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I've written about managing your expectations before (see article) but that was quite some time ago. The chances of that same message coming up in front of you is pretty low so I've decided to write about expectations again. Specifically, I'd like to highlight timelines you could expect to achieve something.
Just before, however, it's important to remember this concept:
High expectations don't lead to results, they lead to frustration. Low expectations don't lead to results either, but they do take off the edge of frustrations when you don't get what you want. When I'm teaching people about horses, I attempt to instill both high and low expectations. Remember this line: "High hopes, low expectations, and most importantly... high standards." Having high standards ensures the most basic parts of your communication with your horse stay intact regardless of environmental pressures. It's your job to keep those intact, not your horses job. Hold yourself to high training standards and everything will start to work out eventually. What are those standards? I have a simple formula for that. CB4! It stands for...
Connection: Every day ensure a connection and take the time to get it, even if your horse doesn't feel like connecting. Even if it means you have to take more time than you hoped for.
Boundaries: Never let your horse step on you, or pull away from you. Don't let him travel on a line that you didn't choose while leading him. Don't let him walk off without you first suggesting it. Don't let him lean on the rope or reins. Don't let him be sluggish on your cues in the saddle.
Bonding: Every day, balance your training with the same amount to down time and bonding time. Give back as much as you ask for.
Bravery: If you notice your horse is bothered by something. Don't skip it. Make a program to erase the fear and build in respect and confidence. Even if you can't tackle it immediately, make a note and start on the task tomorrow. Don't wait, hoping it will just go away.
Basic Skills: Ensure daily progress to the simple, yet mostly neglected tasks, like sideways training, yielding to soft hand pressure and leg pressure, transitions with quality and smoothness, backwards on cue, and stand for everything.
Now lets get back to timelines. If you focus exclusively on a particular task and don't get carried away doing trivial things month after month, here is what you can expect from a professional standpoint and then what to expect from yourself.
The table below is an estimated timetable for some common tasks. Each horse and each individual varies enormously. However, these averages should give you some peace of mind if you feel like you're taking a long time to get something.
Have you ever felt like you or your horse just aren't getting something? Feeling like you should be past it by now? Relax... If you focus exclusively on any particular task you will get there. Having a little grace toward yourself and your horse will take off the edge of feeling frustrated. The next obvious thing is to hire some professional help to speed up the timelines so you can enjoy upper level horsemanship sooner. That's what we are here for and that's what you can expect in our Mastery University. Check it out today!
Comment below. I love hearing from you!
Anybody can do sunny day rides on a calm horse, but can you and your horse handle galloping herd mates, flapping tarps, noisy motorcycles, gunshots, leaving to ride on your own, or being left behind? If you can't do those things, do you wish you could? If you answered "yes," but don't know how or don't believe your horse could ever get there, then keep reading. If you answered "no," then trust me when I say, I hold no judgment against you. Horses are supposed to be fun for us, and taking that next step into what I call "stressful situation training," can be challenging.
For those curious minds who'd like to see some solutions for riding "into the fray," so to speak, read on...
Step one: Identify your horses triggers. What set's her off to the point where she stops paying attention to you and devotes her attention to that thing, leaving you out of control?
Step two: On the ground, linger near those triggered spaces, even in those spaces. Don't avoid them. No pressure at first, just hang out. Don't allow him/her to step into your space or pull away. Wait there until you have a calm, quiet horse. This could take a while, don't be in a hurry or expect anything grand in one day or even one week. A horse's progress is generally best measured in months, not days.
Step three: Ask for normal things you'd ask for in a normal, quiet space. Things like hind quarter yields, friendly desensitizing games to a flag or stick, circles, backing and turning, or touching hand yields. Keep asking until you get the same quality response you'd get in a quiet training area in spite of the extra noise.
Step four: Hang out some more just to prove your horse is truly becoming calm in that triggered environment.
Step five: Come back each day and repeat, until finally, one day, you feel you can move from ground to riding in that space.
Blackberry: Blackberry couldn't handle going off on his own. He would do okay if you stayed close to the other horses, but going off on his own triggered a highly explosive horse, even to the point of bucking. So what we did for him, was get on the ground and lead him away from the others. Then we played with basic ground skills in that new space, day after day after day, until one day... it became apparent he just wasn't reactive anymore. On that day, we rode off into the sunset, away from the others, without any hiccups.
Grace: Grace couldn't handle riding past other horses in a field or when other horses around her started running or jumping. Not great for a competition environment where that kind of thing happens all the time. So what we did for Grace was step into open fields with other horses. On the ground we'd hang out for ten or twenty minutes just correcting boundaries and keeping the other horses at bay. (Remember... no pushing or pulling.) Then, we'd play some basic skill games on the ground until she was quiet and responsive just like in the quiet places. Day after day we'd go to new spaces until one day she stopped reacting to the other horses. Now we can ride out into new herds of horses, or cows, or anything and boss them all around because Grace doesn't react at all to what they're doing.
Rudy: Rudy couldn't handle tarps and flags moving quickly. If you kept everything slow he'd seem confident but if something flashed quickly, especially from behind, he'd loose his marbles, even if he knew what it was. So what we did was teach Rudy to stand in a box. We call that box training, you can learn more here: video link. Whenever Rudy left the box we quickly brought him back and rewarded him. After a while he wouldn't leave the box for anything. You could have a parade going behind him and he just didn't care because his focus was on the leader and the job his leader gave him, instead of on the parade. Now, Rudy can ride safely without the fear of losing control if something spooks him.
Raspberry: Raspberry bucked every time you asked him to canter and it got worse on windy or cold days. So what we did was get on the ground and ask him to improve the quality of his transitions. Walk, trot, canter, buck. That was his model. Each time he bucked, we stopped him by literally getting in his face with the lead rope wiggling up and down to say, "DONT DO THAT!" until he would backup, look at us and think, "What did I do wrong?" At which point, we'd try again. Each time he bucked, we told him not to. Each time he cantered without bucking he got a reward. Not a treat, but a nice calm walk and a soft rewarding grooming session after he walked. It's important to walk after cantering for horses like this. Don't just canter and stop. Walk it out a few steps, then stop. There's more to that I'll talk about in another article. Anyway... after many days of correcting the canter/buck thing, in many different spaces, and temperature ranges, he simply stopped doing it. Now, it's been about six months since he's even tried bucking when you canter. We still check to be sure, but now we can ride in stressful situations without the fear of overreaction, and that's the key to a great partnership.
I believe, if you can't ride in a stressful situation, you can't get to that next level of horsemanship. We could map your progressive confidence this way:
Level 1: You can work on the ground and sit on your horse in a calm, neutral space.
Level 2: You can ride in new places but with the support of easy going company. Always taking things slowly.
Level 3: You can ride in new spaces with easy company and speed things up a bit. Challenging each other to up your game.
Level 4: You can ride in new spaces, trusting you can manage your horses reactions in spite of the groups or environmental pressures. Perhaps you can't work at every speed yet, but you can work in every place.
Level 5: You can ride anywhere with any company at any speed, and "own the ride" so to speak, because your horse is always giving you his or her attention instead of giving it to the environment. This is the horse your kid can take to the 4H classes and win every class. This is the horse you can trust will listen completely, regardless of the pressures around.
Currently, in my herd of horses, I have, one horse at level 2, two horses at level 3 but close to 4, two at level 4, and one at level 5. What level are you at with your horse? Comment below.
Want to learn more? Do you wish you could really go for your big dreams with horses? Join our mastery university today!
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Let's not talk politics or religion because frankly, as a horseman, I sit on the fence between the extremes. I find that many of my colleagues do the same. It's not to say we don't care about those things, because, ironically, we care as much as anyone. But the way we care might be related to the place we sit. On the fence, as the observer, always learning.
In a world where people always ask you where you stand, it's often hard to choose. Not because you don't have morals of your own or view points that mean something important to you, but because when you choose a side, you often leave out a few special loved ones who have chosen the other side. So naturally, I find it's best to sit in the middle. To be "the extreme middle of the road," as one of my great teachers taught me.
As a horseman, I have to live between the real human world and the horse world. I have to hop over the fence into the horse world every day. I find I spend an enormous amount time in both worlds. I like that thought. I use that thought. "Spend time in both worlds." The fence divides the two worlds, there is no doubt, but cowboys and cowgirls and horsemen and horsewomen alike can sit on the fence. It's not a wall, you can literally see right through it and over it to the other side. If you're brave, you can hop over it to be in the other side for as long as you like. Sometimes that's what it takes, bravery.
When a new horse enthusiast shows up to my ranch, they often fear being on the other side of the fence because the extreme power of the wild animal on the other side is intimidating. But with a few tools, they quickly realize that inside that wild animal is a sweetheart. And also, when the animal reverts to reaction and instinctive behaviors, they realize they can guide that reaction to a better emotional state without losing track of their own inner strength and personal awareness.
I often tell my students to take that lesson into their human world. People can react instinctively to pressures around them and show their extreme side. Remember that on the inside, they are still sweethearts. Somewhere in there is a less extreme, more capable, functioning person. If you have the right tools, you can communicate and even learn from that person.
Where I grew up, in my little community, religion was the main topic. Many, many times I was told that sitting on the fence was a bad thing. "Be committed," they said. "Do the right thing," they said. "Choose," they demanded. "Don't open the wrong book," they'd say, because the wrong book could lead you astray. But I never could follow the one-sided involvement strategies they promoted. Even at a young age, I looked to the other religions and saw similarities, not differences. That's not to say I couldn't see differences. I'm not blind. But the big pile of differences, as it happens, feels as much like a three rail fence as anything. It's got holes you can see right through, and if you're capable, you can climb right over. And from my experience, that's a great place to sit. Right in the very place I get to observe and learn from both sides. I love fence sitting. I love not choosing sides, because those who sit on the fence see more. They see both sides, they are both sides, they encompass both realms.
I get a kick out of seeing a line of spectators sitting on the edge of the corral. It tells me I have a willing audience, ready to be in the horse's world or outside in the human world. At a moments notice, any one of those participants can flexibly shift into another space. It tells a lot about a persons state of mind when they sit on the fence.
Naturally, I can't always live on the fence, I have chores to do outside the corral. I have to live in the extremes of either side for hours at a time. I have to commit to one side to accomplish a series of tasks. But you can count on one thing... my home is in the middle, with my feet on the second rail and my butt on the top rail, watching, and observing, and learning from what both sides have to offer. My whole world gravitates around that middle point. I find, even when I'm off the fence, committed to any particular task, I still glance back through to the other side. Like a driver would check the rear view mirror, I look back through the fence gaps to see something beautiful or to ensure the other side is functioning the way it's supposed to.
I know not everyone on the planet reads my articles, but if you do, take a lesson from a cowboy and try sitting on a fence, both physically, and metaphorically, and see just how much you can see when both worlds come together and make a beautiful panoramic view. It takes more balance to be in such a precarious place, to be sure, but it's worth it. Trust me. Learn to walk a mile in another's shoes and views without losing your own. Learn to trust the inner sweetheart in everyone and every animal. Learn to navigate the wild, untamed nature of instinct. It might sound naïve... it's not. I feel a more optimistic view of our friends, neighbors, countrymen, and beyond can shift, if we all just sit on the fence a little longer, or at least, look through the gaps to learn a little more about them.
And speaking of metaphors... if a lot of people sat on the fence all at once, what would happen? I believe it would crumble, and as we all fell to the ground, not a soul would be able to contain their laughter at such a great sight.
Food for thought. Thanks for reading.
In case you didn't already know, shoulder control is a pretty big deal. We use shoulder control to help a horse travel on a straight line, to follow the rail, to move sideways, and other lateral maneuvers. We even use it to calm a horse down and help them be more mentally focused. However, most novice riders and teachers of novice horsemanship only highlight the importance of hind-quarter control. For instance, if you lose control of your horse and he starts bucking, just pull on one rein and spin him in a circle, which causes his hind feet to cross, giving you the ability to keep his feet on the ground and hopefully, giving you enough time to dismount and get into a better space. So, just to be clear, I'm not here to dispute the value of hind-quarter control. In fact... I'm here to reinforce it but in an entirely different way.
"Which way?" you might ask. "In this way," I'd reply...
When you're ready, as a student, you must learn to control the shoulders to engage in higher levels of horsemanship, including flying lead changes and more. Ironically, to control the shoulders, you must also understand where those hind-quarters are so they don't mess up your shoulder movements. In the above picture, you'll notice I'm asking my horse Raspberry to yield his shoulders to his left, but to do so, I have to place my leg back behind the girth to ensure the hind-quarters stay grounded. If I don't help the hind-quarters, they will move and totally screw up the balance I'm trying to achieve. This, although basic, is the most critical part of understanding shoulder movements.
When a rider attempts to do a flying change, there is always a handful of reasons in which he won't succeed. First, if the horse loses impulsion and fails to maintain a rhythmic canter. Second, if the horse turns to quickly, causing a dip or drop in the shoulder. And third, if the hind-quarters go swimming across the arena without the rider's awareness. There are a few other reasons, of course, but primarily... a lead change (not direction change) from right to left in the canter, while cantering (this is called a flying lead change) falls apart because the rider isn't aware of where the shoulders and hind quarters are in space and time. If you aren't able to manipulate where they are while moving at speed, you won't be able to control the shift in body shape needed to achieve the flying lead change.
Put your leg on, hold with your hand, lean back, lean forward, lean to the side, hold your tongue out, hold one eye closed, you name it. Nothing you do will matter if you don't have good shoulder and hind-quarter awareness and control. So back to square one here. For safety, hind-quarter control is valuable. For progress, hind-quarter control is essential. For practice and application however, put your attention to the shoulders. It's the shoulders that must shift off their line and back across that line, that will allow you to achieve that flying lead change. Start small, even while standing still, like in the picture above, and teach those front legs to cross one in front of the other. Then advance to walking yields such as "shoulder in."
There are lots of "rules" people make about what "shoulder in" means technically. Forget about if for now. We'll get into all that later. Let's keep things simple here. Just hold those hind-quarters on the center line and try getting the shoulders off that center line to the inside of the arena. Don't go way off track, just a little. Keep walking straight ahead. If you can achieve a shoulder yield maneuver while walking straight ahead, you're on your way to a flying lead change one day. If you can't, I bet you can guess the problem.
You got it... It's those darn hind-quarters swimming off the center line. So now it's time to start practicing hind-quarter control while walking so you can keep those darn things lined up for advancing maneuvers too. If you can manipulate hind-quarters and shoulders, and flexion, and speed, you can start practicing counter bends, and half-passes. And soon... flying lead changes. Sounds fun right? It is!!!
Okay, homework time. Are you ready?
