through training, and follow their dreams. Check it out, try it for a month. Follow your dream.
I won't leave you high and dry here. I spoke of other methods and here is one of many. Consider the roping of the hind leg technique... what's the main goal there? The principle is to prove to the horse that if he remains calm he can have his legs, but if he reacts poorly, one leg is taken away. This causes the horse to make a quick mental shift in our favor because life is good when he's calm related to our activities like saddling and mounting, and life is really not good when he's not calm. That extreme polarized experience can be effective. But we can follow the same principle of "good if you do, bad if you don't" by taking away something else he values besides his own legs. We could reserve his food or water, only giving it to him when he allows us to stand next to him, grooming him with a halter on. For the first few days, he wouldn't like the idea, but pretty quickly he'd realize that he doesn't eat unless he allows us into his life and space. "Good if you do, bad if you don't." Rest assured there are even more techniques. Use your imagination, what do horses value. Can you trade that value for something you value?
And back to the question of humane treatment... is it okay to take something from the horse in trade for what you want? If you own a horse and you answered no, you're not seeing clearly, because you're already trading. You've placed a fence around him to hold him in view. You've traded his freedom for your pleasure. I know that's extreme but it's true. The only safe bet is that you truly love and honor your horse's experience in our world. Which lends to the truth that you are humane about his experience. So the answer to the question is yes, it is okay to trade something he values for something you want. Just do it in an elegant fashion. Give him what he needs when he gives you something in return.
If you have a horse that's hard to catch, you can stand over his daily food pile until he allows you to touch him with your hand or a rope, then walk away and let him eat in peace. Within a few days, he will let you catch him easily. Don't just toss the food over the fence and hope one day he'll let you put a halter on.
If you have a horse that bucks with the saddle, don't just get on and ride it out. Ask him not to buck every time, then ask for forward again. Play the don't buck game until he can go forward without bucking. You don't have to push him through it. There are other methods.
Consider the principle one last time. Is there something my horse values, food, water, oxygen, movement, herd mates, freedom, etc. that I can give to him after he or she gives something simple to me? If you can answer that, you are one step closer to leadership. If you can do it elegantly, you are one step closer to mastery!
As always, I love to hear your comments. Please comment and share this with your friends.
"May the horse be with you." :)
All I did was ask him to canter. What he did next nearly sent me toppling over his head into the dirt below. He dropped his head and lifted up his rear end so fast and high, I felt like I was heading down the steep side of a roller coaster track. Luckily I was mostly prepared because he had done it before. When I recovered and reached the sidelines where my audience stood watching the show, a question emerged from one of my students. "What happened back there?" she asked. I replied with a sly grin, "My horse had a hump in his rump."
Lots of horses resist the suggestion to go forward when asked. Some will lift or hump up their rear end and kick out their hind feet, some will rear up the front feet, some will just freeze in place and offer you nothing at all. If you've ever had a question about what to do when your horse has these types of resistances, this article will help immensely.
Let's take this time for knowledge and strategy:
First, as to why a horse would resist, it's simple, they never asked to be put in that position in the first place. Don't take it personally, just make sure they feel valued every day whether you ride or not. That's basic psychology. "Horses don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Pat Parelli
Also, as to why a horse would resist, it's important to know that how you ask matters. If you ask without concern for their balance and timing, you will most certainly get feedback like kicking or rearing.
Lastly, as to why a horse would resist, it's important to know that when and where you ask matters too. If you ask a horse to go forward into a space they don't want to be or away from a space they would rather be, you will get feedback. It's to be expected, don't get frustrated. It never helps to get frustrated, NEVER!
Now as to how to resolve basic resistance in a horse that won't go forward when asked, or worse, tries to remove you from the picture if you ask.
1. Ask nicely, then gradually increase the intensity of your ask while being considerate of their balance. Sometimes you have to prepare a horse for a transition before you make the transition. In other words, if you want to canter on a left lead, you must make sure the left front leg is NOT dipping low and placing too much weight through that shoulder and foot. That leg must be free to move forward, so it helps to prepare for that lead with a slight shoulder yield to the right before you ask for the canter to the left. Does that make sense?
2. Ask nicely, then gradually increase the intensity of your ask while being considerate of their psychology. Sometimes you have to realize that horses are pattern animals. If you watch closely you'll see how they do the same things often. The same types of resistance show up with every forward transition, not just the canter. It only intensifies with the canter. What that means is, you can work to improve the quality of the more basic transitions forward first. For instance...
If I'm on the ground with my horse, asking for a trot to canter on a circle, I must notice whether or not I use my stick to support the new gait. If I do use my stick, it means my horse resisted the transition. No wonder he resists when riding too. No wonder you have to use a crop or kick harder when riding. It's not even good on the ground yet.
Or, consider riding, asking for a walk to trot transition, if he doesn't respond instantly, and calmly to my suggestion I wouldn't then expect him to respond well to the advanced transition. I find it odd how many people don't understand this. Do you understand this? Get the lower transitions from halt to walk so smooth and snappy that your horse isn't so hesitant with higher level transitions. That means you simply have to practice the basics a little longer in preparation for more challenging tasks later.
3. Follow through! This term "follow through," means two things. First that when you practice anything, you have to repeat that practice for a few days in a row, don't expect to get good results when all you do is one training session. Secondly, follow through means, persisting past the resistance. Don't reinforce the resistance by giving up. Go back and get the basic transitions good then end with one higher level transition. Be consistent through it all.
Lastly, I have some common misconceptions about resistance, that are extremely important to know. Here they are:
Don't force your horse through a muddy puddle and expect to not be muddy on the other side. The old cowboy way of bucking out a horse that wants to buck is only good if you're a cowboy who can handle that kind of rodeo. Be smart, if you're not that cowboy, don't do it that way. Even on the ground, don't do it that way. There are better ways. Ask for a little at a time and be natural and rewarding with the horse's effort. The most common mistake I see people make regarding horses with humps in their rumps is to hold the gait once the transition has been made. It looks like this in real time... I ask my horse to canter, he resists then he finally gives me one step and I slam on the gas pedal to make sure he doesn't fall out of the canter. After-all it was so hard to get there I don't want to lose it, right? Wrong.
Reward often, that is your new strategy. If your horse offers one step of canter, reward him for it and work over the next few minutes toward two steps. Be smart, be playful, and don't follow old traditions of force and fear tactics unless you're competent enough to deal with the fallout.
One last thing. Never assume your horse is good at anything, even if you've seen him do it before. Be considerate of the fact that just because a horse can canter without bucking, it doesn't mean he will canter without resisting when you place 100 plus pounds on his back and turn him in a direction he doesn't want to go. Don't assume anything, just ask questions. That's my motto. Ask your horse if he's ready, then if he says yes, by responding to a simple suggestion then ask him to perform something a little harder. If he says yes to that, you can keep climbing that ladder to the top, but if he says no. Don't climb higher, not yet, not even if he did it yesterday. Be considerate and wait until you get a yes answer.
I love that you love to read my articles and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your dreams with horses. I would love to hear from you. Comment below on how this article has impacted you and share it with your friends.
PS. If you haven't received my book yet, take a look at Leadership and Horses
Thank you, Don Jessop
My mission, if you choose to accept it, is to build bridges, not ignore or polarize any person with other points of view.
Please read the above sentence one more time. Hear me clearly!
I have been strictly horse related blogging for several years now but I cannot resist the urge to occasionally guide my readers to build their confidence, build up their own inner voice, and playfully progress with their own psychology. Which brings us to today and a mission that is not impossible in my own heart and mind.
"And so we bravely march on together."
The latest mass media has figured out how to shock, polarize, and inform us on what "they" think we need to know even if it's a one sided picture. That, by the way, is normal and nothing to be surprised by. Listen to CNN and get one side, listen to FOX and get the other. The problem is not how one sided they are. The problem is that people only listen to one side. In other words, I'm not upset at mass media and big news channels. I am however, oddly disappointed at how many people rely strictly on only one media source, for which they have subscribed to for the last five years of their life. I know people and trust people to express different view points. That is one of our most important human rights, and I don't judge either. But I do wish people, left and right, would open up to each others point of view.
So once again I state my mission.
To build bridges!
Below are two important links to get us from here to where we want to go. Hosted by a man I trust, a man I believe you should trust too, Tony Robbins, interviewing doctors you should trust, sharing important information on both sides of this COVID-19 experience we are all in together.
I hope these link below give you a sense of peace and even excitement for our future.
Mid April interviews with Tony and specialized front line doctors related COVID-19:
End of April interviews with Tony and specialized front line doctors related to COVID-19:
Thank you for reading. Please comment below.
- Don Jessop
If I said...
I have a course for you that will make sure you and your horse stay safe, and... get back into the swing of riding this spring season, would you take the course?
What if I said the course was freeeeeeee!
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CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO ACCESS THE COLT STARTING OR RESTARTING COURSE
If you're still reading, I don't know why, because the link to the free course is above this paragraph. I want you to succeed. And yes, I want to be a part of you succeeding. So click the link and get going.
PS. If you managed to read this far I have another special link for you. It's a month of Gold Horse Mastery Coaching for nearly 50% OFF. Save $200 every single month. You get all the courses for FREE. You get weekly personal support for FREE. You get all my books for FREE. You get to ask all your questions at any time and make sure you don't get left behind this spring. There are no other fees, no cancellation fees, no change fees. It's all about you making your dreams with horses come true!
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So your horse lays his ears back? Maybe he kicks, maybe she bites, maybe she balls up and bucks. But what is really going on there? Is it dominance? If so, what does dominance mean?
Here are four types of dominance that you need to know to read the situation correctly.
This is where your horse wants you to leave his space. When I was a kid I crawled under the fence to visit what looked like a good fishing hole from the road and was literally chased from the field by an aggressive stallion. The owner of the house nearby came racing out to meet me at the fence and warn me never to go in there with that horse. That was my first experience with aggressive dominance with horses. We see this all the time when horses meet each other. They bite, back up and kick, strike, and lunge at each other to move the other out. When we look at horses doing this kind of thing, our natural human brain calculates the preemptive behavior and almost always notices the ears go back. And we, therefore, assume that ears back is a sign of aggression. But it isn't, not always anyway.
