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Ha, Ha, as if there is only one correct way.
There are dozens of ways to steer. Just talk to my colleague who can never use her legs because she's paralyzed from the waist down. Or talk to my other friend who can never use his hands, in spite of the fact he has arms, because his hands are missing most of his digits.
In light of all those people who have to be creative about steering their horses, I do want to give some practical advice for those of us with a complete package, including hands, feet, and seat bones.
Number one. There is no "one" correct way to do anything. It's just that some ways are better than others in different situations. For instance, steering with your hands is very useful on a colt with only a few hours in the saddle. Steering with your legs is very useful for bride less riding or preparation. Steering with your focus (including body signals, such as breathing, twisting or redistributing body weight) to cause a horse to respond, is useful too. Especially, when advancing to the peak of performing arts or competition. Combining hand, leg, and focus cues, can be useful too. Some situations require multiple support systems.
On top of focus, hands, and leg yields, there is one more concept to wrap your head around. Some trainers believe you should only steer the horse's nose and the feet will follow naturally. Others believe you should steer the shoulders to prevent imbalances, such as "dropping the shoulder." This also leaves the nose and neck to articulate flexibility and refinement. And still others believe you should steer with the hind end, like a boat rudder. This helps engage the horse into more athletic motion.
So which one is right?
You guessed it!
All of the above.
And because each category is useful for different reasons, it stands to reason that practicing each technique is useful for mastery. I highly recommend taking a day out of your riding career to learn how to steer strictly with the horses head and nose. Only use your hands. No legs, no hips, nothing else but hands. Try it! You might discover some cool new aspects of your communication.
Then take another day to steer with the horse's shoulders. Don't bend the neck in a new direction. Instead, lift and slide the shoulders across in each new direction. This is also called a turn on the haunches. You might be shocked at how difficult it is, not to allow your horse to bend. You'll also find this very useful for causing smarter responses to your hands and legs during normal work.
Then finally, practice steering strictly with the horses hind end, just like a boat rudder. You'll probably have some fun and learn some new things about body shape and balance in your horse. This is all part of the journey to a new level of mastery.
Mastery is about learning everything there is to know about horses, training, and leadership. I encourage you to take a leap forward in your journey and join me on the path to Mastery.
Find out more at www.MasteryHorsemanship.com.
Can your horse be black and white? What I mean is, can your horse change from one extreme, to another? Is it possible that some horses are bi-polar?
Bi-polar typically means manic/depressive. At least in our human world. The one we call manic leads a person to think they are bullet-proof in a sense. The bio-chemical shift in a persons body who's experiencing the manic state, causes them to believe they can, and probably should, do anything their heart desires. Many fearless entrepreneurs have manic episodes in which they rapidly develop their business. The flip side is depressive, which, in some cases borders on suicidal. My closest friend suffers from manic/depressive swings. And the triggers that set off those swings are still not completely understood. But what it makes me think, is... are some horses burdened with this same bio-chemical disease.
From what animal science I've studied, there are only a few animal species besides humans that have the cognitive understanding of suicide and the ability to go that deep into depression. Dolphins, we now know, have the ability to commit suicide by drowning themselves. (Sorry- not a very nice mental picture.) Horses, on the other hand, in my experience, have never been so depressed that they revert to jumping off a cliff or overdosing on poisonous substances. So I don't think you'd see a horse go from dominant, bomb-proof, energetic, all the way down to suicidal. But I have seen many horses make dramatic swings in mood. So dramatic in fact that I begin to wonder if horses do in fact suffer from a different kind of bi-polar. Such as super confident, to super scared. Like a switch goes off and they don't know how to shut down that natural inclination to save their own life no matter what gets in their path.
These horses can lull you into thinking they are happy, calm, confident, then one day, out of the seemingly blue, they turn on you, and throw you out of the saddle without any thought to your safety or previous training. Then they continue to try to throw the saddle away too. Then they run through the nearest fence and the subsequent fencing in between them and freedom from whatever just grabbed hold of their fragile mind.
I can tell you of only a handful of these extreme horses in my career who I would describe as bi-polar. Most horses, with a little training, realize they can trust the human world to a certain extent and apart from the rare, but natural, kick or buck or bite, they just act like regular horses. I think in most extreme cases, if the horse has any negative history with humans, it might not be bi-polar. It could be chalked up to post traumatic stress dis-order. read my article on horses that suffer from PTSD.
So the answer to, "do horses suffer from bi-polar disease?" is a resounding maybe. I'd like to see some scientists tackle this new question in real clinic trials.
Comment below to tell me your story of drastically emotionally shifting horses. Tell me what you think of the title question.
If you have specific questions. leave them in the comments and I'll respond via email to your request.
Mastery Horsemanship Training Tip Video Series
We are about to start a New Training Series with tips and video's as often as possible. We would love your comments and feedback. Look at this first video and tell us what you think.
Those who know me, know that I'm a natural horsemanship teacher. But those who know me best, understand that I'm more interested in safety, progress, and ultimately, mastery. I don't condone, old methods that don't allow progress. Therefore, natural horsemanship seems to be the best way forward, in the realm of training horses. Ironically, in natural horsemanship, there are a handful of problems. Ideas and techniques that have been taught for dozens of years now, by many famous trainers, without the full understanding of their consequences. Some things look and sound good on the surface, but underneath it all, they may prove to do more harm than good. I've decided to outline four of these "natural horsemanship" pitfalls, so you can learn to be better equipped for your own training experiences and better prepared when someone comes along, spouting their own rules about how natural horsemanship should be taught.
Here is number 1 of 4 big pitfalls in natural horsemanship:
"The Quick Release"
Have you ever heard of a quick release? Did you know you can release too quickly? The biggest pitfall in natural horsemanship training is: quick hands and quick releases.
A fundamental idea in natural horsemanship is that when a horse does what you want, you can let them know they are doing the right thing by releasing the signals you are using to activate the horse. Many natural horsemen teach that you have to have a quick release to teach. The bottom line is, they are right, but maybe not as smart as you might first consider. A release that happens too quickly can interrupt a thoughtful horse and even cause him or her to brace against you. For instance, let's say you're riding and you ask your horse to back up. Let's say he responds and you let go of the reins in a quick, heavy fashion. "He did what you wanted, right?" But did you happen to notice how he popped his head up. That's a sign of tension.
Horses need the release, they just need it to be smooth. Jerky, fast, heavy hands, even when releasing, cause tension. Remember to be elegant when you ask your horse to do something and when you tell them, "good job."
Number 2: "Exaggerated Body Language"
Have you ever seen a foal catch up to his momma when she decides to leave? The momma makes a suggestion with her body and the foal responds to the suggestions. Cool right? Have you ever heard the phrase, "exaggerate to teach?" Novice trainers often take this to mean you should exaggerate your body language to show the horse what you want. Master trainers know this concept too, but don't use it like you may think. Did you know that your body language plays a huge role in how your horse understands you? But did you also know that over exaggerating your signals can often send the wrong signal to your horse and add confusion rather than clarity.
Let me give an example: Let's say you're riding and ask your horse to go sideways to the left, by softly applying pressure from your right leg and allowing your free leg to stick stiffly out into the summer breeze. At the same time, you lean to the outside (right), because you were taught that's how you initiate sideways. After all, most natural horsemanship trainers teach their students to push their horse sideways, in just that fashion. But did you know that by contorting your body in this way causing a series of muscles in your opposite thigh (left leg), to over tighten and cause the horse to feel multiple leg signals from you, which can be very confusing? On top of that, he or she may feel inclined to go the wrong way, just to keep you on top. Because, as you intimately know, when you carry a load on your own shoulders, you prefer it to be in the middle.
Basically, the principle of exaggerating to teach, is useful, but not masterful or elegant. The master seeks to find harmony, balance, precision and beauty. Too many natural trainers are teaching and allowing the opposite to occur. I know, because I see it every day. And... I used to teach those techniques myself. And where it all came from, was ignorance. Monkey see, monkey do. It's that simple. But now we know better. Now we can offer so much more to the horse. And so can you. When you apply your signals with less body language from you, you look more grounded and much easier to read. This is a good thing. Imagine if I had an important message tattooed on my hand that I needed you to read, and I kept jumping up and down and waving my hands. You wouldn't be able to read the message. That's what often happens to our horses when we send over exaggerated signals with our body while riding and while on the ground.
Number 3: "The Horse Knows How"
I can't tell you how many times I've heard and corrected my students in the past for saying, "The horse knows all this stuff. That all the problems exist only on the human side. If we could just get ourselves together, the horse would do it for us."
The bottom line is this: That statement is NOT TRUE! Horses don't know nearly as much as natural trainers often profess. Can a horse jump naturally? Yes. Can a horse canter? Yes. Can a horse do flying lead changes? Yes. But do they do it well? No! Do they practice it daily? No. Do they manage to keep themselves balanced and ready for a rider in their daily activities? No. Do they understand your signals and weight distribution? No. This is why master trainers take a new, better version of this principle. And it goes like this:
"The horse can learn to do it. He can learn to understand my signals. He can learn to be more balanced, in areas he's not naturally balanced. But he isn't perfect and neither am I. So we both have things to learn."
Saying a horse knows something, can get you into real trouble. I mean safety kind of trouble, let alone advanced training. I've heard students say their horse knows what to do in a horse trailer, only to have them fly out backward and smash themselves and their horse to bits. I've had students assume the horse knows what to do on a trail, only to have the horse blast into a tree and nearly jump off a cliff. It's better to assume, the horse doesn't know, but can learn. This new thought could allow you to be less frustrated and more thoughtful about your own learning. Instead of beating yourself up for taking five years to get flying lead changes, you might consider the fact that your horse never understood them in the first place and the only reason it took so long, is because you were both learning at the same time. The next time around is always quicker. Not because the next horse knows more, but because you know how to help him or her learn it better.
Number 4: "Maintain Gait"
I have to say, this one is the big one for me. This is a huge pitfall for so many students because so many instructors firmly believe the horse is supposed to maintain gait naturally. In other words, if you ask your horse to trot, he's supposed to trot until you ask him something else. This principle is rotten to the core. (wow, there was a lot of animosity in that comment, yikes! Sorry about that.) I want to illustrate how ludicrous, and "slave driver like" this idea is, and it all comes from early natural trainers, which, unfortunately, lingers today with many renowned trainers.
Imagine you're a horse. Imagine your owner sits on your back. Imagine she kicks you in the sides and says trot. Imagine you start trotting, but don't feel right about it, so you back off and walk. Now imagine your owner saying, "you bad horse, you know better!" With that, she kicks you harder. Now, you feel scared and start to trot a little too fast, almost canter. Then you're owner slams on the reins and says, "You bad horse, you know better." You see... you can't win with this kind of thinking. Let's look at this story from a mastery perspective instead...
Imagine you're a horse. Imagine your owner sits on your back and asks you to trot. Imagine you start trotting but it doesn't feel right, so you back off and walk. Now imagine your owner, reaches down and pets you while saying, "Is everything alright? Did you take a funny step? Are you ready to try again?" Then with kind suggestion, she asks again and you respond. This time you're better prepared and ready to go for a little longer, but not forever. That would be stupid. You're not a robot, after all. So naturally, you slow down and consider walking again after a few times around the ring. Now imagine your owner petting you and saying, "Well done my good and faithful friend. You trotted for a long time there and I could tell it wasn't easy. Well done! Good Job! You're amazing! I can feel you need a breather, then we'll try again in a few minutes.
Could you image being that persons horse? That's the mastery that all horses deserve and you... can offer it, if you avoid the above four, not so common pitfalls.
One last note on "maintain gait." Any form of advanced horsemanship dedicates copious amounts of time to transitions work. In fact, the ability to transition between gaits, is far more valuable that the ability to hold gaits. Masters know this and use the principle of practicing transitions. Even early in their training. In our very own mastery courses we teach this early. I've seen too many natural trainers and students avoid transitions and even reprimand their horse when he or she offers transitions. But you can be different. You can be smarter. You can take the quest to mastery and make your dreams come true. You can even make your horses dreams come true on this journey, because what your horse dreams of, is a social stimulus that makes his life feel purposeful, fun, and amazing. You can be that for your horse. These courses can help you.
Comment below, love to hear your thoughts. If you have specific questions, let me know. I'll email you personally.
PS. Here is a short video from the Mastery Courses, showing how to start with basic transition work, including slow and fast walk. You'll find this video and so many more in the entire course collection.
"It's me. I know it's me. I'm just a failure. A worthless know-nothing."
Oops! Maybe, you can stop listening to that useless inner voice!
You are not worthless. You are not an idiot. You are not a failure. You are simply stuck in a pattern of beating yourself up. Patterns can be broken. Even if you're not a horse person, you can relate to this article. But in case you are a horse person, there are some things you need to know...
First of all, you need to know that you're horse doesn't know everything! He's learning too. Who told you your horse knows everything anyway? They don't! They don't know much at all in fact. Unless they have between 200 to 500 hours of consistent, progressive training with a clear leader, they don't know how to be perfect around people. So when you make the assumption that your horse knows what you want, or worse, that your life knows what you want from you, you are making a grave mistake about the world at large. Your life, just like your horse, needs training too. Your mind needs training. So get on with the training, and please, stop beating yourself up.
Speaking of what horses know, this is how I categorize the training and realistic expectations of knowledge. This could help you understand what it takes for horses to truly learn something. There are four stages, and here they are.
The Beginning: A horse that has between 10-20 hours training with a master trainer, knows just enough to safely walk, trot, and canter for that master trainer, in a controlled environment. Not for just any person, and definitely not in any new environment.
The Foundation: A horse that has between 20-200 hours training with a master, knows enough to walk, trot, and canter safely, in controlled environments for intermediate or advanced riders. At this stage you can forget about flying lead changes or piaffe and passage. The horse doesn't know how to do those things yet. (But you might say, "My horse can do flying lead changes. I've seen him do them in the field." It's true. But did you know he doesn't know exactly what he's doing, let alone how to do it when responding to a signal with a rider?) Horses don't know as much as we give them credit. Stop blaming yourself for what your horse is doing and start teaching yourself and your horse without all the pressure of perfection. Neither of you need it!
The Advanced Stage: A horse that has between 200-500 hours training with a master, knows enough to walk, trot, and canter safely and proficiently, with just about any novice or elite rider, in just about any environment. This is the kind of horse most of us dream about, but never get to experience. Because this horse either costs too much to acquire, or costs too much to train. But, through my mastery programs, you can learn to train your horse to this level by yourself. Check out the programs.