Sit on your horse and tell him how lucky you are to have him or her in your life. Then... ask him to move his hind end one step to the left without the front end. Then ask for the front end without his hind end. Be nice, be rewarding, don't do full circles. You're goal is to make one step easy, not ten steps ugly. Once you've achieved this goal (could be a few sessions), try moving the hind-quarters and shoulders while walking in a straight line along a fence or rail, or even a rope or series of cones. You don't need to own an indoor arena to make progress. If you feel you've got a good handle on the shoulders and hips independently, while moving, try moving them together, at the same time, away from your line of travel to another line. Like changing lanes in a car without turning the wheel. Just slipping from one lane to the next while facing forward.
It's so much fun! Don't wait to start! There is no vehicle on the planet that can give you the sensation horses can give while doing lateral maneuvers. I'm a pilot, a commercial driver, a motorcycle rider, and more. Nothing compares to horses doing lateral maneuvers well.
One last thing. I made a faux paw, comparing a horse to a vehicle. They are so much more than that. There is an incredible spiritual connection between horses and humans. I don't have to ride to feel that. And that should be a reminder to stay connected to your horse regardless of progress. Be nice, be firm when you need to be, but be nice and rewarding. And if you're having a good time, don't forget to tell your face about it. Show your positive energy to your horse. Be his friend and leader and see how all your dreams with horses can come true!
I believe in you! Join me at the next level of horsemanship. Start moving those shoulders. And if you want to learn more, I've got tons of videos and progress maps, just for you in our horse mastery university. Check it out asap! Limited spots available. Red rover, red rover, come on over!
Comment below and share with your friends. Thanks for reading.
I got this title from a close friend. Thanks Bill for the inspiration.
Lunging horses, at least in the natural horse training communities, has become a bad idea. How do I know? Because I'm from the natural horse training community. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say you shouldn't lunge your horse because it's bad for them. Often, when you ask the person who thinks lunging is bad, why they think lunging is bad, they don't have a definitive answer. The most common answer is some version of "because it's what my teacher taught me, so I listen to my teacher."
So... naturally, I feel like we need a little clarification on the subject.
Lunging isn't bad! Circles aren't bad. But... circles, without a distinct goal and meaning for the horse, are bad. In other words, mindless lunging is bad for the horse. Doing it because you were taught to do it without understanding the value, can be detrimental to your horse for a few important reasons.
First, when a horse travels in a circle around a center point (you), they tend to weight their feet in an imbalanced fashion, often causing repetitive stress injuries on the tendons and joints. Imagine a horse traveling a circle to the right, if his head is tilted out and his shoulder tilted in, he'll put undue stress on the right front foot, leading to eventual injury. If you don't know about that balance and keep lunging or circling for other reasons, you will damage your horse and force an early retirement. How do I know? Because I've done exactly that. I didn't know I was doing that, but it happened and I learned.
Second, if you ask your horse to circle or "lunge in a circle" as it's often called, for the wrong reasons, which I'll attempt to describe below, you may inadvertently destroy the mental connection between you and the horse. You're not guaranteed to destroy that special connection but chances are pretty high. If you don't understand more about how horses connect and enjoy a relationship with humans, you may be teaching your horse to not like you, and always leave you when the pressure's on.
So what do I mean by "wrong reasons" for lunging? Notice how I often replace the word "lunging" for "circling," and vice versa? It's because they are virtually the same thing. I don't want people to get caught up thinking that because they're circling their horse, they aren't lunging. They are virtually the same thing. The key word we want to avoid is "mindless." We don't want to mindlessly circle or lunge the horse in circles. Which leads us to those "wrong reasons" for lunging.
Lunging because your instructor says so is one of those wrong reasons, or at least, insufficient reasons. Lunging or circling because it's fun for you, and you don't really know what else to do for exercise, is another wrong reason. Many people circle their horse around and around because they like watching the horse go around. That's not a great reason for lunging and it can lead to the above stated problems. As stated before, lunging without clear outlined value for you and your horse, isn't healthy in general.
So what are some "good reasons" for lunging? First. If you're aware of the imbalances in a horses gaits, you can use circles to influence the balance and change it for the better. Starting slow is always a good idea. If you know what you're doing, you can teach a horse to carry themselves in a balanced fashion which can lead to better riding experiences and long lasting healthy horse.
Second. Lunging a horse can help get out the "zoomies." Zoomies is a fun word to describe a horse that doesn't contain their own energy well. They zip, zoom, buck, fly, leap, and generally act un-rideable. Lunging can help take out the zoomies. You have to be careful not to cause injury, but it's useful to see how a horse moves before you decide to get on. You can also use lunging for testing confidence with a saddle, or even asking a horse to jump or cross obstacles like water or a tarp. The simple act of sending a horse out and over, or through a space is extremely useful, even in trailer loading so you don't have to go inside the trailer. You can literally lunge your horse right into a horse trailer if you get the concept down right.
Third in line for good reasons to circle, is you can train responsiveness to your up and down signals, which can lead to better riding experiences too. Transition work is very valuable for horses. Finally, lunging or circling, if done well can be a life enriching experience that leads to performing arts with horses. Have you ever seen a trainer circle their horse without anything on his head, in a wide open field, and the horse is balanced, calm, responsive, and beautiful? We call that liberty training and it can be beautiful. It's one of the magical things we work toward in higher level horsemanship. I can teach you how to get there. Just comment below if you want more info.
Coming full circle back to the title of this article... Lunging, in the natural horse community has gotten a bad rap. However, I use the word all the time. I'm not interested in separating communities and looking for differences. I'm looking for similarities. I'm not your stereotypical horse trainer who says I know what I'm doing and no one else knows what they're doing. I believe in creating bridges between ideas and peoples and communities. I feel that if we can see differences, we're acting quite human, but if we can see similarities, we are acting super human. So if you're a natural trainer who refuses to use the word "lunging," perhaps you'll soften a little and start using it playfully instead of discriminately. If you're someone who uses the word lunging all the time, perhaps by reading this, you'll become aware of a whole other community of people that use different words but they're trying to get to the same place you are. All just food for thought anyway. I hope it helps.
Comment below if you have any extra thoughts. Also, if you want some tips on lunging, or circling in a way that helps the horse balance and become more engaged with you mentally, which leads to higher levels of performing arts, comment below and the more comments I get the sooner I get those video tips out.
Thanks for reading
PS. Lunging or circling to teach a horse to maintain gait is a mixed bag of good and bad. There is a way to train maintaining gait without consequences for breaking gait. If you can figure that out, you'll be on the path to mastery.
First... face your fear. Then... learn to ignore it.
When you're teaching a horse to be brave, the first thing you would naturally do, if you're on the ground, is to put yourself between the scary object and the horse and cause the horse to face you and the object and to not run away. The second thing you'd do, if you understand natural horsemanship, is to place yourself off to the side and invite the horse to investigate the scary object. Naturally he or she would lean toward you and you'd have to push them back into that scary space to learn independent confidence. When they start to show confidence and curiosity the next natural step is to... What? Why haven't we been taught the next step? Many trainers know the next step, but few horse owners know the next step, and it just so happens to be the most important next step in building the horse's total confidence.
Have you ever heard of a "bomb proof" horse? The term "bomb proof" describes a level of confidence that most horse owners dream of having in their horse. It means nothing will spook or bother the horse beyond control. It doesn't mean the horse isn't aware of scary things, it means they always remain within control of your aids. Your reins and leg cues. When they spook, it's small, easy to manage and doesn't last long. Kids need bomb proof horses and so do most adults. But how do you get that kind of confidence in a horse?
As it turns out. You get that kind of confidence by understanding that next step that most horse trainers fail to talk about. It's understanding how to teach the horse to ignore the fearful situation.
Image a windstorm. What do horses do in the windstorm? If you've been around horses, you know that they always prefer to face away from the storm. They like to put that big hind quarter into the wind and rain and protect those delicate facial features like eyes and ears. When I see a horse stand like this in a storm, it makes me think there's a better way to explain that next natural step of teaching horses to ignore the fearful situation. In other words... if I want my horse to be bombproof, I imagine the scary thing, the very thing he's afraid of, as a windstorm. And I teach him to put his big brown butt, or white butt, or painted butt, or whatever color butt, toward the windstorm. Toward the scary thing.
At first, he won't be able to handle being in that vulnerable position and he'll want to turn toward it. Naturally, because we've already been through that important first step. But now it's time for him to grow his confidence and place his confidence in my suggestions, rather than his own assessment of the situation. I, at this stage, am quite literally asking him to ignore what he's afraid of and focus on me instead. By placing his hind quarters toward the scary thing and asking him to stand still, I am beginning to teach him to listen to me, in spite of the scary thing. I prefer to teach this kind of thing on the ground, but I also get to the same stage in the saddle.
To be clear, I don't always turn my horse's butt to scary things. Once they learn to put their tail to the windstorm, so to speak, I can stand in any position. Because what they're really learning to do is ignore the windstorm. Naturally, this next step is harder to do than the earlier confidence building steps. It takes patience and timing and balance, and feel. It takes persistence and firmness coupled with kindness and rewards. It takes setting strong personal space boundaries and constantly re-sensitizing your horse to your signals. But in the end... you'll have your bombproof horse.
I like to tackle any scary thing in that way. First, face the fear, then learn to engage with the obstacles, then learn to ignore them. The last part takes the longest, but it's the most rewarding. When you're riding a horse that doesn't care about what's going on around him, it's most likely because someone in his history taught him to ignore things that scare him, not to run from them or engage fully without consideration of you, but to simply ignore the fear and listen to the leader. That's a fun horse to ride. It's a safe horse to ride. Everybody loves that horse.
Now you know that next step. You can do it too. All you need is a lead rope, a stick and string to help set boundaries and ask the horse to stand still. Oh... and you need a scary situation. Don't avoid scary situations. Devour them! Create them. Tackle them. Teach your horse to listen to you in spite of them. Before you know it, you'll have your bomb proof horse.
A couple of safety tips: Go at your speed and distance. Teach your horse to ignore scary things from a distance at first, then ultimately, up close. Start small and progress to bigger things. Also, find a friend to help with the whole "scary thing" thing. It makes it fun when a partner is out there doing silly things while you're helping your horse ignore them.
Inspiration: Check out this video of a horse that's truly learned to ignore his fears and listen to his partner instead.
If you'd like to learn more. Comment below and request an early-start "how to" video. The more comments I get, the sooner I'll make that video for you.
Thanks for reading and please share with your friends. Our horses deserve the very best we can bring.
Have you ever seen a horse go from a mild walk to a full on bucking fit, or bolting fit, or rearing fit? Why do they do that and how can we fix it?
In the video below, you'll meet Casanova, the wonderfully calm and unfortunately, explosive, black beauty, to learn more about it all.
What triggers the horse? That's the first thing you want to look for. There is no such thing as out of the blue. There is always something that precedes anything. Its just that sometimes its hard to see what that something is.
Is the trigger a flag, a plastic bag, a rope, a tarp, a whip, a car, a herd of galloping horses? Does the horse become explosive when he's standing still, or does it happen when he's moving at a walk, or trot, or canter? Does it happen when you go out on your own, away from your friends, or is it when they leave you behind? It's important to find out when the explosions are most likely to happen and what the stimulus is. You'll see in the video with Casanova, how we slowly discover the thing that upset him the most and you'll also get to see how I use a few tools of the trade to help him work through some tough situations and find some peace in the moments of stress.
If you remember nothing else from this video, remember this... Don't avoid the problems your horse presents you. Find a way to tackle them, otherwise you'll always be walking on eggshells, wondering just how much you can trust your horse in high energy situations. I don't want a sunny day horse. I want an everyday horse that works in every situation. Hopefully this video will give you some tips and tools to make your horse an everyday horse with nothing that upsets him or her to the point of losing control.
Comment below to help me find his new name and share your thoughts on the video.
PS. Get my new book: "Inspiration and Leadership for Horse Lovers"
Big horses are... well... big! But I love big horses. Apart from a few minor deterrents outlined below, I tend to think big horses are the best kind of horse for a tall gentleman like me. In part, because it's easier to get the weight ratio right. Generally speaking it's not wise to ride a horse, of which, you weigh more than twenty percent of. If you have elite level performance in mind, you shouldn't be more than about fifteen percent total, all tacked up, but twenty percent will generally suit the population and the horses needs.
Besides finding it easier to find a suitable partner, big horses have a few more qualities I love. A big horse, given a good natural physique, commands presence like no other animal. There are beautiful, well balanced horses in every breed, but when you run into a beautiful, well balanced horse of the "big" variety, you find yourself staring into the eyes of a noble variety,
For me... there is such a thing as too big. For instance, as a rider, I don't prefer draft horses because they aren't quite sporty enough for my riding disciplines. It's not that I don't like draft horses, I do! I like all animals, especially those of the equine type. But, like you, I get my kicks from the horse that makes me look out the window and nearly drive off the road, while cruising past the farm with the shiny warmbloods, or thoroughbreds.
I grew up riding Arabian horses, long distance. Fifty miles, in four hours was my fastest endurance race. Those were fit, strong horses, that I'll never forget. All my early horses were great teachers and I don't know if I'll ever feel that kind of natural stamina in any other breed. But if you found a picture of me on my little Arabians, you'd sense I didn't need a stepladder to get on, if you know what I mean. In an emergency I'd often just put my feet on the ground like Fred Flintstone and drag the party bus to a stop. (I'm joking of course. I'm not that tall.)
Then, over the years, as a clinician, teacher, and coach, I found myself riding all kinds of horses, from quarter horses on trails, in reining classes, and even cutting, to mules in the back country. Then one day, I met a horse named St. Pauli's Girl. She wasn't the first big horse I met, she was just the most incredible big horse I had ever met. She was balanced, commanding, stunning, standing just over seventeen hands high. My jaw dropped when I looked at her and when I peaked at my neighbors, their jaws were dropping too. And amongst all the drooling, I found myself begging for a pathway to own such a horse. Thanks to my dear friend in Sacramento, at a lovely ranch in the foothills named "Silverhorne Sport horses," that opportunity came. Through hard work, and some big decisions that juggled our finances and time, she finally found herself in my horse trailer, bound for Montana. Here is a picture of her and I in our early career.
As promised, I said I'd highlight a few deterrents to owning big horses. I don't want you to think It's all peaches and cream. First... they eat more. Get ready for it. They eat a lot more! Way more than I was ready for, coming from a world of mostly smaller horses. I know each horse has a different metabolism, but you can basically count on a big sporty horse like Pauli to eat you out of house and home. If you're ready for it, it won't shock you. For some people, that's all they know.
Second... they aren't robots, or playthings, or toys. Like all horses, they have a big heart, a brain, and emotions that run hot and cold. In fact, the term warmbloods kind of sets you up to see just how they operate. Hot and cold. It depends on the environment, then on the training to how well they find the middle. When a big horse jumps, they jump bigger, higher. When they spook, they often spook bigger. Not quicker, just bigger. When they don't want to move, it's harder to move. It's just physics. If they spook while you're on the ground, you'd better be ready to stop that big train coming down the tracks because they are much bigger than you and can jump right over you, given the wrong choices in your communication.