Defensive (looks like dominance):
If aggressive dominance is meant to make you leave, defensive dominance is meant to keep you away. It sounds the same, but it's different. The aggressor will charge you, push you, bend to kick or bite you, but the defensive type will lay their ears back and lift their head uptight. Sure, when pushed to the limit, they will also kick and bite but they're doing it to defend their space, space that you invaded. If you just backed off they wouldn't come at you at all. In other words, I could have fished right alongside that winding stream, never bothering the horse and been just fine if the horse was a defensive type. Remember being calm or non-threatening to an aggressive type doesn't win your mutual trust, he'll come at you to make you leave, whereas the defensive type will let you be, just as long as you let him be.
We see defensive types all the time in horse training. We see horses pin their ears when you ask them to canter or pin their ears when you go to catch them or pin their ears when you make them walk toward you at liberty, or pin their ears when you put the saddle on, but all that ear pinning is usually defensive in nature. You're asking them to accept telling them what to do and they don't like it. Stop asking and see how much happier they are. Then again, you also don't get to do anything ever again with super defensive horses because they tell you what they don't like so quickly. So you have to find a way to communicate and reward softness and defenseless behaviors. Our Mastery Horsemanship Group classes dive into these types of topics every week.
Another type of dominance is passive dominance:
This type describes a horse that just doesn't care about anything you say. They don't get defensive, they don't get upset, they just don't respond because you just don't mean that much to them. I see horses meet at the water trough all the time. The aggressive type barges in to get the water, the defensive type pins his ears and tries to stay but usually isn't strong enough, eventually being forced to leave, and the passive type just stays anyway, because he doesn't care the old mare is grumpy. She might even threaten to kick him and he just says, "whatever." These types of horses are usually nicer to be around but harder to advance to upper levels because their sensitivity is quite low. Good techniques, some of which we teach in our mastery classes, can really support getting past this type of problem. Timing and feel is everything with a horse like this.
The last type of dominance is playful dominance:
Playful dominance is a natural expression of experimental hierarchy. Which means the horse is simply doing things to find out whether or not he can get away with them. Think of two horses playing in the field, both biting, both kicking, but neither upset or offended. Eventually one will prove the leader and both will return to normal life, then occasionally the leadership roles reverse. The point is, playful dominance is natural and fine to witness but not great to be around. When a horse is playfully nibbling or flashes ears back when I'm near it can mean he's just testing his status with me. If I don't check it, he could become more dominant, if I check it too hard, I destroy the playfulness inside him. If I think it's playful dominance I will always ask him to stop but keep a smile on my face. If it continues to escalate I want to shut it down completely and make absolutely sure it doesn't go that far.
Now you know four types of dominance. Maybe you can sit back and slow your brain down and watch your horses act and react and start to measure whether or not your horse is being aggressive or defensive the next time you see ears back or negative behavior. It's important to know too, because if you assume it is aggression when it's actually defensive, or vice versa, you could be inadvertently training or rewarding the wrong thing and wind up getting in trouble in the process.
You could think the aggressive dominant horse is being defensive and back off just in time to get bitten or kicked... Not fun! You could think the defensive horse is being aggressive and push too hard to correct and destroy the trust. It's a tricky thing to balance and you desperately need to get good at reading horses to know. Again, that's why we've created the mastery classes. With courses like Horse Psychology 101 and more that can help. Check it out here.
Thanks for reading. I hope it's been informative, please comment below to share your experiences and thoughts.
How you end matters... Let's say you're asking your horse to depart from a trot into a canter with a little kick from your heels. Let's say he does it and you carry on down the left side of the arena whistling a happy tune. Now let's say that you show up to a clinic with your favorite instructor and your instructor asks you to demonstrate trot to canter transitions with ease and mastery. Only now... you're confused by your horse's response. Sure, he does what you ask but it seems like he's not himself, like he's giving you an extra challenge for some reason in front of everybody. "He does fine at home," you think to yourself. "What's his problem here? Why is he so resistant?"
Alas, you have fallen into a trap. The trap of complacency. In your practice at home, you find you weren't practicing at all. You were just doing, just riding, and your horse was getting sloppy in the transitions because you didn't know you shouldn't allow such poor performance. Or... you misread your horses' response as a good response because you didn't have the contrast of a great response to compare against. Or... you prioritized the quality of the canter over the quality of the canter transition. Lots of people do this. It's a common mistake. They think the gait is more important than the transition into the gait and fail to work on the transition multiple times in each session in order to score better on that aspect. In Mastery Horsemanship we carry a principle called "You Get What You Allow." Meaning your horse's performance on a regular basis is directly related to the quality of response you allow or end on every day.
So herein lies the three biggest problems people face when trying to advance their communication or riding skills with horses:
1. People often don't practice until they get better scores. That would be like taking a test, getting a "D minus" and leaving the room without making sure you learn something from the test. It's better to stay in the room, even retest until you get a better score, "A+" would be nice, then leaving on a good note.
2. People often don't have contrast. They think what their horse is giving is good enough because they've never felt better. But believe me, there is better. Mastery Horsemanship explores what better is. When you get a response that does not require any extra pressure from your leg, not even a kick or squeeze to get a canter departure, that's a whole lot better than a lower level signal like kicking. But you have to believe it's possible. When you see a master ask a horse to stop without pulling on the reins or exaggerating his or her body language, you start to see that your suggestions are big and obvious, perhaps even inelegant. Certainly not masterful, and therefore giving you a lower score than what's possible within that task. Sure you may be doing better than in the beginning, but don't fall into complacency. There is more magic to behold inside yourself if you are willing to explore the contrast between your own signals and the signals the masters use to get the same simple task.
3. People often prioritize the wrong aspect of training. Sure cantering is important, but what comes before the canter is more important, in a stepping stone fashion of progress. We always recommend mastering the simple, pre-task portions of any task before tackling the main event. For instance, don't push your horse into a trailer, instead, teach her to stand in front of the trailer with mastery, then ask for forward into the trailer. Or don't ask for vertical flexion while trotting, instead ask for vertical flexion while standing still, then from a halt to walk, then during the walk, then from a walk to trot, then while trotting. The same concept goes for lateral suggestions, patterns, rollbacks, flying leads, you name it, the principle applies. There are always preparatory tasks that can be done well before asking for bigger things. People who grasp this idea are the only ones on the path to mastery with horses.
And herein lies the best solutions to those three problems stated above:
1. Score every transition, every response, every question. Use the most simple version of grading we all understand.
A = perfect, masterful, elegant, invisible, needing no supporting signals.
B = great but room for improvement.
C = passable for safety but needs a lot of practice over the next few days.
D = near failure and requires immediate practice to improve.
F = total failure, also requiring immediate practice and leadership.
Always demand at least a "C" score if you're just going to ride for pleasure without improvement in mind. But if you want to improve, demand an "A" response, proving that you don't need your stick or spur or heavy hand to support your idea. If you end on an "A" each day you can reach the pinnacle of mastery in any category you choose.
2. Explore contrast. Don't settle for what you've got. Look for people that inspire you. There are thousands of inspirational videos all over YouTube that demonstrate cool, sexy, elegant, sensitive, light responses to simple suggestions. Here's a short inspirational, older home video, my wife did nearly a decade ago with a horse that didn't have a great life until he met her. Click on video after you finish reading. You should see her now. It's even better.
3. Don't miss or bypass simpler pre-tasks because they are boring, tedious, seems to take too long, or seems too difficult. Did you know it's actually harder to get a good response from a walk to trot, then it is to get a response while trotting? It's actually easier, for instance, to force flexion on the horse while in motion than while transitioning into motion. Lots of trainers misuse and mistake this 'easy factor' as a reason to bypass the related pre-tasks. Don't fall into that trap. If you want to teach flexion in preparation for dressage or collected riding, teach your horse to score well on flexion while standing first, then transitioning, then walking, then transitioning, then trotting, etc. Follow a path, don't skip steps, don't be lazy. Be precise and thoughtful, and measure your responses. Before long, you will notice how you soar above your friends regarding your quality and progress with horses. You might even inspire them :)
In conclusion. Looking back at the original story about not performing well in front of your favorite instructor, you must become the kind of person that judges the quality of the transition from trot to canter on a regular basis and settles for no less than an "A" or "B" score before continuing on with the canter. Had you been paying attention you would have noticed the regular poor "C" or "D" responses because you had to kick your horse to get the canter, and not allowed them to be the end result that day. If you follow through to a great score, you would never again struggle in front of an instructor who asks you for higher quality responses.
I remember a famous quote by Tony Robbins, "People are rewarded in public for what they practice for years in private." That means, if you want more than just casual riding experiences, you must endeavor to practice. And what better way to practice than to use a simple scoring model. Try it for yourself and reply to this article with a comment below on how this has helped you. Share it with a friend and let's make the world of horse training a better place for horses and people.
Thanks for reading and God bless :)
For more, find me a Mastery Horsemanship.com. Join the mastery group and experience in depth training and camaraderie in today's new world.
Any google search will give you answers on how to stay positive. You'll get examples of meditation techniques or positive affirmations but you don't need that. You need something more. I know that's rather bold of me to assume you need more but trust me enough to read past the first paragraph and you'll learn why I believe that.
I'm a horse clinician, author, and coach. Without any doubt, horses are a real passion for me. But the psychology part of horse training is what truly drew me to the game. I love figuring out how to help people be better leaders for their animals and at the same time making sure the animal is in love with following a noble leader.
In the midst of all that horse and people training, I noticed something I'm not sure many other people in the world have noticed. I'll try to deliver this observation in the simplest form possible, first... by defining a leader. What is a leader?
Without getting bogged down into what qualities a leader has, we can simply define a leader as someone who has "a following." In other words... you aren't a leader if you don't have anyone following you and responding to you. In that light, if you're a horse owner and your horse doesn't follow and respond to you, you're not a leader at all. In that same light, if your own brain and body don't respond to you... you're not a leader there either.
There in lies the distinction I was talking about that I'm not sure many people have noticed. The human body and emotional brain are the natural followers of the cognitive, conscious self. Just like a horse follows a good human leader, the emotional mind should follow the conscious mind. Can you follow me here? I'm saying... that your emotional mind and body are just like a horse and you are the trainer, the leader. My question is, are you a good leader, or do you let your emotional mind run the show?