The Mastery Stage: A horse that has between 500-2000 hours training with a master, knows enough to perform at the highest levels of competition or artistry. These horses can perform tempi-lead changes, piaffe, passage, half passes, pirouettes, spins, slide stops, jumping, lying down, rearing up, and every thing else you can imagine, in any environment, in any group of horses. The more hours they get in each activity, the more consistent they become, which allows even novice riders to activate the same artistry. This is truly a rare horse. I call this level the Masters Level. My Mastery programs will lead you directly to this level. check it out here
Now... on the subject of you, and why you should stop the pattern of beating yourself up, if that is a pattern for you. Understand, there are three things to consider beyond the fact that your horse isn't perfect already.
Number one: Your expectation of your own ability to learn something is usually way out of whack. Did you know... the best trainers in the world, don't look for daily progress. Sometimes, they don't even look for weekly progress. Progress is most often measured monthly. It's not fair to assume your own body and mind will be better every single day. Your brain has to reset, re calibrate, re-think every one of your experiences. Some days will not be as good as others. Masterful trainers expect imperfect progress. They work on a longer timeline and so can you. Start with small things, and build on them. Don't expect your brain, and the rest of your life, to line up perfectly, every single day.
Number two: Your word patterns are creating your feeling patterns. I'm not talking about horses at all, in this context. I'm talking strictly about your own internal patterns that you've developed in your life. Did you know that your horse is learning from you, all the time, whether or not you intentionally train it. It learns what you allow and don't allow. And smart horses take advantage of it. Your brain is the same way. It's constantly learning from you. It's learning what you allow and don't allow. It's learning your level of discipline, and then it decides, moment to moment, on how much it can get away with. I want you to think of your brain, just like you think of a horse in training. Your brain, is not you. It's a part of you that supports other parts of you. You, are in fact able to speak to your brain, using real words. And will respond to you, or ignore you, depending on how well you've trained it.
Did you know a well disciplined fighter can tell his brain to calm down... and it will! Why can't you tell your brain to calm down, or tell your brain to support you in a new venture, or tell your brain to stop the negative chatter? Answer: You can!
How many hours training did it take for this fighter to be able to command such compliance from his brain? Answer: Probably between 200-500 hours.
"Wait just a minute?" you might say. "I've been alive a whole lot longer than that. Why don't I have that kind of discipline?" Answer: Being alive, and progressive training are two different things. Life happens, training is planned, thought out, mapped, prepared, rewarded, and recorded. If you want your mind and body, and your life in general, to improve. You have to train it!
Number three: You need compelling goals! This is one reason I love the horse training programs that are progressive, like the way Mastery Horsemanship Levels are designed. It gives you a reason to get up and try new things. It gives you vision. It gives you reason. Plus, as a metaphor for life, learning to lead and guide a horse through a progressive program, begins to affect the way you lead and guide your own life. This is one reason many people have horses. It's like a school for leadership. If you can learn to advance with a horse, you can learn to advance with your life. I've seen this concept proven time after time with my most advanced students. You can do it to.
In summary. If you want to stop beating yourself up, start learning new things, and stop assuming you should, or your horse should, already know it. Begin to believe that all things are learned, and not intuitive. Begin to believe that you are capable. Begin to believe, that when you take a step forward, there will be a support mechanism in place to help you take that step forward. That's what we're here for.
Join us at Mastery Horsemanship.com and learn to lead.
Does it matter how you dress around your horse? Written by Don Jessop
Yes, it does matter. Although you're horse may not care if you want to ride like Lady Godiva, how you present yourself, has a massive impact on how your horse perceives your leadership standards. Let me explain.
A horse responds best to a focused and firm, yet kind leader. If you dress in a manner that doesn't project this, you yourself may assume a nonchalant, slack demeanor. This carries over in your ability to interact. Here's how I know you already know this.
When you go to the grocery store, do you wear your pajamas? Please say no. When you go to church, do you wear your swimsuit? Please don't say yes? When you go to a job interview, do you wear your sandals? I doubt it, unless you're interviewing for a foot model job. You instinctively know that perception is important. Especially, how you perceive yourself. When you wear clothing that boosts your self-esteem, even when you're not at the show, you begin to feel more like you belong in the places you go. The same is true for interacting with horses.
But it's not just about self-esteem. It's also important to consider these other factors:
Safety? Yes - loose fitting clothes don't belong in the vicinity of horses. You need to wear boots, tighter pants, and tighter shirts, preferably, not the kind that would restrict your natural movement, but stretch and move with you. Why? I bet you can guess, but in case you haven't yet, people get hurt with loose clothing. Horses can easily grab hold of loose clothing with their mouth. I've seen a close friend, grabbed and tossed a great distance by a new horse. I've also seen people get their shirt or jacket stuck on the saddle horn while dismounting, just in time to have the horse spook and drag them down the road. I've also seen people slip off their horse because their pants were too slippery. And I've seen people get their leg caught because their jeans we're too restrictive. Safety is important. It just so happens, that in the horse world, you get to wear safety clothes that also look fantastic. Most would agree that tighter fitting clothes are attractive to most people. Well... as an added bonus, they are also safer. That's good, right?
Colors? Generally, colors don't matter too much, although there is some science that suggest bright colors are annoying to horses, but living in Montana winters with snow covered landscapes demonstrates to me at least, that they get used to it. So don't get too worried about color choices.
Style? Fluffy clothes equals hairy and dirty. Certain fabrics either repel or attract dirt and fur. Avoid fleece jackets when possible and not just because it attracts hair. It also can generate electricity. Fleece can create a shock when you touch your horse, which of course, can be very unpleasant for both of you. Pick something that horse hair has trouble sticking to, if you don't want to look like a walking, electrical, carpet.
Footwear? "No shoes, no shirt, no service." Have you ever seen that sign on the door to a convenience store? It's not just about looks either. It's about safety. They don't want you stepping on a piece of broken glass and suing them for not cleaning it up. With horses, footwear is very important. Boots with limited traction and a heal is ideal. If you ride, your heal will prevent you from slipping too deep into the stirrup. That's important, because if you fall, you're limited traction boot is less likely to get caught. Boots are better than shoes for riding and ground work. You would know this if you've ever been stepped on by a horse, while wearing tennis shoes. I have been stepped on and it hurts much worse without the added protection of a leather boot.
Headgear? Let me be clear. I wear a helmet when riding. You should to! But if you're not riding, what could you, or should you wear? Answer. Anything you want. Some horse owners say that their horse can't tolerate people with cowboy hats because it reminds them of being abused by a cowboy in their past. There is no science to back this up, and similar scenarios too. But in general, horses don't care what you wear on your head. Even sun glasses don't make or break the deal. I prefer however, to not wear sunglasses. I like to see my horses eyes and I want them to see mine too. Positive intention is passed through that window to the soul. At least that's what I believe.
Conclusion: When you wear great clothing, you feel better and send better signals to your horse. Try it for yourself and discover a minor, if not major, boost in your leadership. If you already dress clean, precise, and comfortable around your horse, your on the right track to becoming the leader your horse deserves, and if professionalism is in the cards for you, you've got a great head start.
Thanks for reading. Comment below.
5 MASTER STEPS FOR TEACHING AT LIBERTY - BY DON JESSOP
Because so many of my readers have been asking about this, I've created a video to show you the 5 Master Steps for Teaching at Liberty.
But... remember this: these are not techniques. Techniques can be interchanged. These are not rules. Rules can be altered or bent. These 5 MASTER STEPS to liberty training, are STEPS. That is all. Every master horseman uses these steps, even if they don't know it. They use these steps to master liberty with, or without a round pen. I'm talking about true liberty. The kind where you don't even use ropes for preparation or support.
Not that using tools to prepare for liberty isn't a good idea. It is! But what does it take to train liberty, without the round pen, or ropes. I'm talking about teaching at liberty, without ever haltering your horse. How do you keep a horses attention? How do you keep them off the grass? How do you get them to engage with you?
Take a look at the video below. You'll see how well my horse does in one space and how horrible he does in a new, grassy area. See the process. See the progression. See the mistakes and how I recover. See how I prioritize the steps to reinforce and continue the progression in new spaces, where things start falling apart and all he wants to do is eat grass.
I want you to memorize these steps because I guarantee, if you do, and put them into practice, you too can become masterful with liberty. Because liberty is not about footwork, or the horse respecting you, or any of that technical stuff! Liberty is about connection! It's about creating the desire in the horse to "want" to be with you and interact with you. Watch the video below and learn the master steps.
WARNING: I use treats. If you're the kind of person that avoids using treats because you think liberty is only about respect, consider reading this article: read here. What you see me doing in this video may cause you to think that you have to use tons of treats. You don't. But don't be afraid to begin with tons of treats, just like me, then as your horses attention to you grows, you're ability to do higher levels tasks in new environments without treats, will also grow.Watch this video (about 27 minutes). I left it unedited for a specific reason, and that reason is this: Edited videos can give you a false impression of process and progress. I also want to be authentic with you.
Here are the steps you saw in the video, in order. Commit them to memory. and watch the video to reinforce their significance. If mastery is your goal, join me on the journey!
1.Look at me (face me)
2.Follow me (walk with or behind me everywhere)
3.Catch me (draw and come quickly)
4.Interact with me (engage with obstacles and speed control)
5.Progress with me (invite new challenges up to the highest levels)
Comment below, ask me anything, see you soon
As I suspected, the comments from the Part 1 article are beautiful!
People instinctively know how to maintain the bond. You have to dedicate time in between tasks to either treat, groom, praise or rest the horse. A great horse trainer tries to balance training and bonding. You have to keep the connection and reward it constantly. In my book, "Leadership and Horses," I talk about the 50/50 training to bonding ratio, and how important it is.
And... I also suspected from the article, there wouldn't be many, if any, comments about how to make progress while maintaining the relationship.
Wait: "Aren't they the same thing?" "Isn't, maintaining the bond while making progress, the same as, making progress while maintaining the bond?"
Answer: Yes and No.
It's fairly easy for us to think about how to neutralize an already stressful environment. In other words, when we notice we're putting too much stress on the horse, we back off and take a little more time. But what about those who aren't making a lot of progress? What about those who look back over the past year or two, or five, and notice that what they're doing with their horse today is almost no different than what they were doing years ago? What about the personality that reads up on all the coolest horse ideas, watches all the videos, but fails to walk out the door and work toward it? What about progress?
Of course the scary thing about progress, is that it can screw up what you already have. Many of us have put hours and days and month and years into the relationship. The last thing we want to do is screw it up. Ironically, good old 'Father Time' will screw it up too... even if you don't try for progress. By making the decision to not make progress, we're making the decision to allow mediocre and complacent behavior in our horses and in ourselves. So I always say; "If you're going to screw things up, try to screw things up the way you want them screwed up. Be direct in your thinking and clear in your goals. This way, you have some semblance of control over your future. And then, as you begin to make progress, allow your natural, reward oriented personality to shine. This will keep the relationship in tact."
So the answer to how to make progress while maintaining the bond is two fold. Number one: You have to have goals! Clear direct goals! Map out your goals and dedicate time to them, even if they screw up what you already have. That map, must also indicate logical next steps. Not just dream like visions, but more like a pathway to get to those visions. Do you know the next steps forward in your journey? Do you know how to make progress today?
And number two is: You have to reward the socks off your horse before, in between, and after every single task you do.
Recently, I was speaking with a Mastery Coaching student (check it out here) who asked me if she was being too rewarding with her horse. From the outside looking in, I saw a beautiful relationship. Her horse is sweet, calm, willing, happy. Truly, a great partner. What I told her, is what I tell everyone. "You can never be too rewarding! But... you can easily be too complacent in your goals! You can easily settle for what you have and forget about what's possible. You can forget to dream a little."
That is why each of our Mastery Coaching students go through a special, personal, goal setting workshop with us. Knowing the goals, helps us keep them accountable to progress. It also helps us map out specific strategies and techniques to work toward those goals. Each person is different, so the support mechanisms have to adjust slightly too.
What would it be like for you, to have support on a regular basis, ensuring you make progress and keep the relationship of your dreams? What do you dream of doing?
Cantering on the beach! Following a trail up the mountain! Driving a herd of cattle across the plains! Winning first place at the dressage show or jumping show! Becoming the trainer that everyone looks to for advice! What is it, that you wish to accomplish?
Comment below and also check out Mastery Coaching to find out how we can support you in your dreams with horses! If you're willing to consider coaching, but unsure, you can try it for free. check it out!
I know you must love your horse. If you're like me, you're probably a little addicted to horses. But does your horse love you? How can you tell?
"It was 7:30 on a bright, crisp May morning. I didn't sleep well the previous night because all I could think about was the adventure my horse and I were about to undertake. As I stepped outside my little rented cabin on the hillside, I felt the new sun shining brightly through the thin, seven thousand foot plus elevated atmosphere. My cabin was positioned nearly a quarter mile away from my horse, but I could see him from where I stood. He was a small white Arabian gelding, made even smaller by the distance that stood between us. He looked like a toy horse from where I stood. When he saw me, he came to life, like the toy horse in the old "Indian in the Cupboard" story. He whinnied in my direction, even though I was a great distance from him.
To be honest, I didn't know he was calling out to me, for nearly a week. I thought he was just calling out in general. It wasn't until I talked to a friend several days later about him, that I was told he does that every single time I step out of my cabin. When she told me that, I started to pay attention and sure enough, he called every single day. He would nicker, every time I approached. He would watch as I walked down the isle to his stall and be waiting at the gate. I loved it. He made me feel, wanted. He made me feel like I was a good leader. I felt he truly loved me."
That was the first time I had ever felt that deep connection with a horse. He and I could do anything together. I mean anything. From that time forward, I decided I wanted to have that relationship with every horse I owned. I wanted the same thing for every student I interacted with as a professional.
As time passed, however, I realized that many people shared the same kind of relationship, except they couldn't do anything progressive. Their relationship was limited to mediocre activities. I mean, that many people get to a point where their horse will meet them at the gate, or call to them when the door opens, but if they ride for three days in a row, their horse starts to ignore them. In other words, their horse loves them unless they do something challenging.
So I started asking myself the question: "How do I get people to make progress without screwing up the relationship?"
But before I answer this question I've contemplated for most of my horse career. I wonder if you could answer the question for yourself. Ask yourself... "How can I be progressive, try new things, take on new challenges, and... keep a true bond with my horse?"
Can you think of the answer?
Comment below and tell me how you would do that!
Ouch... did I just offend the whole world? Did I really just ask the question that so many people don't dare ask? Am I being insensitive, or just... realistic?
Here's the common sense reality: Ask yourself, "Could I do what I ask my horse to do, while carrying a pack that weighs the same percentage, pound for pound, as I do compared to my horse?"
It's probably true... you can carry a heavy load and survive just fine. But for how long?
A horse that weighs 1000 lbs. can carry a load that weighs 500 pounds (for a very short while). That's 50% of their body weight. When I say short while, I mean short while. Like 20 minutes of walking while on flat ground. That's not unreasonable. You could carry 50% of your body weight for a while too. But when you add speed, extended time, or undulating terrain... the ratio needs to change dramatically.