Related to them not being toys or playthings, you also need to know their body mass puts more stress on their joints. So don't go in the round pen and circle, circle, circle. I've found over the years that any horse is susceptible to injury if all you do is circle. But bigger horses are often more susceptible to injury. Big horses need clear leadership on clean, straight lines and elegant arcs. In a safety situation, all bets are off, but in general training, it's wise to consider the horses physical limitations regarding their bones, joints, and muscle development. Take your time building up those big horses. Well... all horses, for that matter.
Third, and last deterrent... you will often need a stepladder to get on. I'm quite tall and can, in a pinch, get on from the ground. If I do, I try to get on from both sides alternately, not just one, to avoid stressing the horses muscles in one repetitive way. The advantage to the height is that all you friends look up to you. Literally! But be careful on the trail, you might find you don't fit in the same small spaces you used to go. I nearly got peeled of my horse by a low hanging branch once when all my friends slid right under it. I still have a small scar to prove it. Oh, and one more thing, it's further to the ground if you need to get off in a hurry. Make sure your feet haven't been cut off from your blood supply or else you'll be feeling pins and needles in your toes when you hit the ground. But again, generally speaking, I'd still have to say, I love a big horse.
Regardless of size, all horses need a good foundation if you intend to ride. I teach these foundation classes in my Mastery University. I'd love for you to check it out.
Oops, I forgot just one more thing. If you're married, your spouse might want your big beautiful horse for herself. Just saying...
I'd love to hear from you, read your comments and share in your journey. Comment below!
The old saying goes... "Thoughts turn into words, and actions, and behavior, and character. It all starts with thoughts."
If you think you can, you probably will do, and become, exactly what you thought. That means if you think you can't, you'll get stuck in that loop too. Dr. Joe Dispenza citied in his book "You are the placebo" how humans think on average, 60000 to 70000 thoughts per day and 90 percent of those thoughts are the same thoughts you had yesterday. That means you're virtually guaranteed to get mostly the same results as yesterday, not leaving much room for improvement.
So apparently... how you think and what you think are pretty important if it leads to your daily life experiences. Would you agree? But where do thoughts come from?
Do thoughts come from the outside, meaning circumstances mold thinking? Or do thoughts come from the inside, meaning you mold your thinking? Or perhaps... is it both? If you're willing to accept that much of how you think is circumstantially driven, and mostly unconsciously executed then you're probably on the right track. But if you're unwilling to accept that you have some choice in the matter of how you think, you're slipping from the track into victimhood. In other words... own it. Expose the unconscious world around you, simply by looking at it. Take a moment to see and judge a single thought and notice how once you're aware of it, you can change it.
An example I like to use is the thought about needing food. If I feel in my tummy, a little growl, my brain says its time to eat. It happens organically, unconsciously in fact, and before you know it, I've got a snack in my hand, moving toward my mouth. So... just for fun, I become aware of that thought. I look at it, analyze it and notice how unconscious it is, how quick it is, how urgent it feels. Then I can ask questions to learn more about my thoughts. I ask myself, "How urgent is this? Why is it so urgent? Can I live without it?" Then I dive into the answers and analyze them too.
It all feels a bit tedious. So often, instead, I let nature take over and I just go grab a bag of chips, and oops... I've found myself living in the same decisions as yesterday. But there is a way out of yesterday’s loop. The answer... stay in that awareness until you see a new thought that may be more useful. In the end, I might think that I can handle not eating until later. And voila, I've made a new decision.
But the purpose of writing about thinking was not to change how you think about food. It's to open a window to how you think about yourself in regards to progress, and hopes, and dreams.
When you dream about riding off into the sunset, do you cut the dream off when the first action thought or "to-do" item shows up? Do you realize you don't have the energy and by that line that says you can't? Or do you recognize the thoughts of "can't" and analyze them. Most people stay unconscious about their thoughts, but if you see them, you can start asking questions. Who says you can't anyway? Why do you listen? What does it mean? And what do the answers mean? Is there a deeper truth? And if you stick with the analyzation process, guess what? You'll find a new thought emerging. One that you own completely, one that says, "I can and I will!" Or some version of that.
What happens next, if you're persistent about the way you think, is you start living your dreams because the things that hold you back, simply don't hold you back anymore.
It sounds easy, just think happy thoughts. Don't think negative thoughts. Be optimistic all the time. But it's not so easy. It is that simple, just not that easy. The brain reacts to circumstances and tells the body to react in tune. But the brain has a deeper consciousness, deeper than this surface reaction to everything. The brain can analyze the brain. That's pretty cool if you ask me. Because, if you believe that's true, you can start analyzing the "can't" answers to your progress and dreams.
Some people know this already. And some brave people try to do just that. But sadly, they give up too quickly. Why do they give up? Because it's tedious, just like I said before. It's much easier to give into the reactions of the brain and body, rather than try to have a conversation with them. In part, because the reactions are so annoyingly abrasive. Imagine standing at the edge of and icy pond with a hole cut out for you to jump in and experience a polar plunge. Do you think that inner voice is sweet and kind when he or she says, "I don't think so!"
That part of the brain is abrasive and curt. At times, screaming at you to not do what you want to do. You literally have to overcome that reaction somehow. Some people try to shut it down. Others try to have a conversation with it. I recommend a bit of both and at different times. The key is to be persistent with your desire to grow and make progress and live your dreams. Be persistent with the reactive brain and body. Open your inner dialogue and learn more about yourself until one day, you find yourself not thinking those old limiting thoughts and instead find yourself riding off into the sunset, like the mover and shaker you truly are capable of being.
Watch your thoughts because they become your actions. I believe you deserve to have an abundance of optimistic thoughts every single day that lead to an abundant life. Obviously there is much more to learn about the brain and the way we interact with our circumstances, but I'll leave you with this... As a challenge to you, consciously say, "I am loved, lucky and lighthearted." Say it every day for ten days and notice how new thoughts start to emerge, how old thoughts fight back, and how better thoughts begin to see the light, leading to but not limited to, your hopes and dreams.
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This story is inspired by one not so brave horse named Star. Star is an athlete, like most horses. Only Star can really turn it on when she's in the right mood. And by "turn it on," I mean buck, buck, buck, rear, slide, jump, buck, rear, buck, buck, bolt, run, slide, spin, buck, bolt, freeze, and do it all again. Have you ever met a horse like that?
In natural horsemanship, it's common practice to allow a horse like Star to fully express themselves in a small, contained space, until the pattern slowly wears out. In other words, if they get tired of doing all that... they'll stop doing it. However, it's important to know that some horses take too long to get tired of it, and inadvertently learn bad behaviors. Star, was one of those horses. Her energy level was so high in those circumstances that she could "turn it on" and "leave it on" for twenty minutes before tiring out. Then, the next day, she'd do it again.
Whenever you see a horse starting to learn the wrong thing as a pattern, it's important to find a way to interrupt that pattern. You don't want a horse to learn to bolt, or buck, or rear, or bite, etc. How would a horse learn that? Simple. They get away with it. Like I said before, some horses give it up, while others don't. I always allow for the former because I think it's a more graceful way to enter the horses psyche. But if it becomes apparent that the horse isn't giving it up on their own, it becomes imperative they get the immediate support to stop that behavior.
One obvious solution is to avoid high energy situations. Just walk on eggshells around your horse for the rest of his life. I don't recommend that solution. A better solutions is to introduce high energy situations and teach your horse to overcome the habit of over-reaction. The phrase I often use while teaching a horse to stop reacting under pressure is in the title, "Pull yourself together man!"
I will literally ask the horse to stop doing what she's doing, if what she's doing isn't what I ultimately want. In the case of Star, I'd asked her to carry the saddle in a walk, trot, and canter. As a pattern, she'd learned to buck, buck, buck, bolt... you get the point. Once it became an obvious pattern, I started shutting her down. I would put pressure in front of him, blocking forward motion, then she'd spin and go the other way, then I'd put pressure in front of her in that direction too. Each time she'd try to find a gap and push through to express herself, at points, even considering jumping through me, and each time I'd shut her down with my lead rope. Finally, she stood there, frozen, unwilling to move (not ideal either). So after a few moments I asked her to move again, at which point she would try it all on again. And again I'd shut her down and she'd freeze. Then after a few moments we tried again. And again I had to shut her down and she'd freeze. Then again, and on that fourth try, she tried something I hadn't seen her to do date. She walked calmly, responsibly, carrying the saddle nicely with blinking eyes, and licking lips. I found myself rewarding her within moments and celebrating, because a new pattern was about to emerge.
For the first time I could see a brighter future. And sure enough, within a few days she could walk, trot, canter and even carry without any signs of bucking, bolting, or rearing. So the moral of the story is... sometimes, you can't leave it up to the horse to pull themselves together in moments of stress. Sometimes you have to ask them, even tell them, to pull it together and behave like partners. If you reward good behavior and interrupt the bad patterns, you'll end up with the horse of your dreams. That might mean stopping your horse on the trail when they start prancing and dancing, and really taking the time to make a lesson of it. It might mean shutting the horse down before he explodes and really making a lesson of it. It might mean you need a few sessions to make the impression, but make no mistake, it's worth it. It's important, and it's a priority. Don't allow your horses to take over and develop bad habits. Remember, it's okay for a horse to jump or spook, it's just not okay when they can't control what happens after. Teach them to pull themselves together and you'll join an elite class of upper level horsemen and horsewomen.
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May the horse be with you
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Horses read your body language, not your tools. I often ask people this trick question: When you're riding, and you squeeze or kick with your legs, what should your horse do?
People always answer the same... "Your horse should go when you squeeze."
I always interrupt and say, "Remember... it's a trick question. The real answer is, your horse should do nothing. That is, unless you want them to."
Your horse should not respond to your tools, they should respond to you. In this video you'll see how you can teach your horse on the ground to read you. Thanks for watching and comment below.
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Don't quit too early! Don't quit on just any, one good note. If you do, you're at risk of frantic feet and mindless responses.
Quit on good notes, yes, but quit on the right mental space for the horse, not just mechanical movement.
People can interpret the saying "quit on a good note" to mean quit on the first good note you get, like the first sign of relaxation on a windy day, but it shouldn't mean that. It should mean quit when the horse actually begins to understand and carry a happier mindset. If you quit on the first good note you see, you may be fooling yourself to believe your horse has got the idea of what you want. But if you persist, and stay in that space, you'll find a deeper truth.
Often, horses give you what you want, but when you ask a second time, they revert to resistance. That resistance doesn't mean you should have quit sooner, it means you did the right thing, digging for a real response. It tells you, your horse isn't in the right mental space yet.
People can sometimes be afraid of drilling the horse and therefore, they are quick to stop early, but its not a drill when you ask a second time, its just a question about your horse's mental state.
Side note: if you ask and succeed once, then twice, then maybe even three times, you should certainly not ask again, because at that point it becomes frustrating to the horse. But quitting early, after just one success, and not testing for a true response, leads to what we call the "one and done" horse.
Confident "one and done" horses need to expand their focus patterns to more than just a few minutes, to be calm minded in spite of boredom and frustration. Scared "one and done" horses need to chill out related to the experience, so doing it more than once is fantastic for them too.
Also, you have to know the difference between quitting and pausing. Expert horse trainers always pause on a good note but they don't always quit. The pause is a type of release from pressure. Long pauses can even feel like a reward for good behavior to the horse. But quitting usually means you're done for the day. I know it's semantics but semantic communication is helpful to clear our heads and engage our leadership skills. Better definitions equal better results from clearer leadership.
Here's a great example to bring home the idea of pausing instead of quitting. Let's say I'm teaching a new horse to load into the trailer for the first time. Let's say after an hour of approach and retreat, and pressure and release, he finally steps into the trailer. That's a good note to quit on right? Not according to what I'm talking about here. To be clear. It's okay to quit then, but not ideal, it's better to pause and come back in a few minutes, and for a few important reasons. The long pause will give the horse the recognition of his effort and encourage relaxation. Quitting will do that too but it may also leave you puzzled when tomorrow comes around and your horse doesn't respond how you hoped. Horses that do things only once are short on attention span. You may find that when you ask tomorrow for the same results, that you never even got real results at all. I hope you can see that it's time to grow that attention span.
To clarify... if my horse goes in once and I pause, then ten minutes later I ask him to go in again with the same patient, kind demeanor we expressed before, and he fails to go in, or worse, resists all or any suggestions I have for him, what mistake did I make?
A) I should have quit on the good one and come back tomorrow
B) I didn't make a mistake. Asking again was the right thing to do. Its normal for the horse to question the second time you ask at this early stage.
If you answered (A), don't worry, we all answer (A) in the beginning. But the reason we should answer (B) instead, is one hint to what makes a trainer masterful.
Here's why... If I ask my horse to go in and he says yes, then we pause for a long time to reward him, then I ask again to see if he's okay with the process and he says no, did he really understand anything about the whole experience? Worse yet, did he learn to be relaxed around the trailer or just move his feet frantically?
You see, if you said you should quit on the first time he goes in, because now you've gone backwards in your progress by asking a second time, you're fooling yourself. Because, if a horse can do something once but not twice you're in trouble. It means he didn't understand the first time. But if he can do it once, pause for ten minutes, then do it again, he will be truly showing understanding of the mental space he should reside in. And that means you don't have to wait until tomorrow to find out that you ended on what felt like a good step but your horse learned nothing.
Summing it all up. End when the horse is in a good mental space. Don't end just because the feet did what you wanted for one brief moment.
Sure it will take some patience, and persistence, and repositioning, but if you stay, you'll find you have what it takes to be a leader that guides the horse with elegance and mastery, rewarding mental calmness and good behavior.
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If I said, "never feed your horse treats," would you consider that to be a good rule or a dumb rule? Is it even worth making a rule for it in the first place?
Rules are important. They help us function and they help us stay safe, but does that mean you should never break rules? Does that mean you shouldn't be flexible?
Recently I posted a video demonstrating horse training at liberty using treats. I made a simple helpful rule in that demo that you should never feed treats to a horse that's asking for them or demanding them. This rule helps ensure you don't reward grabby behavior from the horse. It's better to wait an extra few seconds until the horse's energy changes to a calmer, less grabby state and then feed the treat reward.
However, in that same video, I broke my own rule several times. I clearly gave the horse a treat just after he lifted his nose toward me, indicating he was ready for his reward. Naturally, several people commented on how I broke the rules I established, as if I didn't know... and naturally, I started looking for ways to explain deeper levels of mastery, hence this article. You can watch the liberty video. I'll post a link at the bottom.
I have three general guidelines in this article (notice how I didn't use the word "rules") to help take us all a step further toward better communications with our animals and maybe even our human relationships regarding rules.