When you ask your body to respond, does it? When you ask your emotional mind to calm down, does it? Or does it buck and rear against your will?
Using this simple analogy of training a horse, we can also train our own mind and body. If you're not a horse owner I'll fill in some gaps here to make sense of everything.
Here are five things all good horse trainers/leaders have in common.
1. When confusion about what's next is obvious, the human stops to observe his/her goals and create a plan - no sense going blindly forward
2. When the animal resists, the human persists - always end on a good note
3. When the animal yields, the human rewards heavily - make a big deal out of small good things
4. When the animal is scared, the human demands their full focus and attention - for safety and progress past the scary thing you must be able to guide the situation not run away from it
5. When the animal is disconnected, the human finds ways to make learning fun again
There is, of course, much more to horse training, but these five things outline exactly what we need to be for our own emotional minds and bodies.
If you want to stay positive, (a noble goal), you must follow those same five principles to rein in your emotional mind and demand responsiveness from your body.
First, observe your goal and create a plan.
- I want to stay positive, no matter what. To do that I must...
Second, when the body resists I must persist...
Third, when my body and mind yield to my leadership I must reward it...
By the way... this is exactly what negative people do, they make a big deal out of small negative things. (I CAN'T FIND MY KEYS! THE WORLD IS ENDING!)
Fourth, when fear takes me, I will control it...
Fifth, when I feel disconnected or bored, I will find ways to make learning and growing fun again...
We just walked through a big process together and like any good leader I've learned from, I hope to bring it home with even more simplicity. If you want to stay positive, you must engage in positive things and avoid negative things, and to do that without the normal resistance that accompanies change, you have to become a leader in your own mind and body. Are you willing to do that?
Take my 24 hour challenge today. Decide, as a leader, what emotion you will express for the next 24 hours. Notice I said, "express," not "feel." You can't help but feel emotions based on circumstances, but all good leaders take a step past that experience of life and into the next, which is a conscious experience of life instead of the unconscious.
Are you willing to take the challenge to express a certain positive feeling in spite of your circumstances for 24 hours? Comment below if you're willing to take the challenge.
It's simple, decide what to feel for the next day. When you don't feel that way, change it back and regain leadership over your emotional mind and body. If you get stuck, come back and re-read how a good horse trainer would deal with an unruly horse.
Comment below if you're willing to take the challenge. I'll start with the first comment.
Also, if this article has touched you in a positive way, please share how, and pass this link onto your friends as well. God bless!
I love the term "games with horses." It illustrates the humans' desire to make the relationship more about learning and fun. Which is so much better than dictatorial leadership that looks a bit like slavery from the horse's perspective.
Inevitably, however, people overuse some games and underuse others. I thought I'd take a quick look at a dozen or so games that most people learn about and play with regularly and comment about which ones should take priority but don't, all in an effort to help you, the loving horse owner, be more effective than your neighbor who's stuck in normalsville.
hand yield games
to, into and through games
figure eight games
2 line driving games
connection games or liberty games
Of the list above, could you guess which is the most popular and overused game?
If you guessed circle games, you got it right. Most horse owners love to see their horse go around in a circle. Why? You might ask... Because it's cools to watch a horse in motion of course. Who doesn't love watching a horse move? But the sad truth is, the game is overused and abused.
I see people pushing a horse or holding a horse on a circle that isn't balanced, ultimately causing lameness or injury with repetitive stress on the joints. I see people beating the horse for breaking gait when the horse needs to slow down or shift the balance a bit. I see people circling without any reason to circle. In other words, when I ask if they know why they are doing circles, their answer is something like, "Because I was told to."
There is real value to circles, but let's be clear on the value. Value number one is... preparation for riding. I can tell if the horse is ready to ride or ready to buck just by saddling and asking for a walk, trot, canter on the circle. Another value is performing arts. There are professionals who make beautiful circles and demonstrate in front of crowds how kind, soft, and sensitive their horses are too simple commands.
I know some people think that maintaining gait is another value of the circle game. It isn't. In fact, it's the worst reason to do circles. If you want to teach maintaining gait, do it while riding or working on a really long line to avoid repetitive stress. It's okay if a horse chooses to maintain a trot or canter while circling, but it's a whole other problem when the owner forces the horse to maintain gait on a circle. I do in fact teach people how to help their horses increase the length of time they can canter on a circle but only up to about 2-4 circles maximum. There is no value past this point in ground work. If you really want maintaining gait to be one of your big plans, then do it in the saddle. On top of that... I know people who think I'm wrong here and practice maintaining gait on the ground, only to find out the horse still stinks at holding the gait while riding. "Hmm.. how interesting, right?"
So let's get away from overusing circles and talk about which game is the least used and least valued game by most horse owners and trainers and therefore gain insight into what the masters do.
Can you guess? I've been watching for these patterns for over two decades now across the entire industry and internationally. The pattern is the same in all novice and mediocre trainers. But master trainers know the answer and work on this game more than any other game.
The game is... Hand yields. Also, known as steady pressure yields. Also known as the porcupine game. Also known as halter or bit yields. I call them hand yields because they require the feel of steady hand to ask.
That's right. Most trainers say they play this game but when tested via video or live lesson, prove to play it very little. I see them play driving yields often enough to get the horse to respond to moving around without touching them but rarely do I see people practice hands on yielding games like backing ten steps on a light halter touch or sideways ten steps on the lightest touch on the shoulder, neck, and hips.
When I ask people to show me those games they often show that they understand the concept of hand yields but not the value. They can do it with what looks like forced, unpracticed responses, but not with precision, lightness and the ere of refinement, only possible with daily rehearsal.
The value is imperative to learn about. Hand yields, or steady pressure yields, or porcupine games lead to precision work in the upper levels. You can't do half passes or flying changes without sensitivity to steady pressure. You can't slow a horse just before a jump or speed up to shave that last second on off the clock. It's also essential for basic horsemanship. In other words, you can't stop a horse without steady pressure on the reins in the beginning. It's also imperative for simple ground tasks like leading and grazing. Nobody wants a horse to pull the rope out of your hand just to steal another bite of grass. Yet people allow this all the time because they don't know the value of hand yields.
To make it simple. Hand yields apply directly to riding activities in ways no other games do. Hand yields make you safer. Hand yields make so anyone can work around your horse including vets, farriers, old people, and children. Hand yields help with upper level maneuvers, just like we talked about. Hand yields even make horses braver too. That's right. Horses that listen to hand yields in the middle of crises are the ones that keep you alive. Imagine a horse that runs away and you can't stop him to tell him it's okay. If you practiced hand yields daily you could stop him and teach him to listen to you instead of the scary thing. With that trust in you, his confidence will bloom.
So, in short, hand yields are underused, undervalued games that master trainers don't skip over. They may be the single biggest difference between novice trainers and master trainers and their ability to make progress. Whereas circles are used sparingly with master trainers in an effort to prepare for riding, developing smooth transitions, and/or performing arts liberty work.
All other games have their own values too. We talk in depth about these games and many more games in the Horse Mastery Group on a weekly basis. Hopefully you can see where the best place to put your focus is. Would you commit to more hand yield games while on the ground and riding? Will you commit to fifty backup steps with the halter each day? How about fifty sideways steps? You don't have to do it all at once. You can still be rewarding and smart about it, but can you imagine how much better your horse will be because you do what the master trainers do each day.
Stay safe, make it fun for you and the horse, and practice the things that 80% of all horse owners and trainers fail to do.
I would love to hear from you about this topic. Comment below and tell me you're committed to more hand yield games.
Free live video conferences all week. Link below.
Are you more like a thinker or more like a reactor? Science has explained that we basically think in terms of strategy (left brain) or instinct (right brain). We've used this rudimentary model in the horse industry to analyze and determine a horse's state of mind and assess the next best plans to help train behaviors. As it turns out, we can use the same model to help our own species.
For instance, if the horse is left brain we can employ precision work and rewards to increase and enhance specific training models. Whereas a horse in a right brain (reaction) state doesn't respond well to food rewards, they respond better to comfort, clear boundaries and certainty that everything will be okay.
Using that model, you can determine the state of mind of the people around you. Do you feel like they need certainty right now? Do you feel like they need someone they trust to tell them it's all going to be okay? Do they need someone to tell them what to do? If so, that means they're using the right brain, reaction part of their brain.
It's okay to use that part of the brain. And in truth... everything will work out perfectly, trust me, trust God, trust people, trust yourself. Trust that you're capable of anything. Trust that we are all in the same life experience, which means no one gets left behind. No one is alone. At least that's what I would tell you if I felt you needed to hear it. Then I would look for ways to prove it. To prove that humanity always finds a way. That people work together and move mountains.
On the other side of the coin, do you feel like the people next to you are consciously analyzing and strategically maneuvering through today's challenges? If so, they're using the left hemisphere of the brain. That's generally a good thing in times of stress. It's what armies train their soldiers to do when the bullets are flying. It means you can see opportunities. You can see gaps in the enemy's armor. You can even see people in need and creatively think of ways to support them.
That doesn't mean you should always only use the left brain mode. Sometimes you should allow instinct to take over and guide your next move. Usually, it's more helpful to think first, react later. But occasionally it's useful to reverse that. For instance, if you want to make love, using your brain isn't the right direction for blood to flow. Allow instinct to take over and lovemaking becomes easier.
Of course, all this only works as a generalization. We all use our right and left brain hemispheres to make decisions so it's not fair to quantify a person's personality as strictly one or the other. However, stressful situations tend to bring out the best or worst in us. If you can see where a person is, you can step in to lead or guide the next best steps toward a positive outcome. You don't have to judge it or fight against it, you can simply work with it. Work together.
I reach out to you at this time to offer the best of me. Join me on a free video conference call this week. I'm doing one each night for the next 7 days from 7-7:30 pm mountain standard time. The topics are not about people, not about politics or religions. It's all about you and your horses (One of our greatest loves and passions). We'll be doing lessons, a different lesson each night, answering any of your horse related questions and taking advantage of the extra time we get to spend with our favorite four legged partners.