The industry standard for leisure riding is 20% of the horses body weight, tack included. A horse could carry more, but shouldn't. At least not for any length of time. The ideal weight ratio for performance horses is 15% or less. That means if your horse weighs 1000 lbs. You shouldn't weigh more than 150 lbs, tack included. Clearly, when the rider weighs less, the horse can perform easier. Just like if you carry a smaller load one day compared to the next. The advantage is so great in fact, that many performance categories require light riders to add dead weight to the saddle to make the playing field more equal.
I have a few horses, one of which is 1200 lbs. I weigh 210 lbs. with all my tack. I am therefore 17.5 percent of my horses body weight. I'm right on the edge of too heavy if I want to compete and win, in the long term, without stressing my horse. Of course that depends on the competition. I know too many cowboys and girls that ride horses that are too small. I think this is cruel, as a generality. I know a horse can handle more in the short term, because I used to ride fifty mile endurance races on lighter horses, and we often won those races. But in the long run, my horses broke down.
Looking back, I wish I'd known better. I should have been looking for stronger horses to balance the weight ratio better. I know some people get by with a smaller and lighter horse. And I know a few horses that have aged very well, carrying heavy loads their whole life. But as a general rule, why stress the horse? Instead, if at all possible, lose a few extra pounds so your horse has less to carry. Or find a partner that is strong enough to carry you for longer.
In saying all that, if you only intend to walk around, and mosey down an easy trail twice a year, you might be just fine. If you only have the funds for one horse and you picked a smaller horse, you'll still be OK, as long as you work on your balance and your horses posture correctly to help him carry heavier loads. You'll have to be aware of how he moves under your weight. It's a good idea to take a short video to analyze how he reacts to your signals and speeds. If, in the end, you feel compelled to ride your horse less because you're too big, that's a good thing. Now... start looking for that horse with the brain, and physique, that can carry you for the rest of his life without risking injury due to your own size.
Food for thought!
Would love to hear your comments
Do you ever feel pressured to get on a horse when you feel you shouldn't?
Do you ever pressure yourself?
Horse riding is supposed to be fun. So why would you ever do something that feels like pressure? Is it because you feel like you don't want to look like a wimp? Is it because you feel like your horse needs you to ride?
First of all. You are a wimp. And so am I... compared to a horse, that is. A horse is 1,000 pounds of muscle and emotion. You're not even close to 1000 pounds. It's your God given right to second guess whether or not you should get on. In fact, the late Ray Hunt said. "Don't get on until you are sure that your sure!" He was a real cowboy. He could ride anything, but he still didn't ride anything until he "knew" he could ride it. He didn't wonder if he could ride it. He didn't let his friends tell him he should ride it. He tested, observed and progressed to riding like a master. Just like you should.
By the way, you don't have to be experienced to test, observe and progress. You don't have to be Ray Hunt or Rachel Jessop. You just have to stop listening to the pressure. Stand up and be brave enough to say, "I decide when to ride!"
Recently, a close friend of mine fell from her horse in a familiar situation. My heart goes out to her as she lays bandaged on her bed all day. I doubt she'll ever forget her experience, but I hope you never have to have her experience.
If you've properly tested your horse and still feel uncertain he or she is ready to ride. Listen to that voice, that gut feeling and test again, because something is missing. Then take a quick break and test again. Then test again. Through repetition you'll see what secret energy your horse is hiding inside. You'll unlock the reason you needed more preparation. Lots of horses pass the initial preparatory tests for riding and a few minutes later, fail them. I only ride horses that pass the test several times in a row. Also, I often get off later and retest. It's the best practice for safety.
If you feel safe, you can have fun. Your horse isn't bad if they fail the tests, and you aren't bad if you fail the tests. It all just means that you have to keep practicing.
Not sure what a good pre-ride test looks like? Comment below. The more comments I get, the sooner I get a video out to you.
In the meantime. I wish you success with your horses. I hold you accountable to be brave in the presence of pressure. And I'm here for you.
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If you put a dog trainer, dolphin trainer and a horse trainer in the same room, you'd have the makings of a really good joke (maybe later), and you would also have the makings of a great conversation.
Nearly twenty years ago, early in my career, I asked this question about horse trainers versus other animal trainers, to an expert horse trainer by the name of Linda Parelli. Her reply was a bit shocking to me. She said horse trainers lose nearly every time when compared to trainers of other species. Trainers of horses tend to be more abusive than others. Of course there are brilliant horse trainers and horrible dog and dolphin trainers. But in general, the average horse trainer remains lower on the totem pole of positive behavioral change.
Years have passed since I asked that question and I dare say that many horse trainers have made a good leap forward in their ability to cause behavioral change without being abusive. But what caused Linda to make that comment? Why are horse trainers more abusive?
Throughout my career, I've been fortunate enough to be in the same room with expert dog trainers and dolphin trainers. As a horse trainer, here is what I've learned.
Dog trainers (not just owners but actual trainers) and dolphin trainers typically work off-line. In other words, their animal must learn to respond via signal and reward systems to jump, spin, move forward, backward, etc. Where as most horse trainers, excluding masterful liberty trainers, work on-line (attached to a line or rope).
When working off-line, a trainer is forced to ensure the rewards equal the challenge. In other words, if the reward isn't big enough, the animal won't see the value in responding in a positive way.
I'm not talking about bribing the animal. I'm talking about rewarding for behavior recently finished. What I mean is, I see horse trainers put food in the horse trailer to make it a nicer place. A master trainer doesn't do that. A master trainer puts food in the trailer, after the horse goes in. Therefore rewarding a commitment, rather than bribing and hoping for action.
But where many trainers fall short, is the quality or quantity of the rewards. Horse trainers tend to give very little reward for far too much effort on the horses part. (I'm not talking about typical horse owners. They tend not to be progressive enough and end up with horses who walk all over them.) I am talking about horse trainers. The way they get away with not using rewards is by adding consequences for a lack of effort. In other words, if the horse doesn't want to participate, he feels the end of the rope. Whereas a dolphin that doesn't want to participate simply swims away, or a dog would simply run away.
Masterful horse trainers use more rewards and less consequences. There are still boundaries of course, even with master dolphin trainers, the pool has it's limits and allows for a learning environment, but the rewards generally occur more frequently for a trainer working off-line. The rewards must occur more frequently! A horse won't give you what you want if you don't have sufficient rewards for their good behavior. They may look like they're giving you everything but inside they're experiencing emotional pain much like a slave would feel.
I've argued with horse trainers who disagree. Famous horse trainers in fact, people you'd know if I blurted out their name. I've been told that you shouldn't use rewards, otherwise the horse will become dependent on them to do what you want. I think this way of thinking is no better than slavery. The horse shouldn't be treated like a slave. They should be treated like a partner.
Some people are afraid of too many rewards, especially food rewards, but it's worth understanding that any reward given at the wrong time will cause bad behavior. A treat, for instance, given immediately after a horse moves in a particular fashion of your design, may invite relaxation or even anxiety. It depends on the emotion, not just the foot work, because horses are emotional beings like you and me, with emotional memories that always take priority over structural memories. The reward must come at the right moment to amplify the desired emotion, not just the desired foot work. In other words, treats given at the wrong time, even if it's for good foot work, will ultimately backfire. The animal must learn that the treat comes, not just from movement in the proper direction, like a puppet on a string, but from understanding a task and relationship with the task master at a whole new positive emotional and mental level.
Great dolphin trainers know the value of positive emotional responses, not just physical responses. Great dog trainers know this too. And thanks to some great teachers, now we can say that more great horse trainers know this. I want you to be great. Even if you're a horse owner, not a trainer. I want you to think like a dolphin trainer with an equal balance of bonding and training. (I know dolphin training isn't perfect. It has holes too, but there are things we can take from it.) I want you to be better for your horses. But to be great may require leaving behind some old systems of operation. A trainer must abandon any old master/slave relationships with a horse and begin to develop a teacher/student relationship or parent/child relationship. These relationships require more thought and creativity, but ultimately leave the animal in a frame of mind where he or she looks forward to interacting on a daily level, in spite of the progressive training schedule you might have in mind.
I want you to learn to be masterful with horses. Get my book on leadership today!
PS. If you want to be masterful with horses off-line (at liberty) comment below. The more comments I get, the sooner I get a video out to you describing the 5 master steps to liberty.
PPS. I'll give you a hint. Step 1 is teaching the horse to look at you.
When I say fallen. I mean hurt. When I say hurt. I mean injured beyond the capabilities of science and medicine to make a full recovery.
Many riders have fallen from the back of a horse and incurred some form of headache or broken rib. Most of these continue to ride, but with a slightly enlightened state of awareness. Or they simply fade away from horse activities because the risk of further injury seems imminent. But those who have concussed their brain, fractured their back or neck. Broken their leg or foot and never recovered to the point of complete and normal health. These men and women, will tell you a story, that most horse people would not want to hear.
I am one of those fallen riders. My story is not much different from other fallen riders, apart from what comes later. A few concussions, some displaced vertebrae, nearly paralyzed, and a rattled nervous system that operates more like an extension cord with a short in the wire, than a normal piece of human anatomy. The compilation of falls vary from young broncs to safe old mules who just happened to step on an underground hornets nest. But one simple truth keeps coming back to me, and my fellow injured. That is... that horses never asked us to conquer them. We decided to.
We decided to ride. We decided where to ride. We decided when to ride. Not the horse. Now, to fall in line with the title of this article I want to tell you what I have learned.
Horses don't want us to ride. They don't generally like it. But... there is an exception to this rule. Horses in captivity need stimulus. We can provide that stimulus in the form of riding and positive interactions on the ground. In truth, we must provide that stimulus, or risk our horses living a prison life.
My horrific accidents, and let me tell you...if you had been there you would agree, "Horrific!", have not kept me from the horse industry. In fact they have emboldened me. Now, more than ever I want to share a better path to success with horses. I want to help people become leaders. I want to show them how to care for horses in captivity and enrich their lives. When the time is right, I want to show them how to ride. When to ride. What to do when your horse doesn't want you around and doesn't want to be caught, plus so much more.
Before we ever get into the technicalities of horse interactions and training, lets agree on one thing. Horses are not to be treated like a puppet on a string. They have a heart and a soul. If we are to continue on the journey, rather... quest to mastery, let us agree that our horse friends deserve all the dignity we can offer them.
If you can agree with me, then you are ready to take the next step in your role as a leader. And from that starting point, everything is possible.
If you agree with me, comment below, sign up for the blog feed, share the article and join me on the quest. We will show the world a better way! Yes, even better than those before us!
I like being obvious. That's why I write about obvious things, such as why horse's behave differently at the show. The answer is obvious, isn't it? Horse's are not robots.
They are susceptible to all kinds of changes, including environmental changes, like a showground, for instance. The pressure build up of all the extra horses, smells, sounds, and sights at a showground, can cause horses to behave differently and become more easily distracted. Why? Because their life depends on it. Their prey animal instinct guides them. They are emotional beings, like you and me. Because horse's are emotional, non-robotic creatures, it's not possible to get robotic, non-emotional behaviors from them every day. So you can forget about perfection in every place you visit. It doesn't exist. But master horsemen and horsewomen around the globe have figured out how to avoid the problems that arise at the show. And that is what I want to share with you.
Imagine this scene: Lets say you can perform all your desired tasks at home. Beautiful flying lead changes, speed control, jumping without missed steps or ducking out... but at the show your horse resists your commands, dodges the jumps, or worse, doesn't focus at all, and you end up fighting for his attention all day... and losing! And I'm not just talking about losing the ribbon you worked so hard to earn. You may end up losing the "I love my horsey" feeling you get from riding. That whole experience is painful.
Over the years I've heard dozens of different strategies to overcome this problem of horses being different in new places. Most of which don't really make a dent in your experience. Not because they aren't good ideas, but because they aren't complete ideas that help you understand the way a horse thinks. I've heard people say: "Do more work at home so the horse doesn't question you anymore.", or "Ride like your at the show, while your at home.", or "Be a better leader."
Good ideas - but incomplete and ambiguous.
Here is what really works, If you want to solve show related problems, or any problem for that matter, you MUST begin to realize that horses are like humans. They pay attention to what seems most important in any given moment. I call this the "shiny penny syndrome." Which means, anything that looks out of the ordinary, like a penny lying on the ground, is important and therefore warrants your full attention. And because so many things look important, the attention level of the person (or horse in this case) looking around is thwarted every few seconds. If you're riding, this is problematic. It could mean your horse misses a jump, because he's suddenly focused on a part of the jump that looks "shiny" and "important." It may be curiosity, or it may be fear that drives his attention to shift, but no matter what caused the attention to shift, master horse trainers recognize the shift in attention and know how refocus the horse.
It seems obvious, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Many novice or intermediate riders, ride quite mechanically, like their pushing a motorcycle through a course. When the horse makes a mistake or finds it hard to focus, these early trainers try to get the horse's feet back on track by driving the horse in the direction they want to go. But what happens most often, is the trainer fights the horse to go in that direction, and ends up frustrated, or worse... hurt.
So what's the cure?
Answer: Practice, but not mechanical practice. I'm talking about attention based practice. You see, most people practice jumping, for instance, by getting a horse over a series of fences and rewarding at the end of a course with a pat on the neck. Master trainers don't practice like that. Master trainers practice guiding the horses attention and rewarding the horse for giving his or her full attention, regardless of the jumps. Then at the show, they win!
All good teachers know this trick. You don't take a kid sitting in a kindergarten classroom and give him a mechanical task, then tell him to do it over and over and over until he understands it. (Well, at least you shouldn't). Instead, you guide the child to focus on you. Even respond to you. Then reward him for responding. After a few successful response and reward cycles, you begin asking the child to focus on a task, instead of you. You don't reward the task completed. Instead, you watch for the child's attention levels and reward his focused energy. At first you make the tasks easy, then over time they get harder. But the point is, a good teacher focuses on training focus, not mechanics of motion. When the child learns to focus, anything becomes possible. ANYTHING! And horses are the same.
So what am I saying? In a nutshell, this: Learn to ride based on the horses attention level. Stop being so mechanical. If you can notice the horses attention shift, feel free to shift it back in your favor, then reward the pants off your horse when he gives you his attention. Don't just jam him into motion. Remember, he's like a human. He's not a robot. He's emotional. He needs to know you care.
Reward him for his effort to focus on you. Then, like the good kindergarten teacher you aspire to be, ask him to focus on a simple task. Reward him for the effort he puts in, and slowly build your foundation of focused behavior. If you do this at home, in your weekly practice, you'll find you have a horse that finds no value in distraction and fear. At that point, you can start to travel out to shows and do the same thing. After a few shows, he'll get the idea that no matter where you go, his job is to focus on you and forget about all the stimuli, and at that point, you will begin to feel unstoppable. Unbeatable! Blue ribbon, here we come. Olympics, here we come!