NUMBER 1: Sometimes, rules must be broken. Even safety rules must be abandoned in some unique situations. Take rock climbing for example. The rule is... you must always climb with a harness. But what if you're half way up and your harness fails you, should you stop climbing and wait for the fire department or find a way to climb down without the rules?
Take horse riding for another example. I have a rule for riding with a helmet. I almost always ride with a helmet. But sometimes I don't. Recently a friend came to ride and we only had one helmet that fit him properly. My helmet. (A poor-fitting helmet can be distracting and lead to more problems than it solves.) So I gave him my helmet and I rode without while taking extra care not to do anything too risky. I broke my own rules. So should I have opted to not ride at all? Or did I do the right thing?
The truth is... I've noticed over the years how people love rules. But I've also noticed how when, and if, a person clings to rules like life depends on those rules, that person will be severely stunted in their progress and often judgmental of others. Have you ever had a horse friend tell you, "That's not how you do it," and later you feel like they didn't really understand your point of view? Being to rule-oriented can keep you closed-minded.
It's the people who see rules as helpful guidelines instead of a rigid structure that succeed at the highest levels. It's the people who are willing to see the value in simple rules and the value in bending those rules, from time to time, that enjoy higher levels of living.
So I ask you, do you think you're a flexible person? Do you feel you are good at understanding exceptions to rules? I hope so. There is a beautiful life out there worth living, full of artistic variations to just about every rule you've heard of.
NUMBER 2: Sometimes rules must NOT be broken. This idea laughs in the face of our first idea that rules can be broken, but that's our reality. We have to learn to live with contrast.
Let's say you're an instructor and you've got a new student who's got an excitable horse that you wouldn't even ride without proper ground training first. You know the risk of injury is very high. Your new student asks you to ride the horse right there to show him what to do when he's riding. But you've got this rule about not riding ill-prepared horses. Should you break that rule to please your student and get on without preparing properly? I wouldn't.
That rule is there for a reason. There may be exceptions to any and all rules but you've got to start paying attention to your own feelings instead of listening to what others think the rules are. I have a cowboy friend who would ride that horse. Does that mean you should too? Of course not. Your safety is everything and you get to be the judge for which rules to keep and when.
NUMBER 3: Try not to impose your rules on everyone and everything else. It's important not to judge others for breaking your rules. Should I impose my safety standards on my cowboy friend and combat him every time he breaks my rules? Would you? If you saw a training demonstration and the instructor did something that opposed your preferences, or previous learning, would you tell the whole world how that instructor can't be trusted or would you open your mind a bit more? Your answer tells a lot about your personality and flexibility. Food for thought.
People make their own reasons for adopting rules and that's okay. Hopefully, their rules change over time to allow for progress because progress almost always requires flexibility. But even if nothing changes, it's important to me to stay open rather than closed. I believe an open mind is the key to growth in our beloved horse industry.
As a teacher I give out lots of rules. Rules like: Don't pet a distracted, disconnected horse. Don't ride an Ill-prepared horse. Don't eat chicken with waffles, etc. But that doesn't mean you can't make your own rules and exceptions to rules. You have every right to adapt and personalize your experience and communication with your horse. I try to help my students see rules as guidelines that should be upheld and sometimes broken but I also don't impose my standards on everyone.
For instance, I don't tell you that cowboy boots are stupid because I like to use top-leather English riding boots. I don't judge you based on your rules or preferences because, in truth, I want to communicate with you. I want to share in your journey. I want you, all of you, to become closer friends because... good friends can have these kinds of meaningful debates about when and how to employ rules. I hope you see that's an invitation to you to share your thoughts. I want you to comment below.
Add your thoughts and experiences related to rules you've kept and rules you've bent. Let's become closer friends today.
PS here's the liberty training video
Step 1: Hold tight.
Step 2: Lead right.
Step 3: Ride in sight.
My name is Don Jessop and I want to show you how I train a kids horse. Believe me when I say this is surface information. There is more to learn about every subject. But I believe this basic outline will empower many parents and youth instructors or teachers to guide horses to become great kids horses.
Step one, (hold tight) is all about teaching your new kids-horse-prospect to hold his or her ground. Basically, to stand still no matter what. Make him or her unflappable. Desensitize to flags, flapping arms and legs, saddles, hoses, ropes, noises, flashing plastic bags, touch, bumping, poking, climbing, scrambling, you name it. Teach your horse to hold his ground till until the cows come come, unless you want movement, then he/she should move on command too.
Step two, (lead right) is all about teaching your horse to lead properly in preparation for being a calm, responsible horse. Many people get this wrong. Or perhaps I should say, backward. There are a many ways to lead your own horse, but when training a horse to be a kids horse there is only one truly effective way that both gets you where you want to go and teaches the horse something about consistency, reliability, and giving full attention to the handler. That one truly effective leading style is simple. Cause your horse to move slowly behind you, never in front, and not usually to the side. You want you horse to walk like a trail horse, nose to tail, and completely focused on the one in front. Cause the horse to stay on the track, not allowing drifting left or right or forward and not dragging on the line either. My best kids horses are the ones that lead slowly and lead consistently. If a horse won't do those things, he/she's not ready to hold a kid up there yet.
Step three, (ride in sight) is all about staying connected to the rider. As an adult you don't want your kid riding off into the sunset. Not yet anyway. Be there, be near by, be an anchor. Use a lead rope and teach the young rider to ride around you and turn each way, all on his own cues. Gradually, the horse will become responsive to the rider and not you on the ground. Before you know it, you can take the lead off and get the same results. But don't leave the area. Be that anchor for the ship in harbor. Stay connected and safe and before long, your young rider will be able to perform all the basic riding tasks around or near you, gradually stepping out into bigger spaces. Take your time with step three and have fun.
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PS. Be open, there are many roads that lead to Rome. Consider the information above as one of those roads. Don't be too rule oriented when you're learning and sharing information.
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The reason horses are so scared of crossing bridges and water.
First of all, the horse's eyesight is different than ours. They see with less depth perception. Try closing one eye and notice how its a little harder to judge distance. This is sort of how horses see.
Second, trolls live under there:)
Regardless of the trolls and the eyesight issue, how does one address a horse that's terrified of water and bridges? Answer...
With patience, persistence, and positioning. Those three magical "p" words that every horse owner should memorize.
Patience means, don't have a timeline. If you come to the bridge with a "gotta get it done now" attitude you'll fail with many horses. If you're patient you'll express better energy toward your horse and create a better relationship overall. One that's based on mutual trust, not one that's based on servitude.
Persistence means, don't give up. If you have no timeline that means you can come back to the task tomorrow. Not giving up doesn't mean getting everything you want all at once. It means staying active with a program for as long as it takes. Take a day, two days, or two weeks addressing the topic, just don't give up. Horses need leadership. Leaders know when to quit. And leaders know the difference between quitting and regrouping. Being persistent requires regrouping often. Imagine trying to cross a bridge over water but your horse says he won't do it. You may need to pause for a few minutes, regroup your thoughts and tools and start again. Starting again might mean starting tomorrow but it most certainly means you'll start again. Persistence doesn't mean you'll finish today. Persistence means you'll start again, and try, and try, and try, until some sort of progress is visible. Then regroup, then try again, knowing eventually the horse will cross that bridge.
Positioning means, body awareness related to the task. If you stand in the entrance to a horse trailer, asking your horse to go in, but fail to notice the horse's crooked body related to the entrance point, you'll struggle to access your goal. You must first correct the position and reward it, long before you ask for forward steps. The horse has three major body parts to be aware of. The head, the shoulders, and the hips. If you line those parts up relative to the direction of travel you seek, you'll achieve your task sooner. People often try to drive their horse forward onto a bridge or water crossing, or into the trailer, when the feet are near the entrance point but fail to notice the nose, shoulders, and hips are offset. That's like trying to shoot an arrow from a bow that isn't even attached to the string. Sure the head is sticking out the front but the back end is way off course. Positioning is about teaching the horse to feel rewarded in position, then feel rewarded for forward steps as they come. Don't think about the feet, think about the head, shoulders, and hips, and notice how much easier it is to cross that troll bridge.
As always, I write to support you, to hopefully inspire you, and to simplify some complicated leadership issues with horses. If you enjoy reading these articles, comment below. Let me know I'm reaching you. Give me some feedback by commenting below. May your dreams with horses come true!
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The power of vulnerability is clear to me, just think about your horse and you'll see what I mean. Would you say you have a good horse when he's being stoic and resistant, or would you say you have a good horse when he's being open and unoffended? You see, it's when our partner is open and not so quick to react or be offended that we trust and admire them most.
Of course, we also value determination, and a strong mind, and so on, but vulnerability is waaaayyy underrated as a valuable trait. It's often considered a weakness, but maybe we can change that with a little perspective.
Imagine your horse trusting you, responding to you, believing in you, even excusing your mistakes. Wouldn't you love to have a horse like that? Have you ever seen a horse that doesn't do those things. You know, a horse that bites, kicks, reacts to little things, lets you know every time you make a little mistake, and always stands on guard. That's not a fun horse to be around. In fact, it's the very horse that people send to me for training. Why? Because people don't want reactive, frozen, closed up horses. They want vulnerable, leadable, teachable, kind, open horses. And if that's something we want in our horse partners, it's probably something we want in our human friends too.
But humans add a little element of confusion to the mix by viewing that kind of open and kind nature as weak and susceptible to danger. It's not a hated trait, it's just looked upon poorly because it seems submissive. That's where the confusion comes in. We want our horses to be submissive but we don't want to be submissive to others. We all know that there are some people that we can't and shouldn't submit to. And this is where I want to step in and say... you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable. We can separate those words. Submissive can be powerful too, in some situations to help de-escalate and manipulate the tension in the room. Great negotiators know there's always a moment or two where it may be required. Generally, however, you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable means you stop reacting when people point out your flaws. It means you're not afraid to put yourself out there and inspire others. It means you expose yourself in an authentic way. It seems dangerous right? It seems like people could tear you apart. And guess what... they can and they often try to. And that's why people are so afraid of letting their guard down. That's why horses stand on guard too. They've been hurt when they've been exposed.
But there may be no need to fear. If you can stop putting your faith in how others will treat you and start putting your faith in how secure and strong and capable you are, you can let go of the fear.
I've often referred to this short, true story to illustrate the point here. Years ago I helped my older brother build his house. At one stage of the building process we had to stand on the walls and prepare for trusses to arrive and be set. My brother invited me to stand on top and walk around the wall structures, all of them not more than six inches wide. I remember feeling afraid and vulnerable. He encouraged me not to dwell on those feelings and instead embrace a natural inner strength. He simply asked one question. "If you begin to fall, do you believe you can catch yourself? Do you believe you can recover?" When I stopped to think about it, I realized I do have what it takes to recover, to catch myself, to start over, to heal, to be whole. With that new powerful thought I began to test my balance and discovered I was more capable than I thought. And in that vulnerable state I became powerful and useful. There was certainly risk, but there was also reward. In those moments, walking those walls, I began to feel alive like never before.
My point is this, if you want to fly, you have to expose yourself. If you want to ride, you have to expose yourself. If you want to feel alive in a relationship, you have to expose yourself. And only in that vulnerable state will you feel truly powerful, because you'll remember you are strong enough to catch yourself, to recover, to adapt. Fear will keep you locked up and guarded. Vulnerability will open you up to what life can really offer. It's riskier but more rewarding. My hope is that with that perspective, you can not associate weakness to vulnerability and instead associate the word strength to vulnerability.
Here are a few qualities of a vulnerable person, just to hit it home.
A vulnerable person is strong, braver than most, and capable of more.
A vulnerable person is slow to judge and quick to forgive.
A vulnerable person is open to opportunities and ready to reach for them. It's hard to reach up when your arms are guarding your heart.
A vulnerable person can be more situationally aware, knowing when to be on guard and when to let go.
A vulnerable person is a better communicator, accepted by more people and trusted more by his or her animals and loved ones. If you're a horse owner that means you'll get better results with your horse by being less guarded. Not blind, not unaware, just more open.
One last note. If you've been hurt, if you stepped up on that wall and fell, if you opened up and was taken advantage of, you're not alone. That happens to everyone who dares to be vulnerable. Try not to associate that pain with openness and instead associate the pain to awareness and learning. Pain can teach us to see what we missed and do better next time. It shouldn't teach us not to try anymore.
I went deep today. I realize, as I read through for errors, how big this topic is and how close to home it comes for many people. I've exposed a little of my own heart and I know the risks. Lead by example, isn't that what they say?
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Horsey, horsey may I ride you?
If not ride, then stand beside you?
If I earn your trust to guide you
Would you see me as a friend too
In the past you have been lied to
But with me, you'll find a soul true
You stole my heart and I am proud to
Say I'm part of all that you do
In my life there's nothing I choose
That compares to what we've been through
When I walk a mile in your shoes
I see how much I am just like you
Wild at heart and kind of shy too
Willing, strong, intention so true
Horsey, horsey may I ride you?
If not ride, then stand beside you?
I've been writing and writing and writing, all because of you, my dear horsey friends. Over the the last season I published three new books. Check them out here and be inspired to be a better leader.
Nothing is truly perfect by everyone's standards so you don't have to worry about being perfect. You can mostly, just be you. That's not to say you shouldn't improve and work towards higher standards, but I will tell you there is one secret downside to being perfect with horses. One that's never really expressed and it deserves a moment in the spotlight.
Here it is:
As the horse trainer improves his or her skills, each new horse they work with begins to understand things faster, yielding better, safer results in general. However... if the trainer becomes so competent that almost all basic problems are avoided with good feel and time, they often miss a crucially important aspect of the horse's learning. I call it the "cope with novice" learning curve. Let me explain.
Horses are naturally afraid of plastic. Great trainers, with good feel and timing, introduce the plastic slowly, gradually teaching the horse to cope with the plastic. As time goes on, the trainer is able to demonstrate waving the plastic all over the horse without a reaction. He is literally able to "finesse" the horse into feeling good about the experience. A less qualified trainer or horse owner doesn't have the perfect feel and timing and often upsets the horse with novice, poorly timed hands. So it stands to reason that you should always be a good trainer with perfect feel and timing right? Wrong!
Here is where having imperfect timing is the best thing compared to being perfect. Wrong timing will certainly bother a horse at first, but it can also prepare the horse to deal with poor feel and timing. A horse that can cope with poor feel and timing is a safer horse for a novice or beginner rider.
Think of it like this. A horse that's non-reactive to bad feel and timing shows more patience. If you have to be perfect not to upset your horse, you're not really training him to cope with newbies. Take the example of the plastic bag. If you wave it quickly and too soon, you'll upset your horse. But if you do that often, you'll actually train your horse not to be upset by quick things happening too soon. In other words, bad timing can help the horse learn to be okay with bad timing.
I'm not saying you shouldn't practice good feel and timing. I'm saying that sometimes, bad feel and timing is exactly what the horse needs to learn to cope with, in order to be a safer, more reliable horse that won't react if some new rider accidentally gooses the horse or pulls too hard or introduces something in a not so perfect manner.