People often reserve evenings for Netflix. I'm asking you to reserve it for a short, entertaining, positive, social horsemanship experience that's totally free for the next 7 days. All you will need is access to Facebook and an internet connection.
How you do things on day one is not the same as day ten... At least it shouldn't be. First contact is different than forth contact and so on.
If you have a skeptical horse that requires a special kind of approach to put the halter on, that's okay. What's not okay is to think that it will always be that way and allow a habit to be developed that keeps you and this horse locked in disharmony and uncertainty.
I've seen people approach their horse in the field with their eyes down and their feet slow like it was the first time the horse had ever seen a human, only it was the hundredth time. It's totally possible that people get stuck doing what they did on day one for too long and failing to make progress with planned steps and training.
Be careful not to settle into what your horse gives you. It's okay to demand a little more each day from your horse. Of course, there are physical limitations on your horse's joints and body, but their mind is flexible and they can adapt quickly. A wild mustang in my training, for instance, will take time on day one to allow me to touch him, but by day ten I can sprint up to him in the open field with halter in hand and she eagerly awaits the gifts I have for her.
Just think, the horse has twenty three hours per day to be a horse and maybe one hour per day to be a human's partner. Knowing that should give you permission to ask a little more.
The reason I'm saying all this is because most people get a result on day one or two and settle for that same result on day three through day three hundred. For instance, if it takes me two hours to get my horse to put his front feet in the trailer on day one, that doesn't mean I should expect to get back to that point on day two. I should expect to get past that point. I should demand a little more. The same principle goes for riding walk, trot, and canter. The same principle goes for my posture in the saddle. It's a global principle of progress.
It is insane to get the same results day after day. Why settle for that? What's wrong with asking for a little more of yourself and your horse? Sure your horse will get frustrated, so what? Kids at school get frustrated with math problems, should we tell the teacher to stop asking harder math problems of our kids?
Don't let frustration dictate the outcome. Work through the frustration to get to a better point. End on a good note, then come back tomorrow and end on an even better note.
It's true that some days you just can't win, but those are the days where you run out of time and have to leave for an appointment. Or you misread the horse's physical limitations and forgot to add recess and recovery time. If you had the time, you'd never fail with your horse. Your horse needs breaks and recesses to recover but he doesn't need you to demand so little.
This is why my ten day colt start looks like this (generally).
Day 1: after a warm-up, some bonding time, etc. I demand the horse stands still for saddling and mounting (no riding) (It might take two hours, it might only take ten minutes to get to this point)
Day 2: repeat previous day plus... ask the horse to carry the saddle (not me) in the walk, trot and canter until there is no adverse reaction to those transitions
Day 3: repeat previous day plus... ask the horse to carry me at the walk, turning, and stop level until he's really solid (side note: I'm also working on things not related to riding, just not illustrated here)
Day 4: repeat previous day plus... integrate a few steps of trotting (It might take two hours, it might only take ten minutes to get to this point)
Day 5: repeat previous day plus... integrate more steps of trotting until I can trot a course full of turns, stops, transitions up and down, all without any adverse reactions
Day 6: repeat previous day plus... integrate a few steps of canter (It might take two hours, it might only take ten minutes to get to this point)
Day 7: repeat previous day plus... integrate more canter steps until I can hold the canter for a little while
Day 8: repeat previous day plus... integrated even more canter until we can canter a small course full of turns, stops, transitions up and down, all without adverse reactions
Day 9: repeat previous day plus... integrate riding outside the arena at the walk and possibly trot
Day 10: repeat previous day plus... integrate riding outside the arena in challenging situations and integrating canter into the outside riding
Take note here, re-read the process to see what I'm saying, that at no point did I allow my horse to buck while on his back. The process kept me safe by ensuring no adverse reactions before I took the next step each time.
There are many variations to this process including time, equipment, tools, technique, style, etc. Some trainers do it all in five days, most trainers do it all in about thirty days. Most novice trainers need about six months to a year to reach day ten in my program. That's perfectly fine. The point is not how fast you move forward, the point is that you do move forward!
Don't get stuck hoping your horse will get better some how with time. Put in the time yourself to ensure he/she gets better. Get more out of day two than you did out of day one. That goes for everything. If you want a better liberty (no ropes) connection with your horse, make a ten day program of what progress looks like for you and start on that path. Make sure you get more out of day two than you did out of day one. Notice how the progress seems slow but ten days goes by quick and before you know it you're at liberty in wide open fields.
Progress past day one means you see what day ten looks like so you can mechanically break down what day two should look like in comparison. This will ensure you never settle for less than what's possible.
Give yourself breaks, give your horse breaks, be patient, be open, but be clear. You don't want to be the person who looks back a year from now says, "I really haven't done anything this year. I can't believe I'm still not doing that thing I said I'd be doing by now."
Be progressive, be positive, be as natural as you can be and get past day one.
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Thanks for reading
First things first, let's talk about the reasons horses pin their ears. Contrary to what people think, it's not just about anger or resentment. Sometimes ear pinning is about inherent playfulness, or dominance over another being. Such as when a horse drives a cow or dog. Sometimes, ear pinning is defensive in nature. Such as when a horse feels threatened. When it's not about anger, resentment, playfulness, or defensiveness, ear pinning is usually related to concentration or physical pain.
When you're riding, (or on the ground, for that matter) you have to look beyond the expression of the ears to find out whether he's angry, playful, resentful or in pain.
If a horse won't go forward when you ask for instance, and you notice his ears are also pinned back, there is a good chance he's feeling resentful of your suggestion. But if you look around, you might also notice the other horse your riding with is too close to you and he's actually feeling defensive about it. Each situation is different and equally important to learn about.
I'm going to outline four situations. There are hundreds of variations to be sure, but these four will illustrate the most common and correctable situations with your horse while riding. (ground work, is a conversation for another day)
Riding situation number 1 of 4: You are alone in the arena, asking for a transition into forward movement. It doesn't matter what speed. What matters is, in this situation, your horse doesn't want to go forward, and you begin to notice his ears are pinned back. You've seen it before. In fact, he does this all the time. Every time you ask him, he hesitates, pins his ears and throws his head. Sometimes he even kicks or rears to avoid doing what you want. Then after a little extra pressure from you, he complies, but the truth is, it's not getting better and you're feeling like you're stuck with a sour horse. You know it's not elegant or beautiful but you don't know what to do about it.
The answer: In this situation, your horse is confused. Not about what you want so much as why it's important. A more fearful horse would simply comply, but your horse resents being asked.
You could be kinder about the way you ask, which will help a little. You could be more reward oriented for the effort he does put in, which will help a lot. And you could be more patient when you ask. Don't be in such a rush. This will help more than anything. And the reason it helps so much to slow down is because... your horse needs time to process the request. If you blast him through it, you may get your forward motion, but over the years, his expression will never change.
But if you send your "go signal" and hold it, and just wait, and wait, until he goes, then immediately release your signal and reward him, he'll become intrigued with this game you're playing. "Respond equals reward?" That's the question we want him contemplating.
Let me be clear about something here. Actually, two things. First... There are thousands of techniques and strategies, so what you're reading now is not an end all, be all strategy. You are still required to learn more, explore and grow in your skills. Second...Listen closely...When you ask for "go" and your horse gives you "ears back" instead of "go", you have to recognize he's trying. Yes! He's trying all the wrong things, but he's still "trying". Don't force a trying horse!
Don't force a trying horse!
Just wait... hold your signal. (I like to use a light squeeze with both heels because it's easy to hold).
Don't release your signal to "go" unless he goes, but don't increase your pressure either. Just wait. When he finally realizes, you're not going to blast him through his resentment he'll settle. He may even relax so much that he forgets you're asking him anything. He'll stand there with soft ears. Only then, can you increase your pressure to go forward, because that is the very moment he stops trying. When he does finally make a step in the right direction. Even it's one single step... praise him. Cycle through the ask and release sequence over and over and over. Reward each time he responds in the right direction and notice how he'll start offering more and more, because he feels so rewarded from you, and no longer resents you asking.
Like everything, you won't cure it all at once. You'll have to learn to communicate like this every time you ride for the rest of your life, but you'll notice his expression gets better each ride and he offers more. Don't revert to the old way of "asking and blasting" to try and fix his grumpy expression. Be reward oriented and use the training cycle to help him realize what you want.
Tips: Use your reins to keep his head forward to prevent him from biting, unless he wants to rear, then bend his neck and move his feet to prevent the rear. If it's really bad, get off and get help. Your life is worth it.
Situation number 2 of 4: You are riding with a group and every time your friend passes you to take the lead, your horse pins his ears at the other horse. He's being defensive, but there is no reason for it. At least not from your perspective. You've never hurt him or led him into danger. Why won't he listen to you and just relax about it?
The answer: In this situation, your horse is indeed being defensive. It can look like he’s being mean, but he’s not being mean. He doesn’t hate the other horses. What he or she hates is the feeling of someone encroaching on his space and because horses are much bigger than people, their personal space bubbles are also much bigger, especially with a defensive horse. You know it’s defensive because he doesn’t do it all the time. He only does it when a horse approaches his bubble.
You could yank on the reins really hard or spank him for being naughty (not recommended). Forceful corrections are useful if you’re in genuine danger but very destructive to your horse’s trust in you if you aren’t in danger. If your horse is defensive, the best thing to do is pick up the reins, just like you’d hold a young child’s hand while crossing the street. It’s a steady but kind grip on the reins. As the other horse passes just, simply be there for your horse. If he kicks at the other horse, you can make a firm correction. Remember, it’s ok to be firm in dangerous situations. Most of the time, however, he won’t kick. Instead, he’ll simply tense up a bit, but feel reassured by your contact with him.
Of course, each situation is slightly different. There are thousands of variations available. Principally, you just have to remember your horse is being defensive and needs more exposure to the situation, not less. More exposure, with safety in mind, can cure a defensive horse, especially if your reward oriented in your exposing style. One way to reward your horse making it through a tough situation is to hand out a treat. Even have the other rider with the encroaching horse hand out treats. There is a reason everyone loves fire trucks even though they are loud, big machines. It’s because every Memorial Day, candy comes pouring from the bulky red engines by the bagful. Use the same concept to help your horse learn to love interacting with other horses.