How does one begin to notice where the horses attention goes? Well, again the answer is pretty obvious. They always try to look at the very thing they think seems so important. When you notice that his or her focus has shifted away from where you want it to be, simply shift it back, sooner rather than later. Sometimes it's useful to shift it completely away from where he wants to go, even if it means shifting to a new direction of travel all together. Use your reins to redirect his head and feet. Be direct, but be nice too. Think like a kindergarten teacher.
So let me give you a real example. Let's say your horse approaches a jump, then at the last second, he slides out to the left and completely misses the jump. Most novice and intermediate trainers go around in a big circle to the left and re-approach the jump. This might be useful at a show, but not good practice at home. I almost never do this, because it's so mechanical and thoughtless.
I say that because, by continuing on to the left, you just allowed your horse to keep going the same direction he wanted to go in the first place, therefore rewarding him for being unfocused. And... all you have left is one more feeble hope he'll go over the jump the next time around. Instead, what I do, based on hundreds of conversations with master trainers in nearly ever part of the horse industry, including jumping... is stop my horse in his tracks, turn him directly right instead of left, and go out in the opposite direction.
This new trajectory may cause me to completely miss the jump, but I will end up going in the complete opposite direction of his attention, therefore causing him to pay attention to me, instead of his own desire to dodge the jump.
When he's gone a number of steps in my desired direction, I stop and reward him for his focus. Then, when I feel we're ready, we approach the jump again. If he dodges to the left again, I do the same behavior. But more than likely, if he doesn't go straight over, (usually they do) he'll try dodging to the right. This is progress. It means he's beginning to realize left doesn't work and he's exploring his options. But he soon realizes that right doesn't work either, because I send him in another 180 degree turn (left this time), directly opposite of his attention. When he's traveling in my desired direction I reward him again. Then the third time we approach the jump, he'll be thinking through his options. "Left didn't work. Right didn't work. OK, over the jump we go."
If I'm a good trainer, I'll reward the pants off him. (Not that horses wear pants)
Each day I grow from the challenges of the previous day. Each mistake leads to opportunities to re-align his focus. And day by day, I begin to develop a "true blue" partnership with my horse.
In the special case that he's a particularly clever horse, he may have a few more options up his sleeve, instead of jumping. Like stopping just in front of the jump. If this happens, I have to stop and wonder if I'm over-facing him in the first place. Maybe the jumps are too big for his confidence level and it's time to lower them. But if he's been over the jumps before, and I'm a super confident rider, I'll ask him to jump it from a stand still. There is no sense getting a run up, unless the jump is physically too high, and requires momentum. Most jumps, in the early stages don't. I've jumped three foot fences from a stand still many times to help horses realize the reward is on the other side. Once he makes it to the other side. I'll reward the pants off him again, and within one or two session I have a horse that will jump the moon with total confidence. Remember, knocking the poles over, doesn't really matter in the early stages. It's about getting him to respond, just like the kindergarten teacher gets the student to respond.
Besides, trainers that obsess about not knocking over poles in practice, aren't thinking about the horses experience. They're only thinking about the blue ribbon. They are being mechanical riders, instead of thoughtful and progressive teachers of attention and confidence. Also, training horses not to knock over poles should only ever come after the rider has earned the horses complete trust, attention, and responsiveness. Never before.
On top of that, training a horse to not knock over poles, is the easiest thing in the world to do when you have the horse's full attention. All you have to do is add a bit of energy or speed after the jump. As a pattern, he'll learn that the rewards don't exist on the immediate other side of the jump. The rewards actually exist in the effort he outlays. In other words, you're not really training jumping. You're training attention and energy levels. When the horse gives you the energy you want, and the attention you want, you give him his favorite things. Which is rest, food, or bonding time.
In rare cases, if the horse blasts directly through the jump instead of jumping over jump, you have a different problem. That's a horse that has been horrifically over-faced. Time to go back to square one. Time to call me. I can get you through that one too. And guess what. It's all about training the horse to pay attention to what you want, instead of what he wants. Its about training him to lift and rewarding him amply, every time he lifts.
But let's say you have an especially clever horse. One that goes backward instead of going forward. Again, consider calling me. I can help. I can give you the keys to breakthrough. But here is the answer in a nutshell. Help him feel rewarded for responding in the right direction. Start small and don't be afraid to over-reward him at first. Get him to focus on what you want by acting like a kindergarten teacher who sets good boundaries but encourages positive focus. A horse that goes backward at the jump has either been over-faced or simply doesn't understand simple signals well enough to go forward when uncertain. In this special case, it's simply a matter of going back to basics and rebuilding your horse's trust, confidence, and respect.
Anyway, it won't take long before your horse begins to trust that the only rewards he gets in his riding career, come from paying full attention and responding to his trustworthy leader. That's you! (You have to be a trustworthy leader, in case you didn't already know. You have to be someone who builds confidence. Not someone who expects it.) Once your horse realizes that he can trust you and that he is rewarded for focusing on what you want instead of what he wants, anything becomes possible. You can show up at the local, regional, and national shows and take first place.
In summary, the key to success at the show is this. STOP riding mechanically, at home. START riding to train your horse's focus and attention. If he's distracted, that's natural, but it doesn't have to be standard. With proper attention based training, every horse will see the value in ignoring the shiny penny and instead respond to the rider's suggestions willingly.
If your not a jumper, and you operate in a different part of the horse industry, the same principles apply. Stop riding mechanically. START riding to develop the horses attention, energy, and alignment. When you have that, you have everything.
Anybody who's ever done a clinic with me in recent years has heard me say one particular phrase over and over and over. Here it is: "Always Eat Chocolate!" It's a simple, memorable acronym to illustrate what master trainers pay attention to when training horses. The "A" in always, stands for Alignment. The "E" in eat, stands for Energy. The "C" in chocolate, stands for Concentration or attention.
If you're fond of chocolate, you'll have no trouble remembering what's most important to develop in your horse relationship. It's not mechanical. It's masterful. The techniques you use to get from point A to point B in your horsemanship journey will vary. I have thousands of different techniques, I've learned. But techniques don't really matter compared to principles. Different horses need different things, but principally, the master always comes back to "Always Eat Chocolate." The best horse trainer programs are devoted to training attention, energy, and alignment, instead of mechanical robotic motion.
If you want more information about this, and other horse training topics, continue to read the other blog posts here:
If you haven't already, get my book on "Leadership and Horses." Learn the secrets of masters.
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Inadvertently Rewarding Bad Behavior!
By Don Jessop
So the horse is being scared... Should you pet her to calm her down or should you show her leadership and ask her to focus?
Most people in the natural horsemanship world want to pet the horse and sooth the horse. But guess what? By doing this you are inadvertently rewarding the horse for being scared! You are reinforcing the scared emotion.
Cearsar Millan (the dog whisperer) said, never pet a nervous dog. Why? Because you end up rewarding the nervousness. Instead, focus the dog, and pet him when he’s calm. Pet him when he’s in a neutral state of mind, instead of an anxious state of mind.
So why am I writing about this now? Because too many horse trainers, and students of natural horsemanship are inadvertently rewarding nervousness in their horses. Don’t do that anymore!
Are you guilty of this? I'm sure you are! I know I have been. It's easy to do and let me explain why!
When we play with horses, we can have an objective view towards what they need and how to prepare them for the potential perceived threats in our human world. However, sometimes, when we "own" that horse we forget we're supposed to "prepare" them and instead we find ourselves "protecting" them.
See if this story applies to you! And if it does, read on to the end to get some tips on how to STOP being the wrong kind of trainer for your horse!
"What a beautiful horse!" The young woman exclaimed to my student as she sat down next to her to watch the proceeding events.
I realized quickly that my words weren't penetrating my students understanding, so I asked her to sit and down while I took over the situation with her horse. Hoping she could absorb more by watching at first then performing later.
"Is she an Arabian?"
"He... not she, is an Arabian, and thank you, I think he's beautiful too. replied the older woman who owned the horse.
"How long have you owned him?
"For nearly seven years. I practically raised him. He's my baby!"
I could overhear the whole conversation as I began to play with her horse, but I allowed it to take place because I knew that ultimately my student needed the space to relax and enjoy the lesson rather than feel like she had to perfectly follow my directions.
"What's he working on?" asked the young woman about me and the horse.
"Getting him to stand on the plastic tarp. He says I'm a little to protective of my horse. I know I am but he is my baby, you know."
Hearing those words for the second time I stopped, smiled at my audience and asked for permission to speak. Both women were kind sweet natured people, the kind of people that wouldn't hurt anything on purpose. They both gave me an approving nod and I began.
"We're asking him stand on the tarp, which is obviously scary to him...and in this instance...What do you think this horse needs most? Safety? comfort? play? or food?" I asked
There was a pause then the owner spoke out courageously with her response.
"I think he needs safety and comfort right now!"
"Right!" I said.
"When a horse is fearful, and needs some comfort...should we offer the safety and comfort?"
"Well, I think so!" She said. "After all, I am the herd leader and I want him to trust me"
"OK, let's go with this thought for a moment!" I prompted. "If I offer him safety, how would I do that?"
"Well, it seems like that, what he needs is to retreat from the tarp and regain his confidence."
"OK" I prompted again. "If I re approach the tarp, will he be more confident or about the same? What do you think?"
"I think he'll be more confident" She exclaimed.
"OK! let's try your theory!"
I spend the next several minutes doing exactly as she would do, based on the horses reaction. Every time he got nervous and flighty, I retreated to a safe zone. Finally after many attempts to approach the plastic devilish tarp, it became clear the horse was not making progress and in fact was getting worse, even trying to rip the rope from my hands. I stopped! I came back to my audience and asked..."Now I've done as you would do. Retreating when the horse was unconfident and reactive, then waiting for calmness and re-approaching. Let me ask...what progress have we made?"
My student was silent for a moment then she spoke in a confused manner.
"I see he's getting worse. But why? We're using the approach and retreat techniques like I learned years ago. Why is he getting worse? He always does this! I must be a horrible leader. I don't think he trusts me!"
I asked her to stop and breathe for a moment.
"It's not you," I said. "It's your timing."
I continued. "It can't help but get worse when you retreat at the wrong time. Let me show you the same game once again only this time I want you to notice how I retreat from the obstacle at a different time. A time when the horse attempts to breathe, and relax, or a time when he reaches out in an effort to explore, but never in a time when he needs comfort. That's the worst time to give him comfort! I will give him comfort when he tries to be brave. It will be a reward. I will not give him comfort when he gets scared. This is the real kind of leadership every horse needs and you can do it too. All I need you to do is stop "protecting" his emotions and start "preparing" him for these things he will encounter in our human world. I know he's your "baby" and you want the best for him. Now be careful not to reward the wrong thing. You were inadvertently rewarding his ill behavior. His anxiousness, his pulling on the rope, his fear, was all rewarded when you retreated to a safe zone. All I'm asking you to do is wait a little longer. Persist, past the fear, past the pulling back, past the introversion or extroversion or whatever it is he's doing. When he relaxes a little. Then retreat! He'll learn to be brave. "
Do you want a brave horse or a big "chicken?"
"A brave horse of course!" She replied!
"Me too. Let me show you now the way it should be done to prepare him instead of protect him!"
For the next 5 minutes I led him near the tarp. He snorted, he pulled, he bolted sideways. (lucky for me I have patient hands and a long rope :) Then finally he paused for a moment, not more than 2 inches from the tarp, stuck his nose out as if he might consider jumping it then settled back in a quiet stance. I smoothly but immediately let him away (retreated) from the obstacle to give him comfort as a reward for his bravery. For the next 20 minutes we worked in this manner and after jumping it several times with very little provocation from me and on a slack rope, he finally stood directly on the tarp. Every time he tried to be braver I rewarded his bravery with comfort. By the end of our short session, the beautiful Arabian, was standing confidently and exploring his new tarp encrusted footing inch by inch with his nose and feet.
My student sat in silence once again then stood up from her seat and approached me.
"I see it now." She said
"I was so caught up in his emotion, I tried to make him feel safe."
"That's right!" I said "But it's not your job to make him feel safe. It's your job to make him feel brave! His self confidence grows as a result of this and he begins to feel safe all the time."
"I see that now." She said again confidently with a air of new understanding.
I handed her the rope.
"Would you take him away then bring him back and let's just test we didn't accidently end up on this tarp. Let's make sure he actually is gaining that self confidence we're talking about."
She happily complied and as she approached the tarp I could sense hesitation in her and in her horse. I coached her to not give into the horses hesitation but patiently persist beyond it. Within a few minutes her perfect little "baby" grew up and became a "noble steed". Bravely standing upon the unnatural plastic footing. And guess who was grinning ear to ear! My student. Proud as can be!
The morale of the story:
Don't "walk on eggshells" around your horses. Don't protect them from feeling fear. Instead...prepare them for tough situations such as noisy cars, plastic bags, balls, water, cows, umbrellas, tarps, fast moving hands or fast moving objects like dogs or children, anything you can think of. This will give them the confidence you always wanted.
I'm not saying "don't protect them physically!" I want you both to be safe and kept from harm. But don't confuse feeling safe with being safe! Pick a safe environment to work in and get to work preparing your horse for tough situations. Remember your timing is important. Don't inadvertently reward bad behavior. You want to reward positive emotions not stressed emotions! And believe it or not, every time you take pressure off a horse, it's the emotions they remember first, not necessarily the task. That's why it's so important to reward at the right time.
Tips to remember:
I wish you success in everything you do!
Call me for help. It's FREE. 406-360-1390
It's not a new sport, like skijoring or horse jumping. It's a simple reminder that your words have power. They have the power to re-invent your future. They have the power to re-color the past. They have the power to imprint thoughts into your memory, just like you would imprint a baby horse into this new world.
But for many people, their words die before they ever reach that powerful change state. What I mean is this: Have you ever thought to yourself, "I am going to ride more," and minutes later find yourself distracted with life. Then you realize weeks later that time has passed quickly, and you have not returned to that beautiful thought. At that moment you begin to see that your words died shortly after they formed, and caused no amount of change in your behavior.
Words, unrecorded, have little power. Thoughts, unrecorded, have little power. If your words and good thoughts die as soon as they leave your mouth, they have little to no power.
But if you journal your best ideas and brightest hopes, you will make progress. I guarantee it. But you know this already. So why don't you journal more often?(Maybe you do, and I should just let you be. Or maybe you don't and it's time to start again.)
Journaling your plans for the future will make a bigger impression on your pathway to progress than nearly anything else you do in the beginning. Mapping your steps forward with clear outcomes and goals will re-shape your experience. So why not do more of it?