Now think of your horse. If you can ride your horse but someone else can't, it's partly because you're practicing being perfect for your horse all the time. You know what I mean... You warm up just so, you give him his special moments to chill, just so, and so on. To be clear, that's exactly what I do for my horses. So I'm not criticizing anyone. What I'm actually saying, is being perfect for your horse doesn't prepare him for others. If I want my horse to be okay for a novice, I literally have to practice being imperfect, with poor timing, and bad feel. Of course I'm smart enough to make sure the horse ends in a nice emotional state each time.
I will tell you this much. It's not easy to pretend to be a novice after so many years of practicing higher standards. However, it's often worth it. All my horses, as a result of not being perfect all the time, are happier, more equipped partners for anybody who takes lessons on them.
In summary. Being perfect is nice, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's useful to be imperfect at times. And in reality, since it's impossible to be completely perfect, I find it useful to trust it's okay when I'm not, which diminishes any pressure I put on myself to get it right every second of the day. It helps me trust that even when I'm not perfect, my horse will learn to be okay with my imperfections. I find that to be a useful thought. I hope you do too.
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a big, big topic, that's what it is. So big in fact, that we have other words for it. We call it finesse, we call it riding with a frame, or on the bit, or riding round, we call it dressage, we call it vertical flexion, we call it high level work and many other things. But I like to call it "simple."
I love taking difficult concepts and attempting to simplify them. That's not to say there isn't way more to learn, there always is. Making things simple just makes them understandable and gives us a simple map to move forward through. Navigating that map takes some skill, no doubt, that's why we dive deep into collection work and collected riding in our Mastery University. Check it out! For now, let's start with some basics...
Collection made simple in three understandable statements:
1. Contrary to popular belief. Horses don't always travel in a perfectly balanced fashion. Collection attempts to change that and enhance the horses balance, strength, and longevity.
The fact that horses aren't naturally balanced should be logical. Humans aren't naturally balanced either. We have to work on our coordination and strength to improve them. We have to work on our posture to improve it too. So assume the horse you own may need some of that work too.
2. To balance a horse we attempt to work with three major body parts. The head, the shoulders and the hips. Independently at first, then together in harmony.
This is usually where upper level trainers confuse the public, because when it all comes together so beautifully, it makes us think we should be able to put it together right away and we get frustrated when it takes longer than expected to put all the pieces together. Great trainers know it can take upwards of a year or two to master basic collection and another year or two to get some upper level things like flawless flying lead changes and the like. It's okay to take your time suppling and strengthening each body part and then slowly putting them together. If the process is rushed the product is reduced to a puppet on a string without any understanding.
3. Horses learn. That means they can be treated less like robots or puppets and more like students or athletes.
Traditionally, trainers who talk about collection talk about tools. They advise on things like double bridles, spurs, and heavy contact techniques to force an upright, round, strong, and collected horse. Collection is not just physical however, it's also mental. With mastery in mind, a trainer can achieve collection without any tools at all. I have colleagues who can complete an entire grand prix dressage test without a bridle on the horses head or a saddle on his back. There is value in tools, but there are no rules apart from one. Don't be cruel, because horses can learn anything if you take your time and help them trust the process and even enjoy the experiences.
Now just three more statements to get you started on the road to collection:
1. Think smaller.
In your early stages of collection, don't follow the "extremes" crowd. People will tell you that you need "xyz" when all you need is "abc." Start everything from the ground. Ask your horse to flex and soften his head and neck to your hand suggestions. Help him feel rewarded for those simple things. In the Mastery University, we have videos that will guide you through this process and more. Help him learn consistency in those simple things. Then once you're on his back, do the same work without going anywhere. Remember the horse is broken into three major parts, the head, the shoulders, and the hips. One day, you'll be able to collect the whole package and walk forward with a strong back, a forward step and a perfect vertical flexion. Don't start trotting around and asking for roundness and forward energy in your horse. Don't try to get perfect vertical flexion, work toward soft, relaxed flexion at first. Think smaller. Start smaller. Build on the small things.
2. Don't be critical.
People will look at your progress and tell you you're doing it wrong. If you haven't had this experience yet, you will. On the journey to collection you'll encounter an army of naysayers. I once heard a story that if you catch a crab and put him in a bucket without a lid, he'll escape. But if you catch two crabs they will never escape, because as one attempts progress the other reaches and pulls him back down in his own attempt to make progress. This concept seems true regarding horse people. The minute you start doing some cool things, you'll encounter a slew of people that try to pull you down or steer you in another direction. Understand that's okay. Understand it's okay to have negativity around you. In fact it's normal human life. Don't let that eat at you. Stay secure in your journey, especially if your journey supports a happy balanced horse, and a happy life. And whatever you do... don't be too critical of others. They are doing the best they know how. Give them time and be a role model not a critic.
3. Be patient.
Rome wasn't built in a day. If you think you should be further than you are, you'd better check yourself. That kind of self talk is destructive. It's true that you may be capable of more but you'll need the support to get there. There is no way my wife and I could have come so far in our technical expertise without the support of master trainers surrounding us. I've met people that think they can do it all themselves but it's a half-truth they tell themselves. Anytime I hear someone say they learned it all by themselves, without support, I laugh inside a little. The truth is they picked something up along the way and forgot to lend credit to the support. We're always picking things up. Even reading this article is picking things up, or at the very least, reinforcing things you've already picked up. Be open to support around you. It comes in video form, lessons, coaching, books, magazine articles and more. If you're patient in your journey to collection with your horse, you'll find yourself doing things with harmony that the greatest horsemen and horsewomen in the world can do. Things like tempi lead changes, canter half passes, piaffe, passage, pirouettes, and more. It's exciting and worth the journey!
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I know you're doing your best. In fact I believe, at the core, everyone is trying to do their best by their own standards. And there's something else important you need to hear too. Don't be critical, not yet anyway. Reserve it for after you compliment your horse. Oh... and by the way, you should take what you do with a horse into the real world. People don't respond well to criticism right out the gates either.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen horse people criticize their horse for breaking gait or doing any number of "wrong things." Don't do that! First, compliment. First, notice the effort. Then help them understand with more critical information. Then remind them that you still recognize the effort. It's called a criticism sandwich.
Many years ago, a great friend, who was also my first horsemanship coach, set me to a task with my horse. Imagine me standing on the ground, lead rope in hand and lifted in the direction I want my horse to go, and training stick lifted to guide the horse forward over a jump. My horse wanted nothing to do with the jump and started pulling on the lead rope and backing away from the jump. I immediately started smacking his butt, trying to force him forward. What happened next completely surprised me and left me contemplating my entire career forward with horses.
Just as things started to escalate into a dust storm and a fight, my instructor friend said "STOP," loud enough for me to hear over my own thoughts. So I turned to look at him. He held his hands out away from his body, palms up in a passive posture and said in a calm tone, "I understand what you're trying to do, but there is a better way. Would you like to know more?"
You see... I thought I had to win the fight with my horse and he invited me to think of it differently. This intrigued me enough to let my hands down and take the pressure off my horse, which still had no intention of jumping the jump, and that made me feel like a failure. But his words and caring tone held my attention. "If there's a better way, I should probably learn it." I said to myself. "Yes, tell me more," I said aloud.
"Great, I knew you had it in you," he complimented. And he sent me back to the jump with my horse. "Now this time," he continued, "lift your lead hand and ask him forward. Now lift your stick and support him from behind but don't swing it, don't touch him, just hold it."
As I followed his instruction I noticed my horse resisting me again and begin to back away from the jump. And I felt the urge to deliver another smack on the butt. My friend noticed my urge and invited me to steady my hands, and not add any extra stimulus. My horse continued to back away from the jump, all the way to the end of my lead where he began to dance in place, still showing no sign of jumping. I called over my shoulder to my friend and asked, "Now what?"
He said, "Wait." I scoffed inside. "Wait for what?" I thought. All my horse is doing is resisting me. The thought irritated me and I spoke up. "I feel like if I don't make him go when I say go, he's going to learn the wrong thing." And he responded... "Don't push him any harder while he's trying."
That irritated me even more. I replied by saying, "He's not trying, all he's doing is trying not to go over the jump!" And that's when he had me.
"What did you say?" He asked. "I said... he's trying not to go over the jump."
"Say that again please." "I said... he's trying not to go over the.... oh.... I see now. He's trying."
"That's right," he replied, with a smile making it's way up his face. "Even when their trying to do the wrong thing you should still recognize the effort. Don't reward it, just recognize it. Don't release, just hold steady and add no extra pressure unless he stops trying."
As if on cue, my horse planted his feet and dropped his effort all together. "Now you can tap him lightly on the butt." He said, "While he's dead in the water with no energy in his body. That's when you add energy. Otherwise, just hold your suggestion and wait to see if he tries anything new. Eventually, he'll figure out what you want."
So I played the game. I asked him to go over the jump. He'd back away, but with less anxiety. All because I wasn't forcing anything. And then, after a minute, he'd stop altogether. I'd apply a little tap from my stick and he'd resume dancing or pulling, then stop again. I'd add another little tap and he'd resume his effort, still unsure of how to do what I wanted, then finally he took a few steps forward, toward the jump but not over. Immediately, my instructor friend asked me to drop my suggestion. He asked me to drop my stick and lower my lead rope. So I did, and then he said, "Now is when you reward your horse, because he's finally on the right track. Even if he didn't go over the jump, he's finally on the track to eventually go over the jump."
I got it, at least in my head, for the first time. And over the years I've worked to perfect it. Recognize the effort, hold the critical information, and compliment for the correct movements. It took about fifteen more minutes working with that horse to jump. Then... with total confidence and no added pressure from me, he got it. He jumped to the other side where we both took the pressure off ourselves and relaxed for a good ten minutes. The next time we came to the jump, he didn't hesitate. And I... I learned one of the most valuable life lessons there is related to communication between two beings.
First, recognized the effort, even when it's not in the right direction. People are trying harder than you might know, but if you criticize them for going the wrong direction you'll destroy that precious effort mechanism. Then, when you feel they've truly been heard and understood, and only then, you can begin to add in the extra information they need. If you don't add in the critical information at all, you end up with a leaderless relationship. I know it sounds simple but you'd be amazed how many people refuse to add critical information for fear of destroying the friendship with their horse or partner. You don't have to fear that if you deliver the info correctly. Then, always at the end, pile on the good! Reward the effort in the right direction. Reward your partner for listening, for being attentive and responsive. Don't just reward them for behaving. Reward them for being present and giving effort. Reward them for trying. That's the real magic.
And for you, dear reader, just know I believe in you. You don't come this far in the horse industry just to become sour and fail to see people around you give their heart to their horse and their dreams. I see that in you. I recognize your desire. Even in the questions you ask, I see a desire to learn and understand more. I love that about you. Keep trying, keep open, keep learning. And just like you, I'll continue to learn and grow with you. We're on this journey together. I find that pretty exciting!
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Sincerely, Don Jessop
Flying changes are one of the most beautiful and complicated maneuvers to master with horses. Horses can do flying changes naturally. We see them running and playing in the field and jumping to the other lead while cantering all the time. However, just because a horse can do it naturally, doesn't mean they do it well. And it most certainly doesn't mean they understand what we want when we ask them to do it for us, on cue. Mastering flying changes takes time.
A good trainer, who truly understands flying changes, doesn't force the issue. Great trainers develop changes, piece by piece, in a progressive manner until, one day, the horse confidently takes a new lead, on cue, while cantering ahead.
There is much to learn about changes and too much to cover in one article. Today we'll just point out a few training ideas.
Over the centuries with horses, there have been many misconceptions about how to train flying changes. If you dive into the subject, you'll get advice from thousands of voices, and... rarely, are two instructors ever humble enough to agree on any one strategy. The first misconception is that horses know how to do it. They don't. They can do it, but knowing how and accidently doing it at play are two different subjects. The second misconception is that when training, you are supposed to change leads by changing direction. Although you certainly can do this, you most certainly shouldn't do it as a singular means to training lead changes.
What happens when you use a change of direction to get a change in lead is... you end up with a falling change instead of a flying change. A balanced horse can change leads while changing directions without any hiccups, but an unbalanced horse will fall to the inside too much and lose his balance and confidence in your suggestions. When this happens, the horse will either break to a trot or crossfire for a few steps, or race around the corner, or in the worst case, fall or trip, injuring joints and confidence. It's better, generally speaking, to ask for changes with minimal directional changes. In fact, the masters use straighter, narrower lines to influence flying lead changes.
A few other misconceptions consist of ideas like the "racing change," or "gallop change." It's an effort to signal the horse to change leads by speeding up and forcing the legs to coordinate for a new direction. The sad thing is that most of these types of strategies actually work well enough that people still try to use them in training, hoping that once the horse learns to dive through a few changes you can slow it down and get them to do it correctly later. But all the masters know that if you don't do it right from the start, you'll only compound the imbalances and bad habits in the horse and fail to achieve mastery with flying changes. In fact, when a master trainer gets a horse that's been forced through the flying changes, they will always go back to basics and rebuild the balance in a more masterful fashion.
There is so much more on the subject of flying changes, from early lateral development, to elevating the stride and advancing lateral work, to head positions and more. Today I just want to encourage you not to fall in the trap of forcing a new lead through a turn, and instead learn about balancing the whole horse and teaching him or her to respond to your signals at the slower gaits to shape, relax, and transition well on nice straight lines.
There is more to come in the future. Stay tuned, share this with your friends, and consider joining the Mastery University to learn more about collection, flying changes, and much more, all at your fingertips, with personal support along the way.
Oh, there are lots of famous people who I'd consider icons of leadership, industry, or history. People, who we might agree made big changes in the world. But this tribute does not belong to any person. It belongs to our four legged friend. The animal that shaped our history and forged pathways in the hearts and minds of an entire population of humans. This tribute is for the mighty horse. And we must celebrate a mighty Thanksgiving for this wonderful animal.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for being a partner for horses who need partners. Feel free to share and comment below.
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When a horse is blinded by fear, you'll know, because your heart will be in your throat, your stomach will be in knots, and you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat like you're watching a horror movie about to take a turn for the worse, metaphorically speaking.
When a horse is blinded by fear, they can do crazy, dangerous things. I've seen horses pulling a cart or wagon, run right through a crowd of people sending folks to the hospital and even into the grave. I've seen horses smash right into a wall, then fly over backward to the ground because their momentum and speed left no other options. I've seen horses get tied up in fences and destroy their own bodies because when the prey animal instinct kicks in at full throttle, there is literally no clear eyesight in the horse. That's why we call it blinded by fear.
Humans do it too. I watched my brother skin up his knees and run head first into a tree because somebody thought it would be funny to toss a small garter snake in his direction on the golf course. When the brain shuts down, so does most of the visual cortex. It's not that you can't see at all. It's that all you can see is the threat and your only escape is the tactile sensations you feel as you bounce off the walls.