In the most extreme examples, I’ve had to be much firmer. I had one mare years ago who would charge with teeth bared at any horse that would approach her. She never played offense, it was always defense. In other words, she wouldn’t charge another horse for no reason. It was always related to the other horse getting too close. It was extremely dangerous. For her, we played a game to help her realize it was more important to focus on the rider, than the other horse coming into her space.
Here is how the game played out. First, we all found a safe place to be, with good footing. Then we’d have one person approach the defensive horse. The rider of the defensive horse would wait until the critical moment of safety and then burst into a full gallop, away from the other horses. You have to be a very good rider for extreme situations like this. We cycled through the experience about three times. By the fourth time, when the horse approached, the defensive mare didn’t so much as bat an eyelid at the approaching horse. Instead, she tuned into the rider, expecting to gallop away. But there was no need to gallop this time because we had her full attention. It was then, we knew we had made a change. We helped her focus on the rider on her back, as an attention redirect strategy. We never had a problem with her after. That doesn’t mean we didn’t keep our guard up. You should always keep your guard up with horses. That’s how you stay alive. But over the years, she never reverted to her extreme defensiveness. Instead, whenever she felt threatened, she remembered to focus on her rider for guidance.
Learn how to be a leader that your horse refers to under pressure! "Leadership and Horses" book available today!
Situation number 3 of 4: Your horse can do no wrong. Always performing beautifully, with one tiny hiccup...He's been pinning his ears a lot more lately. You can't tell what it is. You always ask politely, you reward him often. He doesn't hesitate to respond. Yet, for some reason, he's getting worse about it. His responses are still positive, but the ears are still back most of the time. Especially in motion.
The answer: I bet you can guess the answer to this one… The horse is in pain. Sometimes, when the horse doesn’t show any signs of limping, it’s easy to assume the ear pinning is a psychological or behavioral issue. In reality, many types of pain manifest themselves outside the typically visible cues. For instance, a sore tummy, ulcers, congestion, early colic stages, tendon soreness, joint soreness, foot soreness. They can all be happening at a low level of pain, without the rider knowing about it.
The horse that continues to show ear pinning in relation to pain generally doesn’t pin the ears all the way back in anger but might scrunch up the face, with a wincing expression.
I’ve tried to fix pain related issues, with massage, movement and shape therapy (yoga for horses), interrupting the ear pinning with rein corrections, and many other techniques. But now, if I even think for a second that the ear pinning could be related to pain. I go straight to my favorite test. Drugs!
That’s right, drugs. But it’s only a test. I will never continue to exercise or train with a sore horse. I only use the drugs for a chance to see if the horse is in fact, in pain. In other words, if he responds without ear pinning to a thing we would normally respond negatively for, then I know he’s potentially operating in a sore or painful state, and it’s time to see a vet. If he’s operating in the same manner as before, which means the drugs had no effect, I know it’s more likely behavioral. Or… It could be a more severe lameness or soreness than I thought. Either way, I will probably see a vet about my horse, and I recommend you do as well. If you think he may be sore or in pain, check it out.
Situation number 4: You are riding in a group, actually standing casually, chatting to your friend in the group, when suddenly your horse lunges forward, ears pinned and bites your friend's horse on the shoulder. Her horse, in turn, pins her ears and turns to kick your horse, nearly breaking your leg as the kick lands just in front of your stirrup. "What the hell? Where did that come from?" you ask.
The answer: Horses are always sending body language cues back and forth. Just because there is no verbal language, that doesn’t mean there is no language. In fact, even in the human world, the majority of our communication is still non-verbal. Only seven percent of a conversation's outcome is actually dictated by words.
What all that means is that horses are constantly talking to each other, and it’s not always nice. Have you ever met someone you just don’t like? You don’t even know why, but there is something about him, or her, that rubs you the wrong way. You don’t even have to speak to that person. One moment of eye contact and you can tell you don’t like them. In fairness, you may, in fact, grow to like that person, just as many horses grow to like each other, but in the beginning, tension can build.
In most human interactions, we have the ability to move to a more comfortable space. With horses, however, they are often forced to be where humans want them to be. This increases the tension between two opposing personalities.
The only thing to do is correct the ill behavior. I’m more observant than most riders, simply because I’ve been through and seen the worst of all horse behaviors. I’ve been on the receiving end of many bad experiences. What I always encourage my riders to do is, keep a constant guard up. Keep an eye on your horse, and catch something before it escalates. If you notice your horse is getting tense, you can move back a space. You can simply pick up the reins and check his attention is on you again. If you miss the opportunity to correct early and all hell breaks loose, the best thing to do is clear the space.
Reset your horses to a safe position as quickly as possible. Then, and only if you’re feeling capable of doing so, begin a training cycle to teach the horses to like each other. If nothing else, to tolerate each other.
The cycle could look like this: Approach each other, notice the tension raise, then retreat to a safe place, then repeat until the horses prove to hold their attention on you (the rider). Don’t let the horses touch each other or sniff each other’s noses. That’s a big “no-no”! Eventually, you could allow that to happen, but only after the horses are friends and the tension is all gone.
Exposure is a key ingredient to success. Keeping everybody alive during tense moments, is ideal. Keeping everybody safe involves keeping your horses attention on you. When things just don't feel right, remember to seek out professional help. That's what we are here for and we're just a phone call away. 406-360-1390. That's my phone number and I'm here for your first free phone call. In the call, we get to know each other and I can share my mastery group opportunity.
Hopefully, reading this helps you begin to understand a little bit more about the inside of a horse. I want you to be progressive, positive, and successful in your horse activities. Knowing what’s going on deep down inside the horse’s mind should help you be a better horse person and leader.
Leadership is really the biggest key to success with horses.
If you want to learn more about being a great leader. If you want to learn what the masters do with their horses, read “Leadership and Horses”
Buy your copy today, here on this website, or on amazon.com
"I just want him to not walk so darn slow!" She exclaimed, with a serious expression on her face.
"He walks like a turtle and I don't like it. Is there anything I can do?"
I answered, "I'm sorry, NO! You're stuck, you'll never be allowed to carry mail on the pony express."
JUST KIDDING... I never said that, because there is something you can do! A great deal, in fact! Here it is:
Follow this sequence exactly and your horse will become Speedy Gonzales at the walk or any other speed you choose.
Rules of the game:
Never beg, demand, or tell, until you've asked nicely for three full seconds.
At the walk...
Step 1: While walking ask for a step of trot. ONLY ONE STEP. Then immediately release your leg pressure and allow the walk. If your horse doesn't come back to the walk, ask him to come back kindly with your reins, because you don't want to trot. ONLY ONE STEP of trot is all you need.
Step 2: Repeat step one, over and over and over, until your horse becomes extremely sensitive to the "one step of trot" game. So sensitive in fact that when you squeeze with your legs (I recommend squeezing not kicking), your horse speeds up at the slightest suggestion. Now, all you have to do is keep him from trotting and you have a fast walking horse at the lightest touch of your legs.
We call the game "Steal a step."
It's called that because you steal one step of trot to encourage an energy uptick. Only one step because you don't want to confuse him to think you truly want him trotting for the long run. If you trot for longer than 2-3 seconds he thinks you actually want him to trot instead of simply provide more energy.
"Steal a step" works in every gait. If you want your horse to be faster at trotting. Steal a step of canter. Just one. Repeat the game until he's more sensitive to your leg cues and you'll find he's willing to do anything you ask and go any variable of speed within the trot gait.
See how it works the other way too. If your horse is too fast, practice stealing a step from the gait below. Slow the trot down by asking for one step of walk and allowing the trot immediately after. Repeat until his response to your hands is so subtle that people around you don't even see you ask, and notice how slow his trot will become. For walking, steal a step of halt. For cantering, steal a step of trot.
To speed up, steal a step from the gait above, to slow down, do the opposite. It's fun, it's easy, it's simple. Of course, it takes feel and timing and a little practice but with patience, you will notice just how quick your horse is at learning to go your desired speed.
It's extremely useful for your horse to go your speed. Imagine determining the speed on the trail instead of being subject to the fast, slow, drag and fly, experience of most group trail rides. Imagine determining the speed inside a jump course as you approach a jump grid, or inside a judged dressage competition where speed is a huge part of your score. Imagine being able to rate your horses speed on an endurance race or in a wide open gallop. Imagine trusting your horse enough to take off the bridle and canter around, knowing you're always in control and going the speed you want the whole time.
Speed control is important and fun to train, you just have to decide to begin training it. The "steal a step" game is a great way to start. Be safe and have some fun.
Look for more resources at www.masteryhorsemanship.com and comment below.
Thanks for reading!
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Written by Don Jessop - Mastery Horsemanship
"It came out of the blue," she said. "There were no signs leading up to it. He just started bucking and I fell off."
"I understand where you're coming from." I replied. "I've certainly been surprised by a horses actions. Especially a good old, trusted horse. But something always happens before what happens happens. So I want you to think back. What happened first?"
"Nothing! I swear." She replied, slightly blushing with either embarrassment or anger.
"It's okay." I expressed. "You didn't do anything wrong. You just might have missed something. We all miss things. We can't possibly see everything, all at once. And experiences like these, especially because you survived, are good experiences. You get to learn about your horse in a way you never knew you needed to."
She took a deeper breath and softened her tense face. "I was walking along casually, and everything was going great. He was relaxed. We all seemed happy. Nothing spooked him, that I could see. Then I felt like trotting, so I asked him to trot, and he did. The next thing I know, I'm on the ground."
The story you just heard is not uncommon. Good horses... do bad things... sometimes. As a horse psychologist and behavior specialist, I know exactly what happened before what happened happened. I know that her horse, like thousands of other horses, have a surge of energy related to upward transitions. The horse could have been spooked or pinched by the saddle suddenly, that's certainly worth looking into, but more likely the horse just sparked a bit too much energy all at once. Imagine too much electricity surging through a toaster oven and you see sparks come out. Horses have energy surges too. They seem to come at random times, but when you look closer there are subtle signs suggesting the horse is a little on edge, or... a little sleepy. If he's on edge the extra energy required for an upward transition overflow and you get bucking. If he's a little sleepy the extra energy wakes him up too fast and spooks him just a bit. Imagine someone tossing cold water on you while you're sleeping. It would shock your system and you might say words that rhyme with bucking bronco.