I know for me, I didn't get to where I am with horses, by trying to remember stuff. I journal nearly every day. I have done for nearly two decades now. I can look back and see where I was. I can see the dreams I had. I can see how so many of them are real today. I am experiencing those dreams. I can also see the future ahead of me. I see the steps I must take. I Imagine pitfalls and strategies to avoid them. I record it all. Why? Because recorded words and thoughts begin to realize their power. They begin to imprint messages on my inner self. And those messages dictate my future actions. That is the power of journaling. And that is why I want you to journal more.
And this is why I created the Mastery Horsemanship Journal. If you don't have one yet. You should get one. It will help you record your goals and dreams and map out your next steps with horses. It will give you reference to major important pieces of the puzzle to progress with horses. It will help reshape your future.
Check it out here. Start journaling today!
I've received so much feedback about a recent article on Leading a horse correctly, I've decided to upload a short video to describe what I'm talking about. Check it out here.
Link to the Leading Correctly Article
Welcome to a world of controversy. Where every trainer from every corner of the earth, has their own idea of how to lead a horse correctly. But what is "correct?" And what isn't, according to Mastery Horsemanship?
Recently I've been invited to help support another therapeutic riding center develop a safety course for their new staff members and the question about how to lead a horse correctly, came up again. With varying opinions about correct position for leading, coming in from so many places, I've decided to give an overview of what works best, why it works best, and why the other ways are simply, inappropriate for most people.
Of course, like every thing in the horse training world, these things I want to share with you, aren't rules. They are guidelines for safety and progress at home, on the trail, or in the show ring, so don't get your defenses up too high. When I say there is a "correct" way and and "incorrect" way, what I mean is there are different ways for different situations. We'll call these different ways, the "the six positions" of leading.
But before I get into the power of each position. I want you to remember another thing. I want you to remember the value of keeping the horse's attention and connection with you. "Attention over position." A master trainer can work from any position but won't continue on, day by day, without training the horse to be more attentive to signals and positions. Beginners can get caught up thinking it's all about positions, when it's really all about attention and positions. Leading from any position without the horse's attention on the leader and personal space buffer, is dangerous! With that in mind, here are the 6 positions:
Position one: Directly in front of the horse with a four to six foot buffer between you and the horse to prevent the horse from stepping on you.
Benefits: This helps train a horse to walk nose to tail and stay focused on a trail, or while navigating obstacles that demand patience. Such as walking down a steep hill.
Hazards: The horse can get a spook from behind and bolt on top of the leader, if he or she isn't paying close attention.
Position two: Beside the horses nose, with the lead rope hanging at your shoulder, not in front or behind too far, and with a buffer of about two to four feet to the side. This way the horse can see you at all times and you can see him as well, at all times, which makes it easier to manage his or her attention.
Benefits: The horse can give you two eyes, while at the same time giving you the ability to see his expression and position at any time. This position also makes it easy to turn any direction at any time without running into the horse.
Hazards: The horse could bite you or strike at you (if he really wanted too). But he would really have to reach, and you can easily see it coming from your position.
Position three: Further back, closer to the horses neck and shoulder. This is useful for showing a horse to a panel of judges or quickly switching from leading to driving the horse into an arc or circle.
Benefits: Allows the judges to see the horses whole head and body. Also gives the leader a chance to invite faster motion or transitions from the horse with slightly more ease, than in position one or two. Advanced horse people often use this position to demonstrate liberty or and other advanced maneuvers, but don't usually use this position to lead from point A to point B.
Hazards: The horse can loose focus and work against the leader, in this position. It's also very difficult for the leader to have a 360 degree view of possible hazards. Which can invite the horse to jump toward the leader if spooked and possibly injure him or her. Or he could bolt away, pulling the leader off their feet and leaving him or her in the kick zone of the hind feet. This position also makes it difficult to turn both directions because the horse's body is blocking the turn.
Position four: Further back again, closer to the ribs or hips. This is useful for allowing a horse to explore a bit and demonstrate curiosity. But highly inappropriate for novice trainers. Because this sets the leader around the kick zone and allows the horse to ignore the trainer at a moments notice.
Benefits: The horse can test new environments, such as crossing a stream or loading into a trailer without the influence of the leader already present in that space. The horse can also easily transition into circles from this position if desired.
Hazards: The horse's attention is split and can easily become too distracted for safety. The horse can kick the leader with his hind feet if provoked or spooked. And it still leaves the leader without a 360 degree view. It's like driving in a car with massive blind spots.
Position five: Behind the horse. This is useful for preparing a horse for riding or driving. It causes the horse to navigate the terrain with the promptings of the leader but without the visual support of someone actually taking the first steps into the unknown. This is also highly inappropriate for novice trainers due the position of the hind feet and the decreased attention levels from the horse.
Benefits: Preparation for riding, causing the horse to take steps forward and learn to steer and stop from rein signals.
Hazards: The horse can easily become distracted or too scared to cooperate, leaving the trainer in a vulnerable spot near the kick zone. This also leaves plenty of opportunity to get tangled in some long ropes.
Position six: On top of the horse. Actual riding. Believe it or not, riding is leading. Just from a different position. You still must guide and direct the horse.
Benefits: The horse becomes a partner that can safely carry the rider through varying speeds and terrain, inviting the opportunity to engage in games or fantastic adventures.
Hazards: The horse's attention is split. He or she can easily become too distracted to listen to signals from the rider. This leaves the rider vulnerable to bolting, bucking, rearing, spinning, spooking, sliding, pitching, and other undesirable events that can lead to injury.
So which one is the best one? Which is the most "correct" or "appropriate" way to teach a brand new person or novice how to lead a horse? Can you guess?
The answer: Position number two!
Everything else is highly inappropriate for new horse people. But for years I've watched as trainers teach novice people to lead while positioned at the horses neck or shoulder (position number three). This is NOT correct for novice people, because it can be very dangerous. It may impress the judges, but safety must come first. Unless the horse is super calm, at all times, standing by the horses shoulder can progress to injury, because the horse does not have to focus on the leader exclusively and novice trainers might not be able to read the body language from that position. I see it all the time. The horse can check out and leave you broken or standing in the dust. However, once a horse and trainer learn basic safety positions, and how to manage the horse's attention, then any position can be taught.
The most correct or appropriate way for any new person to learn to lead a horse is to stand at the horses lead line (position number two). Stand near the tip of the horses nose, at a distance of about two to four feet to the side, and with a slack lead rope. This forces the horse to stay connected visually, with both eyes, but not stand so close. This position is also perfect because it gives the leader a chance to watch the horse, in case of sudden changes in his expression or position. A horse that knows this position well, is the kind of horse ANYBODY can lead. Even my little ten year old girl. It's easy to teach as well. All one must do is, position the horse, then relax. If the horse leaves the position, simply re-position him or her, and relax again. It can take time, but it's worth it.
All other positions leave the leader too vulnerable in the early stages of development. Remember: Position one (leader in front), can make the horse invisible to the leader. Unless he or she walks backward while facing the horse. Position three, four and five, leave the leader in a position where they can only turn one direction easily. The horse can easily step on the leader or bolt away and kick the leader from these positions. And that is why position number two is the most appropriate position to lead a horse. But you don't have to call it "position number two." You can simply call it, the "correct" way to lead a horse for a novice horse person.
I'll be making a short two part video for you to watch about this, if you want. The first part would demonstrates the six positions. The second part teaches you how to lead the "correct" way for novice horse people. In the second part, I'll actually show you how to train the horse to lead in this position. If you want access to the upcoming video, comment below and I'll send it to you as soon as it's up.
Also... If you haven't yet, buy my book "Leadership and Horse" and Learn to communicate like a master!
Thanks for reading.
PS. What not to do! Remember you're leading your horse, not dragging your horse or being dragged by your horse. Keep some slack in the line. Not too much to get tangled in your horse's feet, or your feet, but not too tight as to keep the horse in a mindless position like a mindless animal.
(Like all things... these are guidelines. Certain situations require different procedures. But in general... keep safe, keep the horse in mind and make sure he or she is keeping you in mind. With these principles in place, you'll become the leader your horse deserves.)
Does your horse swish his tail while riding? Want to know how to get rid of it?
Before we say you should get rid of it, let me first tell you why a horse swishes his or her tail. Contrary to what people think, it's not always anger.
Sometimes a horse will swish or "switch" his tail to lift a nagging fly off his hide. Sometimes he will swish his tail to balance his body in an extreme maneuver. But most of the time, it's because he or she is irritated or defensive.
One horribly abusive strategy to stop tail swishing, is to surgically sever the nerve to the tail. Believe it or not, I've seen it dozens of times in my career. Tail swishing is not smiled upon by judges in high level competition. Therefore, many trainers do the worst, and psychically damage the horse for the sake of a blue ribbon.
But most trainers aren't that cruel. For the most part we live in a smarter world now. However, there isn't much information out there to solve the problem of tail swishing. Hence, I'd like to share what I know. Take it or leave it. I want you to succeed.
First of all, if it's related to flies. Simply get yourself some fly spray (something without too many chemicals) and solve the problem instantly. If your horse can't tolerate being sprayed with fly spray, consider reading my book on training. It's called Leadership and Horses - check it out here.
If the problem isn't about biting flies, then consider that fact that your horse is irritated by your signals. Maybe every time you apply your leg to get a response laterally or forward, your horse will swish his tail. His irritation is due to one of three things: Either you were inappropriate in the way you asked him (too sharp or abrupt), or he simply wasn't ready to receive the signal because his mind was somewhere else (distracted), or he doesn't actually understand what the pressure means. He may be confused. You may think he knows what you want, and he's trying not to do what you want. This is categorized as confusion. He may know you want forward or lateral when you apply legs but he certainly does not know why you want it. That's why I categorize this one as confusion.
Let's tackle each one separately.
Signals too sharp or abrupt: The solution here is simple. BE MORE PATIENT. Don't be in such a hurry. I often use a pop quiz for my students during the clinics I teach around the world. This is the question I pop: "What's more important? Snappy responses... or smooth responses?"
I hope you answered "smooth responses?" If my horse has to tense his body to make a lateral or forward movement, it means I've asked too quickly, or he's reacting to my signal rather than responding. I want "flow." I hate being the passenger in a car with a driver who is too quick on the gas and brakes. Smooth and elegant should always be your goal if you want to master horse training at the highest level. Unless a grizzly bear is chasing you out of the woods, you shouldn't ever worry about snappy departures. When you get to the mid levels of horsemanship and you start working on walk/canter transitions, keep "smooth" at the top of your mind and watch how repetition will speed up the departures. You never want to smash the gas pedal because all you'll ever get is ugly transitions with a tail that swishes.
Distraction: The solution here is nearly identical to the first solution. BE PATIENT! Ask and wait till you get his mind back. If, after a few seconds you notice he isn't going to focus on what you're asking. Do something subtle with your hands and rein signals to bring his attention back. Don't kick him harder or mash the gas pedal to get his attention back. Once you have his attention, you can ask with your leg again and he's likely to respond nicely.
Confusion: Patience is the key again. Don't let the tail swishing stop you from asking for what you want. But don't make the biggest mistake all trainers make at some point in their career. What's the biggest mistake?
The biggest mistake is when you ask for a response and you get the response you want. Except it also came with lots of baggage, just as tail swishing. But you fail to recognize the baggage, and reward your horse for the response. As a pattern you might continue to reward the response with baggage, hoping the baggage will go away eventually. But it doesn't. What you have, is a horse that thinks he knows what you want. When you ask, he gives you a response plus baggage. Because that's what he's always been rewarded for!
The best way to avoid this mistake is to ask for the response. Recognize the effort your horse puts in, even if there is some tail swishing. Then ask for the exact same response again. Then pause... Recognize the effort, then ask again. Then pause, then ask again, then pause, then ask again. Ask for the exact same thing until you finally get a response that is in the right direction and has no baggage. At that point. Get off your horse. Give the BIG REWARD. I call this the training cycle.The training cycle has five steps and one rule. The steps are:
1. Ask for what you want
2. Support if you need
3. Release your signal and support when you get a response to recognize effort
4. Recognize the effort with small reward
5. Repeat until the rule is observed
The rule is, cycle through until you no longer need extra support. You ask and it's easy. Cycle until all you have to do is ask and you get zero negative reactivity. No tail swishing, no head tossing, not tension. Instead, you get a clean, elegant response. At this point, give the big reward. Then come back the next day and cycle through again. Day after day you will notice dramatic improvements in your horses understanding and attitude.
The training cycle is the most important facet of behavioral change in any category of horse training. Even if you're a novice. Even if you're an Olympic rider. If you want a better attitude from your horse, the only way to get it, is to improve his or her understanding of what you want, using the training cycle.
If you notice your horse is swishing his tail because he's either confused, distracted, or defensive, take into consideration the two main points of this article.
1. Be more patient. "Rome wasn't built in a day." Plus... I bet you don't usually have a valid reason to mash the gas pedal. Remember "smooth is more important that snappy."
2. Use the Training Cycle to change negative behaviors.
I've talked about the training cycle before. If you like, I can send you a video showing behavioral change using the training cycle. Let me know in the comments below.
Here's to your success! Thanks for reading. Also, don't forget to check out my books page:
WHEN IS IT TIME TO PUT YOUR HORSE DOWN? by Don Jessop
It's sad, yes! But it's not inappropriate to talk about putting your horse down when he's struggling to be himself or herself. When your horse is on deaths door, you have to ask yourself, "What am I holding on to?" I'm not saying you shouldn't prolong life. All forms of life are valuable! But when is it time to let go? That's the question that has come up in several intimate conversations recently.
Over the last year, I've had several different people ask questions about their older or disease, or injury laden horses. When I say disease ridden, I don't mean chicken pox. I'm talking about neurological and mental diseases. I'm talking about severe lameness and constant physical pain at high levels.
To help answer the questions I've put together a simple checklist.
Consider these factors:
Is the intense pain constant and incurable?
Pain can easily be measured on a scale of zero to ten. Constant pain of six or above, to the point where the horse can't even move around a 12X12 stall, is severe enough to consider letting them go. I'm talking about pain that can't be managed, or is being managed, but a level six pain threshold is the best you can get. When the pain threshold is this high for more than a couple of days without any potential for positive change... it's time.
Are you incapable of caring for the animal and there is no one else on the planet that can?
I've had people tell me that their horse needs special care and there is no one capable of offering that kind of care. It's not very often you find a "bleeding heart" personality that's willing to look after a horse with severe conditions. In these special cases, even though the horse may live a lot longer, the quality of life will be in question the entire time. And if you're not capable of caring for the animal anymore due to your own situation, it may be time to look into putting your horse down. Obviously, you should look for a home that will love and care for your horse, long before you make the decision to let them go.
Is your horse struggling to eat?