What do you do when a horse is so scared they literally gallop right into danger? To be honest, the answer isn't so cut and dry, but basically, what I do, is try to stop them from injuring anyone or themselves. If I can't stop them, I just try to warn everybody around at the top of my lungs and begin cleaning up after the tornado. When you've got a one-thousand-pound plus animal running at full tilt toward potential injury or death, all you can do at times is throw up your hands and hope he sees what he needs to see before he kills himself. I try to pretend I'm calm and keep a calm demeanor so as to not exaggerate his motions. Some people run up to the horse while it's struggling, causing even more harm because the horse is so blinded that everything looks scary, even you. I try to remain calm, unless the only option is to run toward and try to stop it. Regardless, I may present myself as calm but inside, I'm all churned up.
One reason I try to look calm is to invite others to be calm around me. Last month a rider in a clinic got too close to another rider and her young horse exploded. As her horse bucked and careened around the arena, we all noticed she was going to fall from her horse, and instinctively, we all knew if we raced over to the horse to try and catch her, we'd fuel the fire in the horses feet, causing a spin or something dramatic and sudden, leaving even more potential for injury. So we stood, on guard, waiting for the tornado to pass then when she landed we quickly came to her aid.
Like most things that really go wrong, the solution is in the prevention. If you're quick enough to notice the horses face going sour, and the tension in the muscles, you can stop the train before it goes down the hill. So many of my classes are about prevention. You need to learn to read the horse and read the horses around your horse. Knowing what could happen next, often solves a great many problems. However, shit happens. When it happens, if you can't control it or prevent it, the key is to try and be a useful participant in the clean up after the storm.
If you can, try to prevent even more from happening too. Knowing that horses loose their ability to see clearly helps because that means any visual cues you send need to be grand. For instance, if you want to stop a blind horse from running into a crowd, it would help if the crowd all waved their hands frantically. I use a flag day to day with horses. When a horse is triggered into blind fear I attempt to wave that flag from the right position in the arena to stop the horse from jumping a fence or crashing through a gate. Sometimes it helps. Staying calm but being firm can help you stop a running horse without fueling his fire.
However, like I said before, shit still happens. The best thing you can do is clean up the mess and go to work on your mental journal. Try to lock in why the horse did what he did. What did the horse look like, just before he did what he did? Don't get caught up thinking you should avoid things, instead think about how you could prepare for things. For instance, if a bicycle scares your horse off the trail, don't get caught up thinking you should avoid bicycles from here on out. Think about how you can prepare your horse to handle bicycles. Remember to think back and notice the electrical tension rising in the horse. People often say it came out of the blue. They say there were no signs leading up to the explosion. Let me tell you from experience. There are always signs. Use your memory to uncover them. They may be subtle things, like your horse holding his breath. They may be sudden things like an electrical charge in your horse from a noise or flash. Any of those things can be worked on, prepared for, helped. You can teach a horse not to go crazy, to stay grounded in spite of that electrical surge.
In conclusion, if it happens to you, hang in there, you're not alone. If you can learn the right things from those scary moments, you're on the track to mastery. If you have a story to tell, one that you and your horse survived by the skin of your teeth, you have joined the ranks of horseman and horsewomen around the world. We all have harrowing stories to tell. Those of us who are still here, still "standing in the arena," just like Teddy Roosevelt said, are the ones who know deeper truths and have earned stronger hearts and minds.
"On the buckle" is a term most often used in English riding. It means a loose and casual rein position, needing no extra support to control the horse. It got its term because English leather reins are split in the middle and come together via a simple belt buckle.
If you join me in a clinic you'd hear me use the term every time your horse does something good. I'd say to you, "get on the buckle" or "go to the buckle, your horse needs a break." At which point, if you're a brave soul who truly trusts your horse, you'll give all the slack in the reins to the horse. At first, it seems like a vulnerable position to be in while riding. It's certainly a long way away from complete contact and micro-control riding with a short rein. If the horse spooked suddenly, you'd have to gather up your reins, and stop your horse from spinning or running off. But if you time it just right, going to the buckle operates like a massive reward to the horse.
With my advanced riders I encourage them to practice riding on the buckle, not just while standing still, but while in the walk, trot, and ultimately canter, gallop, and even jumping on the buckle. For that kind of control you need a special kind of relationship between you and your horse. One that I can teach, one that you can aspire to. And naturally, like most things, the first step is to be on the buckle while not moving at all. Next time you feel your horse relax, ask him to stop and drop the reins. Hold onto the reins at the very end, just in case, but try to trust the horse, and yourself, to keep your wits together for a few happy moments.
If you're ready to learn more about riding on the buckle, join me in the Mastery University. I have courses set just for learning about hands off riding. Did you know that some Native American tribes hunted buffalo while on horseback? How did they steer while shooting a bow, galloping at thirty miles per hour? The same way I'll teach you. Did you know that professional reining champions are not allowed to use their reins for steering or stopping or their score will be docked? How do they steer, spin, slide, all without their reins? I can teach you, step by step, to master the most basic moves, all the way to the most advanced.
Naturally, there is more to riding than riding on the buckle. There is value in collected and contact riding too. You'll hear me talk about those in detail too, from time to time. You'll learn about terms like "on the bit, or on the fore hand," and many more terms. For now, I invite you to dream big about riding on the buckle.
Start small, but dream big. Can you see yourself riding with two hands on a short rein for control, then one hand on a looser rein, then one day... no hands at all? How cool would it be to be free and trust your horse to navigate through a course, down a trail, over a jump, into the canter, all without the use of your hands, leaving you the freedom to carry a flag, lead another horse, shoot a bow, raise your hands up in the embrace of a non-mechanical connection with your horse? How would you feel if, even in small steps, you could look back a month or two from now and say, "WoW! Look how far I've come! Take that first step today. Start living life on the buckle!
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Why not money or fitness or clothing or cooking. Maybe you have a passion for multiple things. But why did horses spark that flame for you?
For me, I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was eight years old standing on top the toes of my older brothers shoes because the dew on the morning grass was too cold for my bare feet. It wasn't even light outside yet but a small glow inside me began to grow. I had no idea how big that small glow would become at the time but I distinctly remember how my heart and mind shifted. On the ground, not more than twenty feet away, was young mare, my older brother's mare, giving birth to a baby filly we later named Trish. I watched the whole thing, partly in awe and partly in shock. I'd never seen anything like that and wasn't sure I'd ever want to again. But something in me stirred and a passion for horses was sparked. Fast forward nearly thirty five years and I'm still writing about horses, still teaching people to be natural with horses, still passionately pursuing my dreams with horses.
When was your moment? What sparked your flame? Tell me in the comments below.
I'm Don Jessop, thanks for reading and sharing.
It was a cloudy and mildly blustery spring day. The horses were all on high alert. Even Old Blue was more energetic than normal. My old cowboy friend would say they were full of "P and V." Which stands for... nevermind:)
Two horses were saddled, standing, but not still. The last horse was playing hard to saddle and I could tell emotions were climbing in her handler.
"Hold still you little punk," her handler shouted. Finally, after several attempts, the saddle landed square on the horses back and the person throwing the saddle preceded to cinch up. No doubt, the horses were wired. Even as the saddle tightened up, the horse continued to dance a little more than normal.
None the less, the horses were ready to go and the riders were even more ready, but something was missing and no one there knew or cared what it was. That "something" never really meant anything to anybody until about an hour later when the ambulance arrived to collect one rider with a broken arm and concussion.
Stories like the one above happen often, and more often in the spring. So it's important to understand what that "something missing" is. I bet you can guess. If you've been studying with me for a long time you won't have any trouble guessing. The something is called "patience." There are three words that start with "P" that you should remember forever. Patience, persistence, and positioning.
Technically, two of the three "p's" were missing in the story above. The riders were impatient, and didn't put enough importance on the horses standing still, in position. The riders were persistent. But focused on the wrong things. Bottom line, one of the biggest spring time blunders is expecting your horse to be a good horse and not taking the time to ensure they are. It's bypassing the little things, because you're in a hurry, that get you in trouble. Every time you ride, literally every time, and especially in the spring, you should account for the extra time needed to help the horse. Be in it for the horse too.
Here is a video outlining a spring restart program we do. Step by step, you'll see how nothing is missed. We work on everything until it's a passing grade, and only then moving on to the next step. Avoid those spring time blunders and ensure your horse is on the same page as you.
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Watch this video overview for everything about treats. Detailing when, when not to, why, why not to, where, how, and even what type of treats to use. This video is one of hundreds of training videos in our Mastery University.
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If you've watched the video and still have questions, reach out to us. We'll help you with any problem. Regarding treats... don't make rules that govern all situations, be flexible.
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I was told by my teacher to never look at my horse. Instead, look where you want to go. This teaching is a big fat lie. WAIT! WAIT! I don't really mean that :) I'm just exaggerating for fun. Those who know me, know I like to have fun, so don't get offended. And in case you do get offended, read this article next.
I'm not going to talk about lies and truths anymore. I'm going to talk about reality. In reality... you have to look at your horse to get information about how their positioning and how they're feeling, and how much you need to support them. If you strictly look where you're going without looking at the horse you miss valuable information. And of course, if you only look at your horse instead looking where you're going you might run into a tree.
The point is... have a flexible focus. Look where you want to go and look at your horse. You can do both! Plus... looking at your horse isn't threatening to your horse. Acting like a predator is. But looking isn't. Try it for yourself and notice how your horse can tell the difference between a friendly look and a predatorial look.
Its true, that the first time you interact with a wild mustang or an extremely abused horse, you may have to avert your eyes and turn down your natural energy. But after those first few interactions your horse should start to learn and trust your intentions. Once he or she does, looking with your eyes is okay. Coming full circle, not just okay but important. You need to see your horse. You need to see what's going on inside that brain. Ironically, if you hide your eyes, it can cause you to look sneaky. Sneaky like a predator. Be yourself. Be kind. Be open. Be soft. Before you know it, you can look at your horse without bothering him or her.
In conclusion. It's okay to look at your horse. Not just okay, but important. Look when on the ground, while grooming, while asking for movement in any direction. Notice how the body lines up to perform a task or shapes up to ignore you. Look while riding, notice how the body is preparing for things. Don't fixate on any point of focus. It's not natural to fixate where you're going or to fixate on your horse. Have a flexible focus, absorbing all the information you can from your horse and environment.
Good luck and have fun with your horse.
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Imagine needing to collect wood for your fireplace before winter comes. You, being the woodsman you are, drive to the hardware store and purchase a chainsaw. When you bring it home, you find you're quite happy with the saw's performance. It cuts like a dream and work goes by without a hitch. After an hour or two of using the saw, you notice the performance waning, but you keep on cutting because you've got a job to finish. But the performance of the saw continues to fall and you become frustrated with this new saw that clearly isn't as good as the hardware store promised. So you drive back into town and take the saw with, ready to give "what for" to the store owner. When you arrive and begin your clever complaint, the store owner quickly interrupts you and asks if you've taken time to sharpen the saw blade. Feeling like a fool, you apologize and ask for help to sharpen the blade.
In the analogous story above... you are you, your saw is your horse, and the blade symbolizes the signals you use.
Imagine wanting to ride your horse all summer and enjoy the fulness of nature. You, being the horseman/horsewoman you are, drive to the barn and saddle up your horse. For days and days, you are quite happy with your horse's performance. He moves like a dream, responding to every request. After a few days however, you notice your horse's performance waning, but you keep on riding because you've got a full summer to embrace. But the performance of your horse continues to fall short. You feel him getting sluggish, and dull, and you become frustrated with your relationship. Clearly the trainer you hired didn't live up to his promises. So you call your trainer and begin to explain how unsatisfied you are with your horse's performance, but as you start complaining, your trainer quickly interrupts you and asks if you've taken time to reinforce the signals you use. Feeling like a fool, you apologize and ask for help to sharpen those signals.
Question... When you ride, are you using signals or training signals? And... what should you be doing? I don't mean to give you a leading question. It's a question I want you consider deeply. I believe that even the best trainers are sharpening the signals pretty regularly. Perhaps even every ride. But most riders, even great riders, take days off training and simply use the signals like you would use a saw. However, most trainers worth their salt, know that every so often you have to stop riding around and start sharpening the blade. A few days of refreshing the cues and reinforcing the aids always yield great results.
When's the last time you dedicated a couple sequential training sessions to sharpening your horses responses to hand or leg yields? Sideways or circles? Backward or forwards? Shoulder yields or hindquarter yields? Standstill or stopping cues, etc.? Are you stuck in a loop of simply using your horse, or are you willing to practice building up the communication between you and your horse?
Here's are three areas where most people fail to sharpen their saw blades and even inadvertently cause the blade to become dull quicker than normal.
1. When getting on your horse, you allow him to walk off without correcting the behavior. A good trainer would correct the horse, even get off and bring the horse back to the block, then get back on, again and again, until the horse's standstill cues are set well.
2. When asking for for walk, trot, or canter, you accept the gait even when the transition to the gait was poor and dull. A good trainer would slow down and ask again and again until the transition is correct, and only then allow, the horse to stay in the gait.
3. When riding in the arena, you don't ask your horse travel straight ahead on a narrow track. A good trainer consciously practices hand and leg cues to move the horse's shoulders, hips, and nose back to a predetermined track, to reinforce straightness and prepare for upper level maneuvers.
There's more, so much more. Would you like to dive deeper into how you could sharpen the saw? Would you like to learn techniques specific to you and your horse? Join me in the Mastery University and get one on one support. Your first consultation is completely free.
Recently our Mastery University Group was fortunate enough to spend the evening with an alligator expert from south Florida. Listed below are some of the parallels we've learned about horses and these amazing animals.
You can build a bond with any animal. Alligators can bond with people just like horses can bond, even though it takes time. And you need to know how to stay safe.
You can learn to reward with pressure, and well timed releases from pressure, and food, and if you time it right you can get amazing results. Just like with horses.
You can guide the animal's attention to safely direct movement by setting boundaries and repositioning the animal or yourself to communicate clearly.
You can learn to read every detail regarding emotion and energy output in order to make a judgment call on what's appropriate to do next.
With patience, there is nothing you can't do, even with the most extreme animals.
You can find exceptions to rules and beliefs and stigma in every animal. Don't give up on a horse, just because he or she is challenging.
Thanks to Ashley Laurence for thinking outside the box and bringing us closer to nature. Thanks to our Mastery group and university members for daring to dream big and take steps to live a passionate life.
If you want to watch the whole video (about 70 minutes) join our Mastery University and meet Ashley and many other fantastic guests. In the interview Ashley talked about horses and other exotic animals and how we can learn from them and teach them. Her energy and enthusiasm is unlike most people you'll ever meet. Join us and meet the experts in training.