The point is that energy isn't constant, even in good horses. It's more constant in good horses for sure. That's why we call them "good horses." They tend to regulate their fear and energy output better because of training or personality but they still have energy surges that surprise the human from time to time. This kind of energy surge doesn't surprise a good trainer, however, because trainers know this can happen. At least the good ones do. They know that horses will be horses and anything can happen. This is why good trainers never let their guard down and I recommend the same for novice riders. NEVER LET YOUR GUARD DOWN.
That doesn't mean you can't relax. You can relax driving your car right? You have subsystems that take care to watch for potential hazards and you do pretty good. So good in fact that you can carry on a conversation in the face of bumper to bumper traffic, horns honking, green lights that are too short and so on. You need to take these subsystems with you when you ride.
All too often when someone gets hurt it because they didn't see it coming. They assumed their horse was unlikely to do anything silly and then, out of the blue... the horse does something silly. One of the biggest, most magical gifts, that horses give us, is a reconnect to nature. When you're on your horse, you feel part of nature again. But this gift is also a huge liability, especially for those who think connecting with nature is always serene and calm. Nature can be quick, powerful, dangerous, then back to calm, all in a short period of time. I never want to lose sight of that, no matter how good the weather looks. I still bring a rain jacket in my car, just in case. It should be the same for horse riders. No matter how good the horse is, you should keep one eye on potential hazards and excessive tension or sleepiness.
So now we've emphasized the importance of keeping up your awareness, we can chat about solutions for potential problems like the one described above. How does a good horse trainer avoid the upward transition, energy surge issue? Believe me when I say there are thousands of techniques and no need to be defensive about any one technique you've learned. This isn't about right and wrong this is about principles so when I describe a technique, stay open. When a rider asks a horse to go forward, knowing there could be a potential energy surge, the best thing to do is ask for less. Don't go from a walk to a trot. Go from a walk to a faster walk. If that pans out like you hoped, then consider a trot. Following this principle, you can almost always manage a horse's energy output before it explodes. The same goes for trot to canter transitions. Smaller asks ensure time to correct.
Upward transitions aren't the only thing that can upset a horse, even a good horse. Sometimes things spook horses that you don't think should spook your horse. If you teach a horse to drag a plastic tarp behind you while riding and she learns to truly trust that silly dragging tarp, there is still the possibility that she won't trust the tarp if it meets her at a different angle. For instance, some horses are fine with scary things approaching from the front but freak out when that same object approaches from the side, or vice versa. Master horsemen and horsewomen are aware that any given stimulus changes in the perception of the horse when you show that stimulus at a different angle or speed.
Recently my wife lowered a bag from her horse to give to my daughter standing on the ground. This horse has always been a "good horse." But something about that bag, at that angle, at that moment in time, spooked him and he jumped. He's the type of horse that would chew that bag to bits if you left it hanging on the fence. He would pick it up and toss it around for fun. Yet in that moment he surprised everyone. That's not a problem. Everyone gets surprised. The point is, you look back in your memory like I suggested in the beginning and try to see what happened before he jumped. Was there tension? Was he kind of sleepy, and I caught him off guard? Then ask a new question. What could I do to help him be okay with it in the future?
Usually, it's simple. All you have to do is take a couple of days ensuring he can handle that thing from every angle and every speed. Play some confidence games until he seems good. Then take him to an area that could hold a little more tension and play some confidence games. As for the upward transition energy surge thing. The strategy is kind of the same. Just take a few sessions to ensure you respond appropriately to upward transitions. Ask for more transitions and eventually ask for transitions in spaces he wouldn't expect them, like in the middle of a sandy stream bed. Games like this tend to expand the horses' confidence and awareness.
As always, you have to judge your own skills when you set out to help a horse. Stay safe, be progressive. Don't rest on your laurels, keep your guard up and learn to relax and have fun, the same way you relax and have fun when driving a car on a dry mountain pass. You're always checking the responsiveness of the car but you're enjoying every minute.
And never forget... even good horses still act like horses from time to time.
I hope you enjoyed listening to this story and I hope it's helpful. Please share this with a friend and comment below.
Find more resources and to get a free mastery horsemanship principles course go to... www.masteryhorsemanship.com
Written by Don Jessop
If you enjoy audio instead, please comment below and I will continue to record the audio version in the future.
I must tell you upfront that this story is most certainly inspired by my students. Many of my colleagues and students board their horses and some of them experience more drama than others. The reason for this is simple. Some boarding barns are socially complicated places, and no matter who you are, horses bring out and elevate all our emotions.
So here is what helps if you notice a lot of drama at your barn.
Number 1: Ask yourself... are there things about your horse that you could change so he/she fits into the barn staff routines better? If your answer is yes but your upset that the blame shouldn't go on your horse and your training, then you are actually part of the drama. You have to be willing to play by the rules of the barn or else find a barn that plays by your rules. It's the primary reason most people get their own land. They want the ability to make up their own rules.
One of the biggest complaints barn staff have is related to the handle-ability of the horses on a daily routine. If a horse tends to be hard to catch or leads poorly by crowding or lagging behind, it irritates the barn staff. Do what you can to ensure your horse isn't that horse. Take time daily to ensure his catching and leading skills are better than any other horse at the barn and notice how ninety percent of all the barn drama fades away.
You don't send your kids to school and expect them to learn manners. It's not the school janitors job to teach your kids manners, it's your job. It's the same with horses at a boarding barn. You prioritize teaching manners so the barn staff doesn't have to. Make that more important than anything and notice how everything gets better.
I used to think barn drama was always a people problem, not a horse problem. That was until I got my own facilities and invited boarders to my home ranch. I discovered that the extra chores of looking after their horse amplified when the horse demonstrated poor manners. I'm a trainer and I still found myself getting frustrated by the extra ten to fifteen minutes that horse required each day just to get daily chores done. I'm kind and patient, but daily irritants stack up. It's smart to make sure your horse isn't on that stack.
There are lots of little things that make a horse nice to be around and those little things need to be set in place. Practice making your horse the easiest horse to catch. Practice catching him with inappropriate timing and tools so it just doesn't matter who's catching him. Then practice each day making sure he/she is the most compliant horse to lead and stand waiting for your lead. Don't let him barge, don't ever let him steal treats. Don't let him lag behind at the end of the rope. Changing all those things takes effort on your part but the benefit is two-fold.
One great thing that will happen is the complaints about you and your horse will disappear, and better yet, turn into compliments. The other great thing is that your horse will be more pleasant, even for you. He'll become a better riding horse because he's focused and ready, and waiting for your lead.
Also, don't be one of those people that requires a thousand special supplements for your horse. When a horse is sick, they need extra attention and most people are happy to give it, but when a horse is generally healthy and the owner of that horse demands special treatment from the staff with extra supplements each day, it makes the day longer for everybody.
If you must give extra treatment to your horse, be sure to do it yourself or pay handsomely to any support staff. Pay above and beyond what you already pay. Believe me, the extra wear and tear on you at the end of the day is too much. No matter how much you love horses, if it's your job to give special treatment to one or two horses after spending ten hours cleaning poop, feeding, and harrowing fields, you simply begin to resent the extra work. That is unless you're paid extra for it. People are simple. Make anything extra, worth their time.
Number 2: Check your own attitude. Do you bring an uplifting spirit wherever you go? Or are there times where you need the world around you to disappear so it's just you and your horse? Most of us have a little of both going on. Some days we're uplifting and other days we need space and don't like when others are intruding. But the problem is, it's not your farm. If you get there early enough or late enough, or find a time in the day when you can expect no one to be there then you don't have to worry about bumping shoulders with other people. But if you can't find those times, you're stuck rubbing up against other personalities. Can you handle that?
What do you bring to the table? Do you bring your own drama, or a deep seated need to be alone, or do you bring an uplifting attitude that people gravitate to and respect?
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou, famous civil rights activist 1928-2014
Following the principle of making sure people look up to you or at least respect you because your attitude is constant and uplifting, you will always find that the barn has less drama because you never add to it. On the other hand, if you're quick to find fault in others, or their processes, you'll be remembered as someone you don't aspire to be. People read people all the time. Whether you're verbally complaining or internal about it, people around you feel you, so it's always worth checking your attitude before you show up.
Number 3: If the drama at the barn isn't about you, and most of the time it isn't about you... just smile and give people the space they need. Be helpful when you see a window to communicate your desire to be helpful, but generally just give a little space and keep your smile on. Within a day or two, you'll notice people tend to work out their problems and life can go back to normal.
Even if you see someone act out against their horse, hold your tongue for a day or two. See if it's a pattern or they just had a bad day, just like you sometimes have a bad day. If it's obviously a pattern of abuse, say something in an effort to help the horse, but be careful. Plan your words wisely, most people don't respond well to criticism. That goes for the barn owner too. If something is out of place, a fence is broken or anything unsafe, you should address it right away, just choose your words wisely. Try to be helpful instead of upset about it. Even offer to help fix it. This kind of wordplay can diminish barn drama and make things better for everyone.
Occasionally, the drama doesn't cease, no matter what you do. Sometimes you find out that where you board is somewhere you shouldn't board. It's possible for some people to be so negative on such a regular basis that it seems they've been poisoned by a snake. If it doesn't change, you should leave. Don't worry about upsetting people. They are already upset. Just pack your things, notify your intent and get out of there because it's detrimental to your health and your horses health to be there any longer. Sometimes it just isn't a good place to be, for anyone.
I have students who have bravely made this choice to leave and I've supported them in this choice. You have to believe there is a better place for you and then go find it. Maybe it's not as convenient or maybe it costs more, or maybe the facilities aren't as nice, but the people factors out way all of that. Life is short, be happy!
A note about tools, techniques, and style:
Wouldn't it be great if everyone believed all the same things you believed about how horses should be treated, what tools to use and avoid, what style of training is the "best" style? Sadly, no two people have identical beliefs about these things. So I recommend letting it go unless there is some blatantly dangerous aspect to what you see.
In other words... if the staff at your barn use the wrong type of halter, take a deep breath and remember it's not going to ruin anything. If they ride English instead of Western, or bareback instead of saddled... relax. People make rules and never bend from those rules. Don't be one of those people. Be open to anything unless it's obviously dangerous or abusive.