Either the horse lacks desire to eat, or psychically can't eat anymore. There are many things you can do to prolong a horses life. Senior feed, for instance gives the horse food choices that are easier to chew and digest. I always recommend doing what you can to empower your horse or improve the quality of their life, right down to the last minute. But keeping a horse alive that doesn't want to be alive anymore isn't logical. It's emotional. When a horse stops eating, in spite of all the options you've provided. It's time to consider the next step in the life process. If you don't, the horse will naturally die anyway. It will, however, take days or even weeks of excruciating pain. Not a pretty site. Lethal injection from a qualified Veterinarian is painless, almost instantaneous, and free of trauma or drama (usually... there are some rare instances where injection didn't go as planned. Ask your vet about that too.) It doesn't make the decision easy, but when comparing definite starvation, to manageable and painless death, it's becomes more logical to let the animal suffer no longer.
Is your horse struggling move about or get up after lying down?
This could point to severe neurological disorder, muscle atrophy, or severe pain. When a horse can no longer defend himself or herself in the field with his herd-mates, due to an inability to move, you must consider isolating him. If he can recover... great! If not, then what's next? If isolation and special care is too much to manage due to your circumstances, you must then consider something else. Regarding horse's that struggle to get up, I have often helped horses rise from the ground and seen them live another twelve months, happily. One bad day, doesn't mean life is over for the animal. But day after day after day of struggling, means it's time to get the vet out and consider your options for the future.
Is your horse extremely dangerous?
Extremely dangerous horses are also something that we, as master trainers, consider important to think about when it comes to the same question of when to put a horse down. In most cases horses can be cured of dangerous behaviors. In some rare cases, it's a lost cause. Consider the horse I met in Florida... This particular horse was a small brown and white, gaited gelding. When I met him, his owner asked me to help cure him of his challenges. I asked her to be more specific. What I found out, shocked me. He'd already killed one person. His distraction level was out of this world, which made it hard to ask him to focus on anything for any reasonable length of time. On top of that, his reactivity to certain stimulus, caused him to twist, buck, and bolt, like no horse I've ever seen before. If he felt trapped. He'd strike. He'd go from "la, la land" to "hell fire" in just moments. He was extremely dangerous. With my supervision, he became manageable. Not ride-able. Just manageable. And not for anyone, but me. You had to be perfectly focused. Ready for anything. You could never let your guard down. One wrong step or missed cue, could set off a tirade of fireworks. He wasn't mean. He didn't behave badly on purpose. He was dangerous because of a severe distraction disorder. After weeks went by, with minimal progress and obvious signs of mental disabilities in the horse, I gave the woman three options.
1. Find a place to put the horse out to pasture, never to interact with a human again. Except to pet from the other side of the fence. Just being in the same space required all your faculties.
2. Find a home that has the same skills sets I have to manage the horse, but tell the truth about his history and mental disabilities.
3. Let him go to heaven.
Eventually, she chose number three and I supported her. I don't like to destroy life, but the other two options, in spite of genuine effort to discover reasonable homes, failed. Option three was the only logical thing to do. He was too dangerous to halter, lead, and work around for any health care issues. He was too dangerous to ride. He was too dangerous, even to greet in an open field unless you had the right tools and techniques to protect yourself in a flash. He'd already shown a history for trouble. It was time.
Let me be clear. I'm not saying there wasn't some other possible outcome. I am saying that when your life is measured against the life of the horse. Which one do you value more? His, or yours?
If you feel it's time to let one of your horses go and don't know how to take the next step, consider calling your local vet or vets. Get a few opinions with people who've had experience before. Lethal injection is the most common. However, there is still evidence that points to old west techniques as being more conservative and quicker. I don't think I would pull the trigger on a gun, but some swear by it. They say it also leaves the horse with no chemical poisoning, which makes the animal's resources usable to continue the life cycle.
Your vet should give you sound advice. He or she can also give you the ins and out of all the details of lethal injections, transport or burial, and much more. Most vets worth their salt are willing to answer your questions and guide you to the right path.
Understand, there are best practices to observe. There are state laws to observe about ending a horse's life and burial. There are also, wonderful people who've been down this road before. People like myself. Don't be afraid to reach out. I'm here. We are here.
Thanks for reading.
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There seems to be a lot of chatter in the world of horse training about positive versus negative training. As a result, I wanted to take a minute to clarify a few things. Not just for you, but for me as well.
Recently, I've been hearing a few comments about natural horsemanship being a negative reinforcement training program. And comments about Parelli, Anderson, Buck, and the other big names, being mostly negative in their training styles. When I hear these comments, I get curious and begin to wonder if there is some truth to the chatter. As it turns out, there is. But, I beg my readers to exercise caution in their judgment and think clearly about their own experiences while reading forward.
For starters, let's define positive and negative reinforcement training styles.
Positive reinforcement training is as simple as it sounds. When the trainee (a horse in this case) does something good, they get a reward. The trainer adds something wonderful to the experience. Through repetition of the behavior/reward cycle, the horse will learn to link command signals to just about any behavior.
Conversely, negative reinforcement training relates to consequences for "not" doing what the trainer wants. But negative reinforcement, by definition, is slightly more convoluted. The phrase "negative reinforcement" according to psychology and in the context of training, doesn't mean injuring, abusing, or punishing a horse at all. Negative reinforcement means "to take away" or "eliminate options."
For instance: If my horse wants to go right and I want to go left. I place pressure on the right side of my horses mouth via my left rein. This pressure takes away or eliminates the option to go right. Which is of course, negative reinforcement training. Any other activity related to eliminating options is therefore a form of negative reinforcement training. I'm not talking about punishment based training. There is a difference, which I'll get into later.
This is where it gets a little messy. One hundred percent positive reinforcement training, as wonderful as it may sound, is theoretically impossible to achieve. Because... any form of training in any industry in any part of the world, requires one very important factor. That factor is a five letter word that starts with "F"
Focus! In order to focus, a trainee must eliminate distraction. And there is that word again. "Eliminate" or "take away." Which is of course, a form of negative reinforcement.
What do all horse trainers across the entire globe do to eliminate distractions? Don't think for too long about this question. The answer is simple. TRAINING TOOLS. Tools such as ropes, saddles, reins, and fences. That's right. Fences take away the horses options, just like rein pressure on the right side convinces the horse to go left, fences convince the horse to stay close enough to interact with. Just as a classroom eliminates the distractions of the outside world for a student in school.
So in theory, just by owning a horse, we have all become negative reinforcement trainers. Our tools and our fences allow us to focus the horse. Advanced trainers can work toward not needing tools for control, but training by it's very nature requires tools that eliminate distraction.
I've personally worked directly with elite dolphin trainers who claimed to use only positive reinforcement training techniques. One day I asked, "What do you do when the dolphin whips it's tail around and knocks you over?" The trainer answered, "You get up and walk away, you don't hit the animal."
I felt good about that answer. After all, there is no need to be abusive or punishment oriented. But then I started thinking about it at deeper level. What happens when the trainer walks away?
In this case, the dolphin is left alone in a small pool and bored out of it's mind. So even though the trainer didn't use a stick to push the dolphin away, or curb a negative behavior, the trainer did in fact eliminate herself from the equation. After several sessions like this, the dolphin begins to think that acting silly around the trainer is undesirable, and starts concentrating on pleasing the trainer. This kind of training totally works if... you can eliminate all other distractions, such as herd mates, and space to roam. But there is that word again. "Eliminate" or "take away" which is by definition, negative reinforcement.
Now, if we can all agree that one hundred percent positive training is theoretically impossible, I hope we can find some balance in the middle of it all. I also hope we can discover a sort of scale that allows us to measure ourselves against the standards of the people we aspire to be like.
I don't like negative reinforcement training. I don't like what it implies. But let's be clear. What we really want to avoid is abusive training or punishment based training. Punishment based training delivers heavy and consistent consequences for mistakes without the balance of rewards for good behavior. It can cause horses to experience fear and resentment. Anybody who has a heart for the animals experience, will avoid punishment based training and move toward negative and positive reinforcement training. But... I don't want to be labelled as a negative reinforcement trainer, so I want to know what quantifies such labels. To answer that question, we're going to have to dig into the imagination. And this is where your own experiences count most.
If we make a scale from zero to ten with anything below zero being undesirable punishment based training. And we say ten is being totally positive and zero is being totally negative, or elimination driven, lets make five the middle ground. Where would you say you live when it comes to training your own horse? How were you in the past? Where would you like to quantify yourself in the future? What about the big name trainers? Where do they operate on the scale?
Everyone is going to answer the above questions differently. I have the unique experience of studying with many of these big name trainers in person. I can tell you first hand what their training style is on a zero to ten scale. Would you like to know?
Well, this is where we have to exercise caution. Nobody ever sets out in the world to do more harm than good. The natural horsemanship movement has dramatically changed the world for horses as we know it. But is it a perfect? NO. Fortunately, however, most natural trainers aren't punishment based in their training styles. The good ones all tend to avoid damaging a horse for the sake of progress. But is it positive enough? Answer: NO! Not usually. Not yet!
On a scale of zero to ten, Pat Parelli lives around the three mark. Mostly negative, or elimination based training without the required balance of positive rewards. Linda Parelli, on the other hand, lives around the seven mark. Mostly positive, but less focused. Clinton Anderson, Buck and most other natural trainers live around the three mark too. Which is a far cry better than many trainers were fifty years ago, who operated below zero on the scale.
You may find some trainers who claim to live around the eight and nine mark. But in reality you will never see what these trainers can do, because they never did anything amazing. Without determined focus, nobody does anything amazing. It's true, the people that claim to be strictly positive may never express firm training styles, but they also never ask for anything cool. That's why strictly positive training doesn't work if you want to accomplish big things. You can however, enjoy a great relationship, if that's all you want. You'll just find it hard to make progress because progress requires focus and focus requires eliminating options.
Parents can bond with their children and never teach them anything, but more productive parents will strike a balance between bonding and focused training. Horse trainers, I believe, should follow a similar model. The goal is to find balance in your training style.
If, by reading this blog post, you have discovered you lean more toward negative training and avoid using rewards, I hope you'll see the value in becoming more balanced and positive in your training. After all. Doesn't your horse deserve some grace?
If, on the other hand, you feel like you are a very positive trainer, but you find you aren't making the kind of progress you hoped for, or your horse is often pushy or disrespectful around people. I hope you'll find the value of more focused, disciplined energy from time to time. I'm not saying you have to hit your horse. I'm saying you may have to firmly guide him or her to a deeper understanding of what you want. But don't ever forget that the rewards you use must balance out the challenges you engage in or the pressure you apply.
Me personally, I strive to become balanced enough to say I'm a perfect five on the positive versus negative scale. But I tend to lean on the number six. I feel that using fences to keep my horse in my own pasture is a form or negativity and this makes we want to tip the scales in his favor. I want my horses to love working with me. I know the value of focus and determination, and I know the value of rewards that count and matter to the horse. I also remember the best teachers I've ever had, were positive in their attitude and focused in their actions. I want to be this way too.
What about you? What do you want to be? How do you want to be labelled?
I love your comments. Please post below.
Also, if you haven't already, get my book. Leadership and Horse, check it out.
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His name was buck. A fitting name, given his aptitude for launching riders from his back like a rocket set for space off the Florida coast line.
To say he hates people isn't completely accurate today. He doesn't hate people anymore. But he did for a time. And during that time, if he could speak, he would have said these words:
"I am a slave and you are my master. But you are not a good master!"
Many people disagree with me, when I say horses have the exact same emotions that humans have. How could a horse feel like a slave? However, thinking a horse is just a horse, void of emotions that we understand, is false thinking. A horse has all of the exact same emotions we have. They have joy, fear, hatred, excitement, and more. They dream of a future, and remember a past. They struggle to focus and hope for things they can't describe.
Sure, they can't talk, but when you learn the universal language of body posture, focus and eye movements, breathing patterns, muscle tension, and energy, you begin to see, and even hear what I hear. That's why they call me a horse whisperer. Not because I whisper to them, but because I hear the whispers they intend for us.
Buck wasn't whispering though. Buck was yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Get off me, get away from me, and free me from this prison!"
He wasn't always so saucy. There were days where he looked like any other horse. He'd eat quietly in his stall, he'd play and gallop along the fence with his nearby mates, when turned out and give a random passerby-er the impression he was a normal, happy horse.
But then came the human interaction time. Every time the human interfered and tried to influence his life, his mood shifted. His ears would go back. His muzzle would wrinkle, twist and curl, and his eyes would harden.
For most activities, he'd simply hold a grimace on his face. You could saddle him, wash him, and do just about anything to him. And that's exactly how he felt. People weren't doing it for him, they were doing it to him. He didn't choose his circumstances and he resented humans for it.
The people that cared for him, didn't know why he acted so poorly. They couldn't understand why he'd be quiet and suddenly react in a violent fashion. They couldn't see how to fix it and they were mortified by his behaviors. And that's where I came in.
"Number one," I said to his owner, "we have to change his name. Buck is a name that doesn't lend itself to safety and pleasant experiences. Any name you give an animal, or person for that matter, tends to linger in the mind of the observer. Each time you play with Buck, you'll think of his reactions and treat him without consideration for his namesake potential. If you named him, Shine or Teddy, you may have a better subconscious view of your horse and begin to treat him differently."
The owner wasn't too keen on the idea of changing his name. "Buck is who he is." The owner replied.
"And that's just the problem." I said. "His identity doesn't open doors for positive change. That doesn't mean that if he were a sweet and pleasant horse with the unfortunate name of Buck, that he'd learn to buck. But because he already tends to buck, and his name is Buck, the first thing you should do is change his name and start seeing him for his new potential instead of his problems."
"Number two," I continued, "is teaching him that he is more than a prisoner and a slave. Even though you feed a horse and brush a horse and trim his feet, he'll still feel slave or prisoner until you love the horse. You have to bond with the animal."
Naturally, safety comes first, I never recommend bonding with an animal that wants to bite your arm off. And certainly don't pet a horse while he's bucking you off. First you must set boundaries and clear directional control.
Once boundaries are set, however, you must prove to the horse you truly do care. A famous trainer named Pat Parelli, said, "Put your heart in your hand and touch your horse." I agree with him.
You have to care deeply for his well being and stop treating him like the motorcycle you pulled out of the garage to take out for a spin. And the word spin doesn't necessarily mean ride. It can mean doing something just for your pleasure, instead of a mutually pleasant experience. I've seen people pull their horse out to braid their mane and the horse is hating it the whole time. Which is still tough for horses. There are ways to bond with an animal through food, scratching, praise and rest time that lends to the desires and hopes of the horse. Finding those special bonding strategies will improve nearly all aspects of training horses, even Olympic performance horses.
"Number three," I continued, "is you need to consider not riding him until he can do simple things well. In other words... If you can't put a saddle on without him grimacing, don't ride! He doesn't want you up there. Teach him to saddle with a positive expression. Teach him that he shouldn't have that nasty look on his face by simply resetting his position (back him up a step or two, then bring him back to the saddling position.) Then reward his every positive expression with praise, scratching, and maybe even food treats. (be careful with treats)."