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I can tell within seconds if I'm witnessing a master at work with their horse, or a novice. I can tell just by the way they go about leading a horse or feeding a horse.
These two experiences, leading and feeding, are perhaps the most undervalued of all horsemanship experiences among novices. And sadly amongst some people who have kept horses their whole lives. The reason it's sad is because it lends to the idea that horses are for riding and everything other than riding training isn't really training. Of course, this idea is incomplete and inaccurate. Having horses is about much more than just riding. Just ask your horse.
Horses need basic care like food, water, shelter, space to move and social experiences. But horses also need leadership. And what better place to offer leadership than when you feed and when you lead. To help understand what I'm talking about I'll give you two scenarios and then reshape how you should respond in those two scenarios.
Joe walks out to the barn to collect some hay for his horse. Joe's horse notices what's happening and begins to whinny and pace the fence, excited for his meal. Joe wheels out a load of hay and begins to throw it over the fence. Joe's horse is already at the fence and leaning over, taking a bite, even before it leaves Joe's hands. Joe doesn't mind, he just tosses the hay over the fence and walks back to the barn to clean up and reset for another day.
Question for the reader: What is Joe's horse learning? Is he learning to be calm or anxious about feeding? Is he learning to patient or frantic? Will he learn these lessons and will those lessons then crossover into other areas of Joe's time with his horse?
I hope you can deduce the truth. Joe's horse is learning to be impatient and frantic about food and it will crossover into other areas of training. So what could Joe do different?
Scene 1: Feeding Time Revised
Joe walks out to the barn to collect some hay for his horse. Joe's horse notices what's happening and begins to whinny and pace the fence, excited for his meal. Joe wheels out a load of hay and begins to throw it over the fence but pauses because his horse is trying to take some hay before his turn. Joe drives the horse backward, away from the hay then sets the hay on the ground within his own reach. The horse quickly returns to get his hay but Joe say's "no," to the horse, "not yet." The horse looks at him quizzically and Joe reaches out his hand to offer a connection. His horse ignores the offer and ducks under his hand to grab some hay. Joe quickly drives him back again, then reaches his hand out to offer a connection again. Finally, his horse reaches out his nose to Joe's hand with a soft expression on his face, and they connect. It's brief but sincere. Joe then steps back and allows the horse to step in and begin eating. As his horse begins eating, Joe lingers and even reaches out to pet and bond with him while he's eating because Joe knows that bonding with a horse while eating is as good as anytime because it floods the horse with positive associations with Joe.
Question: What did Joe's horse learn?
Joe's horse is learning to be patient, connected to Joe and not the hay, trusting that Joe, even though he's tough, is kind and wants to make a true bond.
Sally finishes working with her horse in the arena and begins leading her back to the field where she'll let her go. Her horse is walking a little faster than Sally, apparently ready to be free. So Sally hangs on a little tighter on the line and quickens her pace to keep up. When she reaches the gait, her horse is noticeably more anxious. After working with the gate and finally getting it open she steps inside and wrestles with the halter until it slips off her horse. Her horse then trots away, happy to be with her old friends. Sally gathers her things and heads back to the barn unaware of what her horse has learned.
Question: What has her horse learned? Has her horse learned to walk Sally's pace or do her own thing? How will that translate to riding? Has her horse leaned to be patient and connected or... distracted and impatient? What will happen tomorrow when Sally goes to get her horse?
I hope you can deduce the truth again. Sally's horse is learning to be disconnected and impatient, doing her own thing. A horse that leads poorly also rides poorly, often moving at their own pace with no regard for their leader, unless the leader hangs on tighter to the lead rope or reins. Her horse will be harder to catch tomorrow as a result of being let go like that. So what could Sally do different?
Scene 2: Leading Revised
Sally finishes working with her horse in the arena and begins leading her back to the field where she'll let her go. Her horse is walking a little faster than Sally, apparently ready to be free. Sally notices this right away and addresses her horse firmly by planting her feet and driving her horse backward, resetting the position, and asking her horse to stay at her pace, connected with a loose line. When her horse steps back and connects, Sally continues walking toward the gate. By the time Sally reaches the gate she's made more than twenty five of these harsh corrections, stopping her feet each time and resetting the position, and her horse is finally starting to get the idea. And... each time she corrects the position and connection it gets a little easier. After opening the gate, Sally takes her horse into the field, at which time, her horse seems to get anxious about Sally taking the halter off. So instead of just taking it off, Sally walks her horse around the field, reinforcing the connection she wants. When her horse is calm, Sally takes the halter off, asking for connection one more time. Then, Sally walks away from her horse instead of her horse walking away her. Sally knows that being the first to leave is important. She knows that training calmness and connection, in position, is valuable for everyday riding and she's also certain that her horse will be easy to catch because she left on such a positive note.
Question: What did Sally's horse learn this time?
Sally's horse is learning to walk at Sally's pace which will crossover to riding. Sally's horse is staying with her at the end, proving to Sally that it's okay to leave because they are connected. Sally's horse is learning patience and positive associations to people despite the firmness Sally had to operate with during those early corrections. Sally's horse is becoming a true partner.
In both revised scenarios, Joe's and Sally's horses are becoming smarter, calmer, more connected. All this training took place outside the ring, outside the traditional training areas. And, as a result, Joe's and Sally's horses will be safer and happier around people than any other horses without this handling. All because, in the end... Joe and Sally learned the sacred art of leading and feeding.
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I am eager to learn. I find learning fun, challenging, and enriching. How about you? How about your horse?
Did you know that most horses are eager to learn but they require a special kind of teacher to hold that desire for learning? Do you know how to be that kind of teacher?
Being the best teacher for your horse is not as hard as it might seem. Most people get a lot of it right. But there are a few points that require thinking beyond what your heart will tell you. You have to take a deep look into psychology.
Basically, if your horse loves you, he or she will do more for you. Have you ever heard the saying, "A horse will do more out of heart and desire than anything else?" I heard that nearly every day in my early training with horses. It's a good one to remember. You should always find a way to earn your horse's heart and you'll get further, faster, and have a better time for both of you.
Here is where it gets a little deeper into psychology. If you try to win your horses heart by being nice (too nice) you'll fail. One quick story to illustrate:
I got a phone call the other day and the horse owner on the other end of the line expressed how her horse was pushing her around. Literately stepping into her space and making her move out. It happened when she was feeding, grooming, leading, and pretty much everywhere. "I don't understand it," she says. "I'm super nice to her, In fact I've doubled up on being nice and I've been extra nice lately. I give her treats, I spend time with her. I groom her. I never hit her. I never hurt her. I want to win her heart. Why is she pushing me around?"
Can you see what I see? Can you see how, inadvertently, in an effort to get to her horse's heart by being nice, she ended up rewarding the wrong behavior?
Imagine a horse that's big and confident, stepping into your space, taking your space, and you back out because you don't want to offend the horse. OOPS! That's what she was doing. Giving over her leadership. Now the trouble really starts. She can't ride, she can't lead, she can't do anything the horse doesn't want to do. Her horse is in no learning frame of mind. So earning a horse's heart sometimes requires deeper thinking. It requires being firm at just the right moments (usually during leading or feeding) and causing the horse see you as the leader. Then, at other moments, using rewards and kindness, causing the horse to see you as a friend.
When a horse trusts you, and respects your lead, you will maintain that horses desire to learn. Now, when you approach a new task with your horse, you just have to hold your ground a little longer and reward at the right time and you'll notice how the horse begins to love learning. Don't push your horse while he or she is trying to figure out what you want. You should be able to see when a horse is curious and investigative. Also, don't pause and wait while the horse is standing with a blank expression for too long. I could go on with even more details. In fact we dive deeper and deeper in to mastery with horse psychology and more. You can join me.Click the link and buy the Horse Psychology 101 course.
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PS. I wrote a poem called "Eager to Learn." It's not about your horse. It's about your own inner strength. Comment below if you want to hear it and I'll email you the poem personally.
I'm not partial to one breed or another. And... no way in heck am I going to open the heated discussion, qualifying one breed over another. When some folks get into horses, they get stuck in one small part of the industry and as a result, one of several emotions most likely shows up when horses are compared. Genuine curiosity for some. Morbid curiosity for others, they might be thinking, "Oh boy, this guy is gonna get himself in some trouble here. This should be fun." Anger and defensiveness might pop up for others.
But why would a simple discussion about horse breeds bring up negative emotions like anger and defensiveness? Believe it or not, some people read the title and said, "Uh... No way! I'm not even going there!" and didn't even click on the link to read more. The same emotions would have come up for some people if I titled this article, horses vs mules, or warmbloods vs pleasure horses, or goats vs sheep. We all love our animals and most of us have favorites.
I find all of these emotions fantastic and curious. I love human emotion and the people that so willingly express them. I think we all need to embrace emotion from time to time rather than run for cover. I admire folks who wear their emotions on their sleeve. And I admire them even more when they can roll their sleeves up and allow spaces to learn and grow. Just food for thought anyway.
So back to the question about quarter horses vs Arabians. Truthfully, it's like comparing pink lady apples to gala apples. They're both apples. What flavor do you like? It's okay to prefer one over the other. It's your right and no one should take that away from you because you like the flavor of something different. Whenever people start arguing about how quarter horses, or other breeds, are smarter, or how Arabians are more sensitive than other breeds, I just tell them, they've not seen the whole spectrum of animals. I've met mules that will safely guide you over a mountain pass and I've met mules that will throw you away before you get a chance to dream of riding in the mountains. I've met quarter horses that will safely carry a child and quarter horses that will kick you in the teeth. I've met Arabians that will spook at butterflies and I've met Arabians that wouldn't spook at the apocalypse.
The point is. Breeds don't matter as much as people think. Unless you think they do. In which case, you have the right to. I believe in helping people find the right horse for their dreams, and I often start with breeds as a generalization but I never pass up a horse because he's the wrong breed. Arabians can make extraordinary Western performance horses, and quarter horses can make extraordinary English performance horses. So, just in case you're looking for a new horse... stay open, you might just find a diamond in the rough.
Look for horses that catch your eye and your heart. Look for horses that show a connection to humans. And when they don't, look for ways to help them learn to connect to humans and human goals in a positive way. Stay open, have fun, don't judge too quickly. Don't let the opinions of others sway you too much either. Many trainers are biased. Guess what, me too. Listen to the messages, but don't buy into any form of religious-like beliefs about horses, and maybe even other topics, without examining the whole picture yourself.
Thanks for reading. Comment below. Tell me your story of how a particular breed pleasantly surprised you.~
THE ONE LEFT BEHIND
The last couple of weeks we've talked about how to manage herd animal behavior and separation anxiety in horses. And just like last week, I'm going to reiterate how important it is to view this anxiety when separated as an instinctive behavior in a horse. Horses are family creatures and when they get separated they get nervous. Luckily it can be changed for the better. Horses can learn to relax when separated. Read last week's article to find out more about how to keep your horse's attention in a positive place.
At the end of the article I hinted I would write about the one left behind. We've talked about how to solve separation anxiety in the horse you're working with but didn't really get into solving it for the horse left in the field. It's often much harder for him or her because when you leave him alone, you leave him with no leadership.
There are however, a few things you can do to make his/her life more comfortable.
Here are you options:
Number one: Don't leave him behind. Take him with you. Or if you do leave him behind, leave a friend with him. I know it's not ideal, but it is one solution many people explore.
Number two: Give it time. Time heals all wounds. If your fences are safe, you can trust he won't hurt himself. In time he'll realize that you always come back with his friend. In my experience this will take lots of time. Maybe a year or two (some horses are even more extreme) before your horse starts to realize that his friend leaving, doesn't mean staying away.
Number three: Stay in sight. Slowly increase the distance at which you can separate the horses. First, play with your horse inside the same space. Then, begin to slowly increase the distance at which you play but stay in sight. Soon, you can leave his sightlines, but quickly return. Think of it like "approaching and retreating" from a certain distance until your horse left behind is trusting you'll always return. Eventually, you'll be able to stay out of sight for longer without upsetting your horse too much.
Number three: Leave something behind for him to enjoy. If you have a third horse that can stay back as a friend that's ideal, but even that isn't enough sometimes. You can leave food behind. If you leave food every time, your horse left behind will start to associate food and relaxation to separation instead of anxiety. Especially if you combine a few of the above strategies.
I want to highlight just a few concepts here before I go. First... make sure your fences are safe. Sometimes you can't help the horse left behind, you just have to trust he'll be okay. Second... spread the distance slowly. Third... don't get frustrated! You're dealing with instinct. Every time you deal with instinctive behavior you've got a long road ahead. Be patient, calm, and carry the demeaner of a leader. Don't carry the demeaner of a worry wart. Plan ahead for success. You can do anything if you plan like a leader.
To your success with all your horses,
PS. I want to hear from you. Comment below. Ask me questions. I'll respond.
Horses are naturally herd bound. They quite literally develop a deep love and bond with their herd mates and they instinctively rely on each other for safety. It's not fair to say "bad behavior" when talking about herd attachment issues. Really, it's instinctive behavior when a horse reacts to being taken from the herd or left behind as the herd is taken from them. We call it "bad" because it interrupts our plans to have a "good" day with our horse.
Imagine going out to the farm, planning on a pleasant ride, only to become frustrated because the horse you're working with is so attached to the horse you left behind that he or she starts rearing, turning, pulling, and more and you can't calm them down or focus their attention and now you're left with a wild animal and a not so pleasant experience. Has that ever happened to you? If so, keep reading.
In four simple steps I'm going to help mitigate the issue of herd attachment. It all starts with step one.
STEP ONE: This one's on you.
Never get frustrated. If you get frustrated you make it worse for everyone involved. When was the last time you got frustrated that actually benefited you and the people involved? I'm willing to guess the answer. Frustration is the enemy and frustration can be mitigated in one simple fashion. Change your expectations! That's it. High expectations lead to frustration if they aren't met. Don't have high expectations. Don't have low expectations. Have natural expectations. If my horse is a horse, I expect he'll act like a horse in spite of my plans and goals. Therefore, I'll make my plans not about me alone, and more about my horse growth and learning, every time I interact.
If my horse is a horse, I expect he'll act like a horse in spite of my plans and goals. Therefore, I'll make my plans not about me alone, and more about my horse growth and learning, every time I interact.
That means... If I am planning on a pleasant ride, I'm also planning on the time it takes to ensure that happens. I can't be in a hurry. I can't be hoping it works. I plan on helping the horse find that place in his/her heart and soul that allows for that. It's about my horse too.
STEP TWO: This one's on you too.
Be more interesting than the compelling thoughts racing through your horses mind. Remember... he's attached to his herd because that's how he survives on an instinctive level. Those racing thoughts are so compelling that he's willing to disregard everything you want and do everything he can to get back to the herd. You have to be more interesting than those racing thoughts. You have to hold the attention. And when he gives you, even the slightest bit of attention, you have to reward it. Gradually his attention on you will grow and grow until he relaxes and forgets about what mother nature was screaming at him.