Even lesser tools can still get the job done. For instance, I like rope halters, but if someone puts a leather halter on my horse I don't worry. My horse knows how to lead with any halter because I've taken the time to make sure he's easy to catch and easy to lead. I don't trust many people to do my training, but I can certainly trust them to manage my horse if I've trained my horse to be manageable.
Let the little things go. Be open. Be curious about other people's experience and style and choice of tools. Notice how your amazing open attitude is uplifting and notice how nearly all the drama at the barn fades to nothing.
One last thing: If you own a boarding barn and you're reading this. Make sure you remember what boarding other people's horses is all about. It's about service. Make sure you're kind, thoughtful, go the extra mile. Make people who pay you money each month feel like you truly care about their experience. Don't become part of the drama. Be clear, but be nice. You're serving passionate, dedicated people. If you treat them as such you will find a sense of piece in it... or you might find you're not cut out for boarding at all. If you don't like it. Stop doing it. Life is too short to be frustrated, burned out and wired all the time. Let the little things go. If you can't, then let the big things go.
If you read my articles, I appreciate you, I'm inspired by you and your questions and thoughts. Please comment below and share this with a friend who may need it. Look for more resources at www.masteryhorsemanship.com
5 things good horse trainers do before they give the horse back to it's owner.
After training, any trainer worth his or her salt should be able to perform simple tasks that demonstrate basic manners. These tasks include leading without the horse barging forward or lagging behind, grooming while standing still, saddling while standing still, picking out feet while acting calm, and trailer loading.
Those same basic manners should be tested by applying less than expert communication. In other words, just because I can get your horse to do what I want, doesn't mean you can. A good trainer will test for basic manners by using inappropriate timing and techniques to prove that yes, this horse, does indeed have the qualities of a trained horse.
Interestingly enough, horses revert to old behaviors often. If you have a bucking horse, for instance, you can cure that problem in a week or two with good training, but if you really want the truth, you'll need to give that horse a week of no training after and/or between lessons to test if he truly remembers not to buck. Giving time off tests the horses memory for what's been trained. A well trained horse can go for months or even years without much warm-up and still perform well on basic tasks. Trainers who don't do the time off test may not understand the value of the test or their hiding something by making it seem like the horse is trained because he acts trained at the end of a training day.
Any great trainer knows that training at home in the same safe environment doesn't mean anything compared to training in tough, stressful environments. Sure, we all know that horses need a safe place to learn basic stuff, but once they learn it, it needs to be tested in less safe places. A great trainer will teach a horse to lead, or ride at home, then do the same in several different, challenging places, to ensure the horse can remember how to act in spite of the environment. It's no good saying a horse is trained only to find out he can only do what you ask when the wind isn't blowing and the other horses aren't running around in the field next door.
Last, but not least, is the compatibility test between owner and horse. Great trainers don't send the horse home without this last test. The owner must get to know the horse under the guidance of the trainer. There may be subtle communication efforts that would need to be tweaked or simple preparedness efforts that need to be remembered and practiced. The last thing a good trainer wants is the owner to start having trouble with their "trained" horse. If subtle shifts can be made in the owners behavior, through the eyes of the trainer, the owner can learn how to win and keep winning that horses heart and mind in an elegant and masterful way.
Comment below and share this article with your friends because the more people that know about these tests ensures more trainers will do a better job training.
Did you know that advancing skills tends to reinforce basic skills? In other words, if you want what you're doing to be better... try doing the next hardest thing for a while and notice how it impacts what you've already been working on. For instance, if I want my horse to walk a straight line and he struggles to get it, I might try trotting a straight line a bit then going back to walking. The extra energy and attention, and precision required, buttons down all the loose end nonsense I've been allowing for too long and my walk suddenly feels nice and straight.
Your horse is going to react or get frustrated during some learning experiences no matter what you do, so what are you choosing to focus on when it happens? Will you focus on low-level basic things forever, in hopes that one day they are perfect and always claiming your horse just isn't ready? Or will you focus on progressions to the upper level knowing that each learning experience will be challenging but rewarding too and even helpful to your lower level activities?
Another example... if you spend a few minutes teaching your horse to cross the front feet in a shoulder yield, from a standing position, your horse will begin to understand the basics of shoulder control. If you continue doing that exercise for months and months he'll slowly get better at that skill, but if you advance to shoulder control while walking, such as walking roll backs, you will automatically advance the horse's basic control without focusing directly on the task of moving the shoulders.
You could advance to opening gates too, which would also improve the basics of shoulder yields and add purpose to them at the same time. I've seen riders practice sideways movements for years and not improve, then when you ask that person to spend a day on opening and closing gates from their horse, their sideways improves exponentially, even though opening gates from your horse is way harder than going sideways on a blank arena surface.
Recently I was asked if it's possible to train the upper levels with young or inexperienced horses, I answered by saying, "YES! And it's even nessecary to get your basics down. You just have to think about the next steps." Of course, you have to be careful not to stress the horse physically or mentally, but it's entirely possible to advance a little each time and not stress the horse.
For instance, I'm asking a young horse (who is big enough and old enough to carry me) to learn how to canter well.
Am I cantering for hours? NO!
Am I cantering circle after circle? NO!
Can the horse canter without my influence?
YES, he can and does every day in the field."
So is it okay for me to ask him to learn the signals for cantering?
YES! All I have to do is ask for a little and reward a lot. Before you know it, he's responding to a simple suggestion to move into the canter from a trot. You don't have to drill, you just have to focus on progress instead of rehashing the same old things for month after month. Or in some people's cases, year after year.
Sure it's difficult to ask a horse to advance. Nobody said it was easy, and if they did, they are speaking from years of hard earned experience which makes it "seem" easy to them. But what makes a person even consider the possibility that it's easy to advance is the same wonderful mindset that says, "Think progressive!"
So what does progressive mean to you? You don't have to follow the path to dressage or extreme cowboy racing, or the pinnacle of performing arts, but you can follow a straightforward plan that suggests that where you are is a stepping stone to where you want to be. So where are you and where do you want to be? What are you capable of? What's next for you?
If your gut level reaction to what's next is, "I don't know," ask again! Then keep asking until your brain lets in some new thoughts that help you make progress.
Or... call us for a FREE strategy session. We can tell instantly where you are on the mastery horsemanship map and what the next steps to reaching your next level or big dream are. All in just a few minutes together on the phone.
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There is a time in every horse's life where he or she says, unequivocally, "NO! I won't do this!"
It's more than a mere hesitation formed out of fear. That kind of resistance is fairly easy to spot and even easier to solve. Just need a bit of patience and time and most fear issues will be sorted out smartly. But occasionally, there lies in the horse, a deep seated resolve to make a stand and say, "NO I won't do this because I don't want to and you can't make me!"
There are often, elegant and subtle things you can do to get past "no" and into "yes." Even in extreme situations, you can often take things slower, for instance, or support in different ways that discourage escalating negative behaviors.
And then there are times when there is no elegant way to advance beyond "no" without sheer determination, persistence, keen observation of position and technique, and will power that is stronger than the horses. Because everyone intuitively knows that backing down to challenges day after day, only makes the relationship weaker.
In a parent/child model of leadership, the parent must help that child enjoy learning and day by day encourage positive behavior with high, light energy, lots of fun, and huge rewards. But every once in a blue moon, the parent must help the child experience winning over frustration and self resistance in the face of perceived discomfort. I call these special circumstances, "the famous come to Jesus meetings."
This happened to me earlier this month. It happened when I asked a new horse in training to go forward into a new area while I walked behind with two long lines (a nice way to simulate riding and steering control before you ride). He didn't want to go, not because he was afraid to go... we'd already been to that same area many times before without resistance. Only before, we did it with me leading from the front instead of driving from behind. When it was his turn to lead he resisted my request and said, "NO!"
Skimming over the twenty-minute conversation that ensued:
When he said, "no," I said in response, "yes please, with sugar on top?"
Then he said "No and NO!!!"
Then I said "YES please, this is important!"
Then he said "NO, NO, NO*#^%!!!!"
Then I said, "YES and NOW!"
And then he said "OK fine!"
With my perseverance, he made it through and then he got lots of rest and time to graze. The total conversation lasted about twenty minutes. He escalated his negative behavior several times but I didn't get mad or scared and I simply kept asking, each time with more intent and clarity and rewarding any sign of progress until finally he yielded completely and said "yes" instead of "no."
About ten minutes later, after resting and rewarding heavily, I asked him to perform the same transition again, and he said, "You bet, no problem!"
At that point I knew I could quit for the day and put him away with a huge reward!
The above conversation with my horse is what I call a 'come to Jesus meeting' because in my Christian household when one of us kids would act up, my parents would lovingly sit us down and lay down the law about what is and isn't allowed based on biblical and other household rules. These conversations were rare but added a great deal of clarity in our youthful experiences.
With a horse, this kind of conversation can happen any day, and we're all grateful that it doesn't happen everyday because working with horses would be too emotionally charged if it did happen every day. The question is, what do you do about it when it happens to you? What do you do when your horse says, "no!"
Do you back down? Do you say, it's not worth it? Do you put it on the "some other day" list? Or do you step up as a leader and say, this doesn't kill either of us, so let's get this done now, as safely as possible, so we don't have to fight this forever?
I understand that different people, circumstances, and horses all require different approaches. I'm sure you do too, but if you've had horses for any length of time you've probably had one of these meetings. I'm curious about you.
Tell me about your last 'come to Jesus meeting' with your horse where you successfully navigated his or her negative behavior... comment below.
And by the way, if you haven't successfully navigated some form of negative behavior. Call me and let's get through it right away 406-360-1390. Your first coaching call is free.
It's scary when a horse jump, rears, strikes, shoulders in, cow kicks, or pins his ears at you. I know because it's happened to me many times in my career. Your response to these types of threats is important, however.
Take this little quiz, tell me what your natural response is and discover who you really are.
- You're horse rears and strikes at you when you ask him to load in the trailer.
You're response to this is:
A: Smack him for doing the wrong thing.
B: Stand on guard at a safe distance, calmly waiting till his feet are on the ground, then ask again.