In time, any horse will change any behavior, given a positive and progressive training program.
To finish the story about Buck, I spend nearly an hour per day for two weeks, reinventing his behavior on a small scale. When his owners arrived, they couldn't believe his expression. They couldn't believe I was riding at the canter without being tormented by the fear of Buck throwing me away. They couldn't believe how easy he was to lead, saddle and circle on the ground, and how beautiful his expression was in every activity. After watching me work with him, they became believers.
So much so, in fact, that his name is not Buck anymore!
Also: check out the New Years daily journal. Mastery Horsemanship Journal
Comment below, share your thoughts, hopes, dreams, and frustrations, and I will write to you and for you in these articles.
How many people can you say, truly get horses? I'm not talking about loving them. Thousands of people love their horses. I'm not talking about training. Thousands of people train their horses every day. I'm talking about what it takes to be a true master.
In my book, "Leadership and Horses," I talk about being the kind of leader that can be as firm as necessary, and as kind as possible. Not wishy-washy. Not soft. Not easy, or lazy, or meek. And not mean, frustrated, or domineering. Perfectly balanced between firmness and kindness, but willing to go either way in the appropriate situation.
Let me ask you a question.
Is it OK to hit your horse?
And Yes! But of course, the "yes" is only situational. What if your horse was trying to bite you, or kick you? Would it be OK then? Yes it would. What's not OK, is to not balance out the firmness with kindness.
Let me ask you another question. Is it OK to give treats to your horse?
If you read my last blog about giving treats, you already know the answer, but in case you didn't, the answer is... YES (treats blog post)
But the answer is also NO, because there are situations where feeding treats would be detrimental to your progress and to the relationship between you and your horse. Learning timing is critical.
One more question... Is it OK to ride a horse?
Answer: You probably already guessed. Yes and No.
It's OK, when it's good by the horse. It's not OK, when the horse hates people. That's called slavery.
So what makes a great leader? What makes a trainer so talented that even the worst horses begin to comply and even enjoy putting in effort to work side by side with a human?
Answer: A leader who sees both sides of the coin. A leader who is firm, but cares deeply.
Horses learn to love soft leaders but never respect them enough to trust them in scary situations. Horses need firm leaders! It's that simple.
But being firm alone can make some people seem mean. It's not enough just to be firm. You also have to see the horse for what it really is. For what we've made it. It is an animal of servitude. There is no way around that fact. But knowing and feeling from your core that his plight is not doomed to average imprisonment of utmost importance. You can make his or her life a happier, healthy life, working side by side with a human. You can become the kind of leader that serves the horse as much as he or she serves you.
The only way to make the kind of progress that so many novice trainers hope to one day attain, is to become firmer if you lean toward too much kindness and kinder if you lean toward too much firmness. Getting a horse to cross a stream, requires firm leadership. Getting a horse to load into a trailer requires firm leadership. I'm not talking about hitting a horse. (there are better ways) I'm talking about proving to the horse that you will not give up, even if it takes two days, you won't back down. Some people give up. Some people aren't strict enough with their outcomes or clear enough with their goals. Sometimes people get distracted by the smallest details and negative expressions in the horse and back off their intended purposes. But master trainers know better. One must be firm when necessary. One must stand his or her ground and be a true leader.
And of course, once progress is noticed. Once effort is being demonstrated by the horse, a master must bow to the horse. I literally mean, praise the horse. One must make the horse believe that the effort he or she gave was worth it. One must bond with the horse in a way that the horse appreciates. The rewards must far out way the challenge of the day. Any leader who can do that, will become a master.
It really always comes back to the training to bonding ratio. If it's out of balance. If a trainer, trains too hard without ample rewards, the horse begins to show signs of stress. If the trainer, trains too little without testing new skills, and offers too many rewards, the horse never shows signs of progress.
It's a long road from teaching a horse to carry a saddle, to riding at the canter, to performing arts and competition. But it's a marvelous road, full of exciting turns and stops. Anyone willing to join me on that road will learn more about themselves and their horses than ever before. Anyone who's already been on that road, or perhaps traveled the road many times, will tell you there is no other road on the planet as scenic and awe inspiring.
Join the quest to mastery and learn to balance your training/bonding ration. Learn how to be a leader that is firm, but cares deeply and uncover your hidden potential!
WHY SOME TRAINERS HATE USING TREATS - by Don Jessop
The answer to why some trainers don't like feeding treats, is simple. Some horse's get overbearing and dominant in the presence of sugary snacks, or even non-sugary snacks, and they aren't equipped to solve the problem. This problem is easy to solve. I'll describe a little later in the article.
But there is another reason some trainers hate using treats. I believe an evil reason. (can you believe I just said evil? Wow! I never say evil!)
The other reason some trainers avoid using treats is because they believe an animal should "respect" the leader, and treats are gimmicky bribe that only makes a person soft!
I know this is a real reason because I've met these people. They hate seeing people use treats because it's "wimpy". But this reason is evil. (not the people, just the reason). In a safety situation, it's true, an animal should respect his or her leader. Treats don't make safe horses! But in a learning situation, treats can be a wonderful tool for empowering an animal. Treats can cause a boost in effort. And if done correctly, can train an animal to love a human. (AGAIN, I say... Treats don't make safe horses,) but they can help a safe horse love working for the human.
The trick is getting people to use treats properly. Because, honestly, I see too many people using them incorrectly. Some people are too soft. They're unbalanced in their training program. They use way too many treats. Some people just randomly empty their pockets every time they see their horse. Other people use treats because the horse is asking for a treat, and it's hits a soft spot in their heart. (This is a bad idea!)
There is a simple set of principles to follow when using treats and here they are:
1: Don't give treats to a horse that isn't safe! Teach a horse boundaries first. Teach them to be safe first. learn about boundaries in my book - Leadership and horses.
2: Don't give treats to a horse that is begging for treats! Have you ever seen a horse reach though your personal space bubble and try to pick your pockets? Don't allow that. You can still give a treat to that horse, but not in that state of mind! Wait till he's not grabbing. Wait till his mouth is closed. Even bump his mouth with the palm of your hand when he comes flying in at 90 miles an hour. This will interrupt the mouth open, grabby behavior. It's easy, you just have to be firm. Tell him, "the reward will come, when you calm down and close your mouth."
Caesar Milan, the dog whisperer, talks about never petting an anxious dog. It's the same principle with horses. Don't reward anxious energy. Reward positive, focused energy!
3. Once a horse is focused and calm, begin using treats to train anything you want. But don't allow the other principles to slip out the window.
4. Use treats in a diminishing fashion. In other words. Don't use the same amount of treats for the same old simple task anymore. Ask for more focused effort before giving that amount again.
Let's take an example like teaching your horse to stand for mounting... If he moves, reset the boundaries. Reset the position. Once he's back in position, give him a treat. (as long as he's calm.) If he moves again. Repeat.
It may take a session or two before he really loves standing still for mounting. But by the third or fourth day you shouldn't be needing treats to get him to stand still. You can use them if you want, just don't use them every time. Don't teach your horse to assume he gets a treat for simple tasks once he's learned them. Teach him to hunt for treats by offering a more focused effort for new tasks.
In the beginning of any training program, I'll use treats often. But with my advanced horses, I'll will do a full 30 minute demonstration with just three or four treats in my pocket, to reward exceptional effort.
Of course, if you don't have treats, it doesn't mean you can't play with your horse. But don't get caught up thinking that you should always do work without treats. That's the evil part.
OK. I've gone to far!
Let me put it another way. If you don't want to use treats... don't. But you sure better find a way to balance out training and bonding with your horse. You sure better find another way to reward exceptional effort. Otherwise, you're not a trainer, your a slave driver.
Now I've really gone too far!
But it's the truth. And if you want to know the whole truth. There are only 4 ways to reward a horse and bond with them.
Here they are:
Why not use all four?
If you want to become a master horseman. You most definitely should learn to be effective with treats... and the other parts too.
Don't get caught up thinking a horse doesn't need treats for training. That thought deprives a horse of one of his favorite things. Which I believe is an evil thought in the long run. (see my definition of evil below)
Find a way to be a better leader! And remember... Treats don't make safe horses, but they can make a safe horse happier, if used correctly!
My definition of evil: harmful or tending to harm. (Turns out it's one of google's definitions too.)
STUCK IN THE MUD - BY DON JESSOP
Early in my career, before I knew much about horse training. I was an endurance rider. I remember one particular training ride when I was nineteen years old riding a beautiful twelve year old Arabian gelding named Prince. I'm a tall person so I always felt too big for Arabians. But not this horse. Prince was a powerhouse. He not only won major endurance races, but he could climb a mountain without thinking twice. I mean that quite literally. In fact I don't think he ever did think twice. He seemed to have but one single thought. And that was "GO!!!!!"
I liked him. He didn't hesitate during tough situations. But he was also challenging that way. Which means he didn't hesitate to get in to tough situations.
One warm summer day, Prince and I were trotting a less traveled trail into the Montana wilderness when we came across a small silvery lake, nestled into a meadow with tall pine trees nearly surrounding the whole thing. It was breath taking. We stopped and stared. My friend Joe came up from behind me on his horse and we both sat silent on our steeds, enjoying the beauty of nature.
A thought crept across my mind. And the exact same thought crept across my friends mind. We we're alike in that way. I looked at him and he nodded his head with a big smile. "Let's do it, he said!"
And with that we both started marching our horse to the waters edge. It was a hot day, and swimming with horses can be an exhilarating experience. We'd done it before, in a pond nearby our home and felt confident our horses could swim.
Prince, being the braver horse, stepped right into the cool water. The footing seemed soft, but reasonable enough to hold our weight and we took a few more steps. Joe's horse didn't quite feel the love. He paused and waited to see the outcome of our first few steps.
"The water's fine." I called out. Now standing in water up to my horses knees. And with that I urged my horse a bit further in. But something wasn't quite right. Prince wasn't himself. He hesitated. Prince never hesitated!
I looked down to see if something was wrong when I noticed we weren't standing in knee deep water anymore. The water was clear but I couldn't see his feet. They we're gone. Sunk well below the floor of the lake. We we're now nearly belly deep. I gasped. "Oh shi........taki mushrooms!" I shouted. "I think we're sinking!"
Joe just stared, mouth open. There was nothing he could do. And all I could do, was rely on my instincts and Princes strength to get us out. I imagine drowning my horse and possibly me too. It wouldn't be long before the water was touching his nose. I pulled on the rein closest to the shore and squeezed with both legs in hopes he'd realize I wanted out of dodge city and the shore was the only way back to life.
Prince got the hint. He wiggled his legs to almost no avail, then realizing the predicament, he lunged. Olympic jumpers would be proud. We made one solid jump back to shore and paused again. We made some progress but not enough. We we're still nearly belly deep and something new caught my attention. There was blood raising the surface amidst the newly darkened and cloudy water. "Did my horse break his leg? Did he wedge his foot between a couple rocks and rip off his hoof wall?" I began to fear the worst and my panic set us both into forward motion again.
I squeezed my legs tight around his belly with my wet shoes. Prince gathered his strength and jumped again. This time we made a few more inches progress. I could see we were slightly closer to shore. Without looking down, I asked him forward again, fearing I would lose momentum. I knew if worst came to worse, I could jump off him and swim to shore. But that wasn't a particularly safe option for either of us. Prince could follow me and drag me under his feet in an attempt to safe his life. Anything could happen. I chose to stay on board and keep up our momentum and finally it paid off. We made it back to shore.
There we stood. Shaking. Dripping... Heaving!
In the scheme of things. We must have been stuck for no longer than two minutes. In my mind we we're stuck for half the day. It seemed to be getting dark outside. But I know now that I was experiencing the first signs of passing out from stressful exertion and worry.
When I had settled emotionally, I jumped off my horse to assess the damages. I remembered the blood. What I found was a deep gaping wound. Somehow he'd cut himself near his shin bone. At first I couldn't understand how he got the wound, but as the water began to clear, I saw a series of pointed sharp rocks just barely protruding from the muddy lake floor. Those rocks must have been much larger than they looked and hidden beneath the clay.
His injury was bad, but not so bad we couldn't make it back home. I wrapped his leg with some vet wrap. Something I always carry on rides. And we started our journey home.
In spite of the wound, Prince was his normal self all the way home. Full speed ahead. I had to rein him in nearly the whole ride back. But I found comfort in that. I had my horse back after a near death experience.
Experiences like that, bring riders and horses together in ways you can't imagine. The bond you create with an animal that has been to hell and back with you, is a bond that cannot be replaced. Prince is long gone now. He lived a long healthy life and I owe him much. He was the horse that taught me I don't know everything. He was the horse that made me want to learn. He was the horse that started my journey to mastery with horses. I'll never forget him. And even though I felt stuck in the mud, literally and figuratively, that time passed and a new season of growth began.
Speaking now in the terms of life and progress. I wonder... do you feel stuck in the mud? Are you willing to do what it takes to get out? Did you know there are resources available today that can ensure you get out and start making progress? Do you feel that following your dreams, is not something you should do sooner rather than later?
I want... Actually, we (my horses, my family, and my friends) want, you to succeed! And with that I encourage you to look at our Mastery Coaching options.
take a look,
If you sign up for coaching I'll give you a free Daily Mastery Journal too
The pictures below are Prince and I on the journey to mastery: 1 year after being stuck in the mud! Seeing these pictures remind me how much I truly miss having him in my life.
Begin your mastery journey: https://masteryhorsemanship.com/collections/mastery-horsemanship-coaching
NEW RESOLUTIONS FOR HORSE OWNERS - By Don Jessop
Whether it's new years day or the eight day in August, every horse owner in the world should consider setting new goals and mapping their progress with their horse. Why??
Because without clear goals, you will flounder. That doesn't mean you won't have fun. Lot's of folks who don't set goals have a great time. We call those folks, teenagers. But anybody who wants to have fun and set goals needs a road map.
You need to be able to see where you are and where you are going. You need to take advantage of the season and prepare for the next season.
I've created a daily journal to help you do just that. Check it out. Get started in the new season right! Be resolved! Be clear! Be decisive!
Included in the journal is a complete guide to everything horsemanship. Did you ever what what "behind the vertical" means? You'll find it, in this guide. How about, "haunches in" or "shoulders in"? That's in there too. Just about everything related to horse training is in this quick reference.
Also included, is a personal goal setting section. I want you to start the year with clarity. Clarity is power! Clarity can move mountains!
For years I've used diagrams to help me map out arena patterns, draw a jump course or simply illustrate points of reference in space and time for reference in a particular daily activity. I've included a dozen or so pages, just for that purpose in this book too. As well as over one hundred daily entry's, blank, and ready for you to answer four basic questions. 1. What are your long term goals? 2. What are immediate daily goals? 3. What are you recent successes and challenges? 4. What are you newly learned strategies and techniques?