How do you hold his attention you might ask? There are a million ways, but here are few that are memorable.
Keep him/her straight and on the track. The nose should go in front of the shoulders and the shoulder in front of the hips and all on the same track that you started on. In other words, if you horse starts to drift from one side of the road to the other, make a point of correcting it. If you start early on the corrections, they don't get out of hand as you distance yourself from the heard. Another tip for holding attention is to make minor transitions and adjustments all the time. Don't just stay in the walk. Speed the walk, slow the walk, tip the hind quarters off track for a moment, then back on track, and so on. Keep changing it up.
REMEMBER. Every time you get a little attention from your horse, reward it! Open your hands, soften your expression, give some space or time. Treats or food can work too, but can also spike the energy in the wrong way if your timing is off. Usually just a quiet moment, where all the pressure is off, is all you need to reward your horse in situations like this.
Like I said, there are a million ways to hold the horses attention. Some are quick and extreme, some are slow and patient. Each situation requires a little feel and timing. Join our Mastery University and learn them all. Check it out!
STEP THREE: This one's on you too.
Go somewhere. Not anywhere. Somewhere. Be clear about where that is. Be destination oriented and make pitstops along the way. Don't be random in your destination with a horse that needs to be focused. With herd bound horses I almost always ask my students to look up, before they even take another step, and tell me where they are going next. If they can't tell me precisely where they are going and what they are going to do when they get there I don't let them go. "Clarity is Power!" Remember that. If you know where you're going, your horse will be able to connect to your leadership easier. That doesn't mean they don't test you. It just means you know what you're after. And that garners respect.
STEP FOUR: This one's on your horse.
Some horses instantly see your leadership and stop reacting to separation anxiety and stop trying to see where the other horses are. Others take some time. Don't lose your nerve just because it's taking thirty minutes or longer to settle the horse down. Be patient. Be kind. Be firm when you need to. Be clear. And trust that if you persist in the proper position every horse in the world will find a connected calm place to be. And that's with you.
There's more you need to know. Things I can really only hint at in an article. Things like intentionally challenging the emotional growth of your horse daily or regularly. But I'll leave you with this... I believe in you! I believe you can reach your horses heart and mind. I've been where you are. I'll get a new horse and be there again. The magic is not in solving herd bound attachment issues. The magic is in connecting with a wild by nature animal and developing and growing relationship that impacts all areas of your life. I want to be there on this journey with you.
Join me in the Mastery University. You can learn about it for FREE with a private consultation. Check it out. Can't wait to see you.
Thanks for reading. Comment and share below.
PS. What about the one left behind? We talked about the horse we're working with, but what about the horse that's left behind, pacing the fence? Is there anything we can do about that one? Answer... YES! Stay tuned for next weeks article.
The question I'm often asked by friends and family is how many horses I have. I almost always answer with a rye smile saying, "One too many."
Disregarding the comedy, there does seem to be a magic number of horses to have on your property and this article is hopefully going to give some clues to that number.
A few questions for you...
Are you boarding horses or do you have them at home? When in comes to finances, strictly speaking, it's cheaper to board horses than own them at home. But only if you have one or two. If you have three or more it becomes much cheaper to own a property capable of housing your horses. Why...? Because, at a certain point the cost of boarding out ways the cost of a bigger property. Property is expensive. And we know it's not fair to house your horses in a small 100 x 100 space their whole life because horses need to be able to express their whole range of motion to "feel" free. That includes the gallop. Your horse needs space to gallop. (Full range of motion = larger sense of freedom.)
But having enough space to gallop is expensive. We're talking about three to five open acres or more. And that might be a big new mortgage. So here's a basic breakdown of the finances.
|Boarding - depending on area||Own your own place|
|1 horse: $500-$1000/month||
Extra mortgage and maintenance:$1500-$3000/month
|2 horses: $1000-$2000/month||2 horses don't quite make it worth it|
|3 horses: $1500-$3000/month||3 horses or more make it worth it! (Go buy your own property)|
Of course the above table is a massive generalization, but hopefully you get the point. When it comes to finances, it's usually better to board your horse than own your own property until you get three or more horses. But that leaves a new question...
Regardless of where your horses live, how many horses should you own for the horses sake? To help answer that I have a new table for you.
|1 horse gives you time to commit and engage completely without distractions or extra obligations||
1 horse gets super lonely. Horses are family animals and to give them everything they need to thrive they need family
|2 horses gives company to the single horse problem. Now your horse has a friend||2 horses presents a problem. When you want to ride one the other is left behind and can become anxious|
|3 horses gives even more company and gives you the ability to ride one out and leave 2 behind to be together||3 horses presents a new problem. When you bring your friend around to ride your second horse you still leave one behind|
|4 horses gives you the ability to bring your friend along to ride and leave two horses at home to give each other company||4 horses presents a new problem. Now you're so distracted with all your horses you don't have time to make friends, and you're left all alone at the barn by yourself|
Round and round we go, looking for the ideal number of horses to have. On one hand, having too many makes you what we call in the industry, "horse poor." It means you don't have enough time or money for anything but the horses that are quite literally eating the green right out of your wallet, the minutes right of the clock, and taxing the land they live on. On the other hand... if you only have one horse, you subject that horse to slightly less natural form of lifestyle. So, like most things in life, there is no perfect answer.
As it turns out, the only right answer is the one you have inside you. What makes you feel right? For many people, having one horse is perfect because you progress so quickly to higher levels of horsemanship without distraction or worry for herd bound behaviors that arise in training sessions. And that is fine as long as you're not a hard case that makes life for your horse miserable. For other folks, like myself, I never like looking into a field and seeing a single horse. I know horses well enough to know they are herd animals. So in all of this... I believe, we're left with a new question. If you choose to have one or more horses, how do you deal with ill behavior related to herd attachment?
How do you help a horse not be so attached to the herd, so you can make the progress you would like to make if you owned just the one horse? That way, you can have the best of two worlds. You can make progress in spite of distraction and you can have more than one horse to add value to his or her life experience.
To answer that, stay tuned. Next week I am going to post a new article on how to help horses with extreme herd attachment issues.
Thanks for reading. Comment and share below. God bless!
I'm not as brave as I once was, I've been injured, I've grown older, but now I'm a whole lot wiser. Not as wise as I'd like to be, like the people I look up to, but I've certainly traded some of my bravery for a little wisdom. Perhaps you've done the same. Perhaps you know someone, who you wish would do the same. Bravery is an important aspect of any activity in life, no doubt. But wisdom can be even more powerful when it comes to communicating with our four legged, wild at heart, equine friends.
For instance... I don't get on a horse just cause someone else says the horse is "trained or ready." I test the horse's individual responses to simple suggestions and see just how "trained" trained is. If you're new to horses you might not know what to test for. I can teach you. Check out the Mastery University and sign up for the weekly conference lessons.
I don't push a horse beyond his limits just because I think he's being obstinate. I used to. I used to be quick to blame the horse for one thing or another and then get a little too quick or harsh in my corrections. But now... I usually don't chalk up anything as obstinate behavior. Think about it. Is your horse not doing it because he/she knows what you want and chooses not to? Sure, sometimes that's correct and easily misread as obstinate. But there's one other element to consider... Does he/she know why you want it?
When you ask a horse to do something and they say, "I don't want to do this!" What they're really saying is "Why do you want me to do this?" And if you don't have an answer, you're going to go straight to thinking he/she is being obstinate and choose dangerous techniques to correct. Possibly dangerous for you. Most certainly dangerous for the progress of your trusting relationship with that horse.
Me, on the other hand, at least this older/wiser version of me, doesn't go straight to obstinate. Instead I choose to say, "My horse is acting confused. He/she clearly doesn't understand why I want this, why I think this is so important. Let me slow down and clear things up."
Check out my BEST intentions model inside the free mastery home study course to learn more about how to answer when your horse says, "why are we doing this?"
I also don't let people ride my horse without testing that person's skills with basic things first. Recently a group of young men arrived at my door to learn about horses. They all said they've had some horse experience and when asked what they expected to happen in a horse lesson, they all said they would probably saddle and ride. I don't work that way anymore. Years ago I spent time with an incredible dolphin trainer in Florida. She implanted a process of learning that impacted both the dolphin and the new person that showed up to learn about dolphins in a positive and progressive way. "Most animal participation lessons are about the people," she said. "We have to make sure it's about the dolphin too. Otherwise the dolphin will literally resent the experience and sooner or later, stop participating happily."
Of course, the other reason I don't let people just get on, is the same reason I don't just get on myself. I want to help the new rider develop their communication and connection skills in each lesson, and not just their pulling and kicking skills.
I believe I could go on about all the small bravery lessons I traded for wisdom lessons, such as choosing to wear a helmet, but I also believe the wiser thing to do is keep things small, short, simple and succinct. If I'm truly being honest. I want you to know this was never about my story anyway. I want to hear from you. What's your story. What lessons have you learned that make you wiser today? Have you learned a new technique that makes you better? Have you let go of an old way that doesn't work as good as you thought? I want to hear your comments below.
As always, thanks for reading, and comment below. Share with your friends and check out how you can further your education at Mastery Horsemanship.com.
Blessings to you in this new year!
Don't set a new year's goal without having the support to follow through. Try the Horse Mastery University and discover the depths of horse psychology, your own personal progress plan, inspiration to grow, weekly problem solving lessons, and a group of people that are dedicated to supporting you to reach new heights in your horse relationships this year.
Imagine what would happen if you had that bit of extra support to answer any questions or solve any problems so you could enjoy your horse to his, and your own, full potential?
In the spirit of giving, I want to invite you to the Horse Mastery University, 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 extra gift I want to give today is a FREE one on one conference lesson with me and my team, valued at $150.00. In this private 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 clicking here.
Don't wait long because spots are limited.
Have you ever been thrown from a horse? That's what 2020 felt like for so many people. If that happened to you in 2020, I'm only going to ask this one question made famous by one of our favorite films, "Man from Snowy River."
Clancy asks young Jim, "What happens when you get thrown from a horse?"
Jim responds, "You get right back on, you don't let him beat you."
Those seem like pretty important words to me. The clock is ticking, pushing toward 2021. Are you going to get back on?
Just say yes!
Sure, things will have to be different, and you're certainly better at reading the situations now. And you've grown some too. That's a good thing. Pain and discomfort often cause growth.
The important thing is to look back and see how you've survived. Don't look at what you've lost. Getting caught up in what you've lost never serves anybody. Just look through history. Even look through your own story. Focusing on what's been lost only causes a negative spiral. Notice instead how you've survived. Notice how blessed you are to still be here. Notice how strong you are to still be here. If you can survive 2020, you can survive anything! Be powerful. Believe you can be powerful. Stay positive and be willing to see this new year coming as a gift.
In this new gift, awaits abundant opportunities. Will it be scary? Sure. Transitions are always hard. Will it be good? No, it will be GREAT! Because you're in it. You're alive and kicking, you're going to bring your best to the table and never stop fighting to make this world and your world, a better place. Because that's what we do, us humans. We are strong, we are powerful, we are united in the effort to make life grand for us, and for the people we love. Let's keep that dream alive and together, 2021 will not be a road without rocks, potholes, and learning curves, but it will be a road worth traveling.
I'm personally excited about 2021. To say I'm unrealistically optimistic is an overstatement. You don't get bucked off a horse and ignorantly get back on. You calculate how to get back on so it doesn't happen again. That calculation is not basic and easy. But it is good. It's important. It is worth doing. So in that light, I'm excited about 2021. Not just about what it could bring, but about what I could bring to it.
Enough about tomorrow. Let me express my gratitude for yesterday.
Thank you for the ride. 2020
3 lessons learned: "Hindsight is always 2020."
1. Stay positive. I have family members who choose not to be positive. They always bring the most shocking news to the table every time I see them. Sadly, they don't experience much joy and hope. I learned that staying positive and optimistic in spite of the bad news keeps me sane.
2. Don't give up. Sometimes you need a rest. But not every day. When you get tired, and believe me, there were many tired moments in 2020, it's time to dig deep. Rest tomorrow. You are more capable than you think. At least that is what I learned about me.
3. Believe in people not ideas. I believe that ideas don't define people. People do all kinds of things out of fear. People make life defining decision based on ideas they've adopted but may not fully understand. And... new ideas come all day everyday. I don't have to agree with those ideas but I can still believe that people care. That people try to do what they believe is right, even if I think it's not right for me. I can still believe that we have more in common than we think. That our differences are minimal compared. And that if we focus on what we share, we could change the world.
Thank you 2020 for the lessons. Thank you all for being part of that crazy world. Together we made it.
See you soon, in a brand new year!
Merry Christmas to all of you, from all of us at Mastery Horsemanship. Did you know that we appreciate you?! It's important you know how much we appreciate you. And for more than one reason. We genuinely want you to feel appreciated, and we also know what giving appreciation does to the spirit.
Did you know, that when you express gratitude, it makes your brain healthier? Science has literally shown that consciously remembering what's been given as a gift, forces your brain to be more resourceful.
In a version of the famous marshmallow test, a group of subjects were asked to express what they are grateful for before deciding to either eat the first marshmallow or save it for a larger reward later. In that version of the test, where gratitude was expressed in any way possible, for anything at all, we learned that most people, nearly all in fact, were willing to hold off and wait for the second gift. They were able to think longer term, more resourceful thoughts, because the fear of not getting enough was abandoned, and instead, they adopted a sense of confidence that everything would be okay.
I've known for a long time now how gratitude and other modes of positive thinking effect our lives. We, as a family have made it part of our daily lives to speak and remember the good things. Not just in a effort to make our minds healthier, but in an effort to one day, hopefully, impact the world in a small way too.
Every single night of the year, before we go to bed, our family follows a simple pattern. We call it our "Magic 5." We fill in the blank to these five phrases.
Last night, for me, it went like this:
I manifest that I am living in abundance and enjoy a pain free body. I accomplished my goal of two more pages on my book today. I am grateful for my family, my horses, my clients, my amazing opportunities. I insist on eating less sugar tomorrow. I collect and remember when my brother came screaming out of the cold water. I laughed so hard. I learned that when gratitude is expressed, in any way, it makes the brain more resourceful and more at peace.
It's your turn. Join us in a grateful holiday season. There's plenty to complain about but you can rise above it and share with us your comments of gratitude in the comment section below. It could be anything at all. It could be that you're grateful for food, underground sprinklers, the color yellow, you name it... Speak it out and comment below. Enjoy a healthier, happier life. Thank you, all of you. My readers, my students, my companions and partners. You're all amazing friends. You are a gift to us! We couldn't do life the way we do without you.
PS. after you comment below, check out some holiday gift books for people you love here.
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.
Take a free tour by scheduling an appointment today.
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)
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"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.
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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.
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