C: Let go of the rope and avoid future situations that could cause this behavior.
If you answered "B" you answered correctly. I'm literally asking you to stand calmly in the face of a threatening horse. But just to be clear... I'm asking you to do this at a safe distance and while staying on guard. You can protect yourself if he gets too close but there is no need to smack the horse for not doing what you want. He's just being a horse. If you let go, give up and never attempt challenging tasks, you will never enjoy the success master horseman and horsewomen enjoy.
All you have to do is outlast, out persist, and be more emotionally fit than the animal at the end of the rope. If you lose your cool, you lose the opportunity to be a leader. If you give up, you give in to the horses' fear and prove to him that he's alone and should always face real life challenges with anxiety and frustration. If you smack him for being wrong, he learns that you are too be feared, and never trusted. So all this leaves us with option B. Stand on guard, at a safe distance, calmly waiting till his feet are on the ground, then ask again.
Option B clearly set's boundaries that say, "Don't come any closer or I'll have to defend myself." But at the same time, it says, "I'm not going to hurt you for doing the wrong thing." It's like saying to the horse, "I know your finding this hard, but I'm not leaving, I'm here for you."
Option B is also the most difficult option because it requires you to go against your own human instinct to back off under pressure or push in harder to force it. You have to be conscious and emotionally fit to choose option B. But if you practice by getting in situations that are just a bit harder than normal, you will discover that you can choose option B. Even if you don't have perfect timing or technique you can still have option B.
Recently, a friend of mine engaged in trailer loading her challenging horse. For several days she avoided anything that would escalate her horses' behavior to the point of rearing. She felt if the horse reared, she was losing ground. I encouraged her to live through the rearing, just like option B, then ask again. I asked her to believe that her horse if she just persisted past the heavy emotions, would give it up and stay in the trailer as she hoped. I encouraged her to believe that the rearing and pulling on the rope is nothing to be scared of if she's willing to stand strong and defend her space from a distance. All she needs to do is outlast the horse, even if she didn't have perfect timing and control.
Two and a half hours later her horse walked into that trailer and stayed. The horse was calm, happy, and clear. She was calm, happy, and clear. And I've never been more proud of her for not giving up and not backing down. In fact, I encourage all my students to understand that the best training ground for leadership is right in front of them. It's the situations that challenge you or bore you. It's the tasks you don't yet understand fully. Take one of those challenges and learn to be patient, persistent, and in the proper position. When you do, you will become a leader.
Techniques, timing, tools, they all come in time as you develop a feel and strong inner voice that ensures you stay a leader in tough situations. In other words, don't worry about being perfect. Worry about not giving up. Even if it takes two months longer than you hoped to accomplish one simple task, don't give up. Don't avoid the hard things. This is mastery horsemanship.
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Imagine parking your car, then walking across a street with no traffic. You would find this task easy. Now imagine walking across the same street with heavy traffic. You would find this task slightly more daunting but with your patience and experience, you'd safely time your steps to reach your goal. Now imagine leading a resistant, reactive child across that same busy street. That's what I mean by leadership under pressure. And that is what it's like to train reactive horses in exciting environments.
Anybody can lead a horse through a tough situation when the horse has already been there and done that, or when the sun is shining and the horse is tired, but can you be a leader when the horse is losing his mind? How about when the horse is frustrated? How about when the horse freezes? Can you be calm, cool and collected when it matters most?
To help understand this kind of leadership, let's define leadership in terms that ensure we be more effective in tough situations.
A leader is not someone who is lucky, but someone who is gritty. A leader is not someone who is merely friendly, but someone who is fatherly, or motherly. Someone who loves regardless of condition, but is present and experienced enough to know where boundaries must be set. And smart enough to know there is a future that holds challenges yet undertaken, and in that light, will take steps to address potential future hazards.
A leader can handle the heat and if he or she can't... you will never know, unless they tell you, because a leader shows confidence even when there is none to enjoy. A leader trains his followers to handle the heat too. A leader is patient beyond normal, willing to persist and endure tedium like no one else. True leaders are inspiring to be around. You've probably met one or two. They make everything seem possible and sometimes they even make it look easy. You can learn to be a true leader too when you start to see that pressure situations are the exact, perfect training ground for you. They are everything you need to proceed.
Pressure situations are, and should be your perfect training ground. Don't shy away from them.
Dave was a passionate, driven person, even as a teenager. That's about the time he got into horses and his goal was to be the best endurance rider in the big USA. But Dave's driven personality had its problems, especially when his horse didn't do what he wanted. That's when Dave became abusive. He'd lose his temper. Once I saw him get off his horse and kick him dozens of times before he got on again. Dave's horse could do anything he wanted. He'd jump the moon if he told him to, but he hated and feared people. Dave was NOT a leader in the father sense, he was a dictator and a slave driver. Not purposefully, I know Dave personally, but ignorantly. He never saw the horse for what he was. The horse was only a vehicle to help him win an award and possibly the recognition of his critical family.
When Kelly showed up, her horse came running to her. As rich as Kelly's relationship was, her horse, however, could not really do anything. Every time Kelly asked for something challenging, such as walking through a small stream of water, her horse would resist and Kelly would give up, often even get off, and turn back home. She figured her horse would eventually find her confidence with enough considerate love and time. Her ignorance was blissful but she was wrong of course. As the years progressed her horse regressed. The bond remained but the confidence waned until the day her horse died of old age. Kelly was NOT a leader in the mother sense, she was a noble friend to the end but never found the courage to support her horse under pressure situations.
In the middle
In the middle of these two stories lies a perfect, centered human being. Dave had clearly taken his authority too far and Kelly had clearly given too much away. True leaders learn from these lessons. They see the horse for what he/she is: A prey animal with the cognitive awareness and emotional fortitude of a four-year-old human child. They know the truth, that the horse did not choose to join the human race in games of entertainment, war, and work. But they also know the horse can benefit from playful human interactions and the security we offer. When a horse is calm and responsive the leader passively persists to get results, but when the horse becomes reactive or non-responsive, the leader stands strong and firm and patient and sometimes, even strict.
Remember the imagined scenario of crossing the street with an unruly child. A leader holds tight to that little hand in a moment of pressure. Dave would have beaten the child. Kelly would have turned away. But you would persist, show your confidence, connect with your heart to the experience of your follower and ask them to trust you. You would hold tight and guide with authority and clear boundaries, moment by moment, with a clear steady voice.
The funny thing is most parents are experts at leading a child across a busy street because the parental instinct is strong with our own species. Great leaders recognize this natural strength and bring it into the realm of horsemanship. In other words, leaders are good parents. They see their interaction with their followers and a special responsibility to guide, develop, and love their follower in a friendly yet sometimes, firm way.
The parent/child model of leadership is the most effective model when it comes to pressure situations. We can always debate which model works best under pressure because of the fact that there are many other good models, such as coach/athlete models, boss/employee models and so on... but without any doubt, the model that we all know better than any model in the world is the parent or guardian/child model, where the parent clearly demonstrates love, patience, understanding, and persistent leadership.
When the safety of the child is on the line, almost every parent, even novice parents, instinctual response is to shut down the threat and remove the child from the threat. If you're human, you have this instinct inside you, which means you too can be a leader under pressure. The only difference between great leaders and novice leaders then is not what they do to protect their followers but how they do it?
A great leader shows calmness, assertiveness, certainty, and love. A novice leader either doesn't have those qualities yet or has all those qualities but temporarily fails to demonstrate them. Under pressure, a novice leader will show frustration and fear. With practice, that frustration and fear will diminish, to be replaced by breathful calculations, quick footwork, and laser-sharp focus.
High-pressure situations are the training ground for this kind of leadership. Men and women who love horses but choose not to advance in their horsemanship, never develop their leadership in this way. They tend to become avoiders. It's true, they can still bond with a horse and go from point A to point B on a trail, but they never realize their own inner strength. I always encourage my students to take a step toward horse mastery because in doing so, they become leaders who can handle the pressure. They become people who can handle more than an unruly horse, they become people who can handle pressure in the real world.
The great thing about horse mastery is there are mapped out, easy to understand, steps. These steps take you from where you are to a level of mastery and leadership most people don't even know is possible. I see people do amazing things with horses, but what's even more amazing is how I see people who excel with horses become masters of their own destiny. These people learn people skills through the vehicle of a challenging horse. And you can count yourself among these great leaders too. All it takes... is acknowledging the leadership training ground called Horse Mastery, right outside your door and you get to engage in that training ground nearly any day of the week.
There are, of course, many training grounds, but if you're a horse lover, you have the gift of horses in your life. You get the lessons they can bring without flying across the country to a personal development seminar. What I'm asking you to do is simple. One: acknowledge your training grounds just outside your door. And two: get out there and take steps to advance your horsemanship because there's no sense settling when you could have everything you dream of at your fingertips. You could become the person you know inside as the best possible version of yourself. A true leader!
Take the challenge:
Tis the season for giving. So take this article as a gift and as you read you will find even more gifts.
Does your horse know its Christmas? Probably not. They aren't designed to think that way. But we know it's Christmas and we love to give just a little extra this time of year. Maybe that means a couple extra flakes of hay, an extra long scratch on her favorite itchy spots, a pocket full of his favorite treats, or just hanging around in passive or playful way.
Imagine what would happen if you gave that little bit of extra love to your horse this season? It would mean the world to him or her. Imagine how you would feel after giving a bit of yourself to an animal or another human in your world. You would feel healthier, wealthier and possibly even happier. Psychologists suggest that we feel positive emotions when we give. Give it a try this season.
In the spirit of giving I want to give you a gift. I want to invite you to the Horse Mastery Group where we meet and discuss our equine partners in depth every week and you get access to hundreds of hours of home study courses plus so much more. The invitation is only part of the gift.
The true gift I want to give today is a FREE one on one conference lesson with me or one of our instructors, valued at $150.00. In this call you'll get a crystal clear map of the future with your horse and answers to any burning questions.
Take advantage of this gift today, or this holiday week, by simply commenting below saying you'd like to meet.
Don't wait long because a new year awaits us all and we want you to join us in that new year!
Happy Holidays - Click to see more about the Mastery Group and comment below to indicate you'd like to schedule your FREE gift.
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