Each journal entry page also contains a famous horsemanship quote from people who've proven to be excellent with horses.
Students who've been using they journal say they don't know how they gotten along without it. It's going to help you make progress in your horse training journey. That much is certain.
Take a closer look. And you can buy it at: Mastery Horsemanship Journal
I FAILED TODAY! By Don Jessop
I tried. I really truly did. But I didn't make it. I failed, and here is why.
I thought I had enough time. I was wrong. I'm embarrassed to even be writing about it. But I just read an amazing book about failure and success. In the book, the author (Jon Acuff) talks about dealing with failure by saying, "This too shall post!" Notice the word "post" instead of "pass." In other words, when he fails he writes about it. He shares it, not just because it's real and helpful for others, but because it's helpful for him to let it pass.
So here I am. Posting about my failure. I suppose I should just get on with it then...
I was giving a lesson for a new student. The horse was behaving poorly and I was running out of time. The horse wouldn't respond the way I had hoped or expected after about forty minutes of training. It was a simple enough task, but there were too many factors blocking our progress. Nonetheless, I persisted. I thought the horse would give in, and I could end on a positive note. I was wrong.
The horse simply could not let go of his distractions. He could not focus. Had I had more time I could have made the impression I wanted. Alas, I didn't have any more time, and I failed him, and my student. As my time rapidly approached zero, I started looking for something positive to end on. Anything at all. Even a simple moment to pet my horse and let him know I'll be back tomorrow. After years of training, I know that even when things go differently than expected, all I have to do is find something good to finish on and the next day will prove better.
The challenge on this particular day was that I knew I wouldn't be back to help the student accomplish the goal. She'd be on her own. I gave her my phone number, and told her to call, but I don't think she will. She seemed disappointed in the lesson. Her expectations were not met and she's a sensitive type that may never try again, if she fails once. I hope she can break through, I hope she can reach out. I hope she doesn't give up. But I'm also heartbroken that I couldn't get through. It's a passion of mine to serve. Yet I feel I have failed.
But don't count me out yet. I'm not one for quitting. And I'm not quitting on my students. I'll be reaching out to her soon. It it were my horse, I'd be back the very next day, looking for one ounce of progress. In fact, if it were my horse, I would have gone slower from the start. Not pushed so hard for big results on day one. Often as a teacher, I'm limited for time and want to get as much done as possible to serve. Sometimes it backfires. But I'm still here, and I'll be here tomorrow. I hope my readers will too. I hope you don't give up. I hope you persist for the results you want with your horse. (or your life)
Thank you for your support
Please comment below
Thanks to Robert Redford, Monty Roberts, Tom Dorrance, Pat Parelli, Buck Brannaman, Ray Hunt, and many other wonderful horse trainers. The word "horse whisperer," became a recognizable term among everyday people.
As time passes, the world is becoming more enlightened to the value of natural and reward oriented training styles. The word "horse whisperer," invites a new way of thinking. Using natural techniques, is fast becoming what many would say, "the only way to train horses in our modern world." Take a look at my Beginners Guide to Natural Horsemanship to get started.
I'm not saying people have to connect with one of the above mentioned names. There are many wonderful horse trainers out there that care deeply about the horse's experience. People from all parts of the industry, including competition and backyard trainers.
In fact there are new, young, and talented people that I want you to meet. Young men that have the potential to become the 'New Horse Whisperers' in our world and carry us into this new age. Their talent and desire is unmatched, unique, and beautiful beyond words.
I want you to meet a handful of these young men that care so deeply about the horses experience. When you meet them I want you to deliver for them. And by that I mean open your hearts and your wallets.
Why? Because they're orphans. And with you're help they could become the next Pat Parelli or Tom Dorrance. See one video below and many more on their site, www.HorsesForOrphans.com
They pick up their skills from their guide. A master trainer, herself Inge Larsson Smith and her husband Richard. Then... of their own accord, they do unimaginable things with regular horse's from the backyard world of Brazil.
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Watch this video to see what I see.
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HOW TO HELP FACILITY OWNERS WHO JUST DON'T CARE ABOUT THE CONDITION OF THEIR HORSES - BY DON JESSOP
I recently received another email from a distressed student. She was distressed because the facility owners and trainers where her horse boarded, acted ignorant to the horse's condition.
Her comments included these paraphrased complaints:
"Horses are left in stalls nearly all day long. Other horses are underfed. Many horses lived in small pastures with rundown fencing and dangerous sharp edges. The overall feel of the place is dark, and moody. But worst of all, is the training. The horses are brought in, cross-tied, saddled, and rushed into high level training with little to no foundation under their belts. The stress level is high. Neglect and abuse, is obvious to anyone with who genuinely loves horses, but not to the facility owner. The owner seems to think horses just don't matter that much. What matters is winning. If a horses doesn't make the cut, they get pushed into the daily grind of poor management. If a horse does show a bit of talent, that particular horse will be groomed to perfection, leg wrapped and stalled to avoid injury. It's painful to watch."
Of course, I told her to begin looking for a facility that could support her hopes to grow and develop a deeper understanding of horses and relationships. But that only fixes her problem. It doesn't address the bigger problem.
I asked her to consider talking with the owner. She said she had already and the overall feeling was that the owner simply didn't care.
Then I asked her if she would consider contacting the local law enforcement to report abuse of the animals. She said she did that too. The response from the local law enforcement was, "Many horse barns do the same thing. It's kind of normal."
The problem, of course, as we all know, is the system. Slowly people are coming around to natural methods and psychology based training programs. However, it's happening all too slowly. Too many barns are still stuck in the dark ages of horse care and horse training.
So what's the solution? What can a person do to solve the issue of poor care and training?
Well. Number one. Share this article! At least, more people will see what goes on in the world and maybe, just maybe, one single person who needs to see it, will. Mostly, you'll be preaching to the choir. But it's worth the chance that one new person could see the true value of a horse's experience in captivity.
Number two. Prove to the world that your way is better.
How? You might ask...
Get so good with your horse that people around you start looking at your brilliant example of horse care and horse training and want to mirror it.
Beyond those two things, there is not much you can do in a passive or positive manner. The only other things you can do are negative and you have to be sure you're up for the task. Because you'll be going to war! Many people who face atrocities and abuse, whether it's animal abuse or human abuse, go straight to battle. They begin blatantly calling people out for abuse and stop paying them for any services. Meanwhile the horses still suffer, but in the long haul you can make an impact.
Negative attacks against abusive owners can take a toll on your own human spirit. You have to be ready for it. It's not easy. If you are going to take the negative route, just keep this in mind. People don't usually "try" to be stupid or ignorant. People don't usually "try" to be abusive. People are just people. Try to see their world, so you can communicate with them, in their language. For example. If you see abuse taking place in a high profile training barn, bent on blue ribbons, you can bet that the humans running the place have been taught the value of winning and not the value of positive life conditions. In other words, their own life conditions make them blind to other factors.
If you want to show a blind person what the color red looks like, you must first know what it feels like to be temporarily blind. Otherwise, you will only fight, fight, fight. Your frustrations will overwhelm you. Communicating with a blind person requires patience, time, and perseverance.
You would never say a blind person is stupid. At least, I hope not. Instead you would realize they can't see. You would begin communication from that stand point. So it should be the same with a blinded horse trainer or blinded facility owner. They need you to care. They need you to understand their values before you'll ever change them.
At the end of the day, if you want to change the horse industry, you'll have to join me. Because together we can do more than we could apart.
Share this article. Bring others back to this page. Help people learn how horses have a fragile brain but a big heart. Show them how horses feel like slaves in our world, unless otherwise treated. Bring them to the 21st century. Help them become leaders, and become a better leader yourself. That way, you can be more influential, not just for people who need to see the light, but for your own life too.
Thanks for reading.
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The concept is called "self carriage." It's a term used to describe a horse holding himself together, both physically and emotionally.
Most (not all of course) performance or traditional riders tend to think, the rider must hold the horse together with their hands and leg support. Often, even on the ground I see trainers holding their horse on a short rope. There are other ways.
On the other hand, a lot of "natural riders," tend to think they know all about self carriage, but fail to help a horse truly balance. This is often due to a lack of complete understanding of how a horse is supposed to carry a rider during performance maneuvers.
Before I get too deep however, I want to compliment both performance riders and natural riders.
The best thing about performance riders, for the most part is... they understand how a horse isn't naturally balanced enough to carry a rider through high level maneuvers and stay sound. So, all the work they do to create a balanced horse is within reason and human understanding. Even if it means holding a horse together long enough for the horse to learn what's required of them and then slowly working toward lighter hand and leg support.
The best thing about good natural riders, is they tend to give the horse more responsibility early and therefore have to do less, to manage the horses movements. They also tend to keep things slow and easier for the horse. Of course that's just a generalization.
Both styles have their place, and lots of good trainers understand both sides of the coin.
Mastery Horsemanship is the place in-between. Where riders can learn about self carriage and learn about proper balance and postural control.
Now we can get into a little more detail about what some early or novice performance riders can learn from natural riders and what natural riders can learn from performance riders. Basically, some novice performance riders try to "hold" the horse together indefinitely, rather than teaching the horse to hold himself together.
Take a look at these two pictures.
Rider holding it together with hand and leg support.
Horse holding it together by herself.
Which would you rather have?
Honestly, I like both pictures for different reasons. And I'm not suggesting a person should ever ride without a bridle. This takes incredible skill and concentration and should only ever be trained with safety in mind.
The pictures merely show that anything is possible.
What I can tell you, conceptually, about these two pictures is... The black horse would fall apart if you dropped the reins. Perhaps even quit cantering. The rider seems to be holding everything together. If the rider is a well educated rider, in time he'll be able to soften his hands and give more responsibility to the horse. He may be working toward that goal, so I can't criticize one moment in time... I can only use it as an illustration.
The white horse, on the other hand is moving without all the rider input and maintaining an elevated and engaged posture. The point is, a horse can learn to carry themselves with less rider support... in time. That doesn't mean you start there.
Even if you never attempted bridle less riding, you can incorporate the idea of self carriage into riding.
Well educated riders know how to balance a horse and soften their balancing aids (cues, or support signals). When a horse is soft in the hands and responsive to the leg cues, they can perform at higher levels, without too much rider support.
Granted, the pictures aren't identical. Anyone can see that. The concept is, however, that mastery horsemanship can teach riders about self carriage in a way that supports performance at a competitive level and... the performing arts.
To be clear, the concept of self carriage is often misunderstood. Hence I'm writing this article. Let me explain. Self carriage does not mean bridle less riding. Although a horse in self carriage can be trained to perform tasks without a bridle.
It also doesn't mean, putting your car on cruise control while you take a nap in the drivers seat. The horse does not actually carry themselves indefinitely. Nor does the horse understand every detail of your requests without some support.
The best riders, or what I call "masters", keep track of what the horse is doing on many different levels. Masters are able to monitor the horses balance, left to right, and right to left. They also monitor the horses posture, flexion, and foot placements. They focus on the horses attitude, energy levels, distraction levels and what I call, "the gas tank". In other words they know how much time they have, before the horse can't function at full capacity.
To become a master, requires, time, and excessive amounts of knowledge. This website, is designed to be that educational platform for riders of all ages and all disciplines. It's designed to be a place where Western, English, Latin, Natural, and Performance disciplines can all come together and take the best from each world.
Back to self carriage:
When it comes to self carriage, masters train their horse to take more responsibility with each task independently. Not all at once. For example:
Today and for the next week you might be working on teaching your horse to steer at the walk, with lighter hand and leg support. Next week you'll be teaching your horse to steer at the canter with less support. In the months following, you'll be asking your horse to do haunches and shoulder maneuvers with less support from you. One day you'll be teaching your horse to do flying lead changes, half-passes, piaffe, passage, vertical flexion, and more with less hand and leg support.
But don't be fooled. Just because you aren't using heavy rein support to hold the horse together, doesn't mean you don't need to train your horse to understand your goals. You may very well need your reins to teach each goal. For instance, you must teach the horse balance before you teach the horse the responsibility of holding his own balance. Which very well may be, exactly what the rider on the black horse is working on in the previous picture.
Contrary to what many "natural" trainers think, the horse is not naturally balanced for the tasks we intend to do with them. For instance, if you want to maintain the walk, but your horse keeps trotting without your consent, you must do something to help the horse know what you want. You may need your reins for a moment in time, to encourage a walk, instead of a trot. The same concept applies with cantering, flying lead changes, vertical flexion, posture, timing, foot placement, and much more.
Also, don't be fooled, that just because you aren't using heavy rein support to hold your horse, that everything is perfect. You must still maintain communication with your horse. You can't simply push a button and take a nap in the saddle. You have to think like a leader. You have to constantly monitor and make minor corrections. Those corrections might be invisible to a spectator, but you and your horse both know about every correction, and every detail in-between corrections.
Now we've nailed down a few concepts about self carriage, let me just apologize to the performance and natural riders who already get this whole concept. I don't intent to bash anybody. I want the world to improve. Both for horses and their riders. If you share this article, you can be a part of that goal with me. If you already value these concepts and have more to add, comment below.
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The instant expert syndrome is a term I use, referring to someone who feels they know everything they need to know and close down opportunities to learn new things. Ironically, it's quite easy to accidentally become an instant expert yourself without even knowing it. I should know, because I've been an instant expert many times in my career. Of course, I eventually realized I didn't know nearly as much as I thought.
In truth, there were many moments in my early career, where I thought I was a perfect expert. Where I thought I knew all the important details. I remember taking my first horsemanship class as a teenager. That's all it took. I knew enough to get started in my career as an expert horse trainer. I knew what I needed to know. I confidently walked the planet as the sole possessor of important, almost secret, horsemanship knowledge.
That cocky attitude was abruptly knocked out of the picture, when one particularly challenging horse helped me find the hard ground, head first. I already knew where the ground was. So I didn't think it was so important. But apparently, this horse thought I should get reacquainted with it.
After holding tightly to the ground for a few minutes for fear of spinning off the planet in a dizzy frenzy, I regained my composure and reset my expert status to NOT Expert.
It's happened more than once. Unfortunately! Over the years, from time to time I would begin to feel like I had all the knowledge I needed again. And through some force of fate, another clever horse would help me get re-acquainted with mother earth. Each time I would have to re-set my expert status. Not to say I didn't have expertise. I did and I do. I'm very good at what I do. It's just that at times, I thought I had it all! I didn't need to learn more. Which of course is folly. There is always more.
I'm lucky, in more ways than one. First because I'm not dead. I've had some ouchy falls. But second, because I've been humbled. I've been lucky enough to realize that there is more to learn, no matter how much I learn.
Did you hear about the guy who won the "MOST HUMBLE AWARD" of the year? As soon as he accepted the award. The committee took it away from him:)
Falling to injury isn't the only humbling experience. I've had people tell me I've got more to learn too. At times, I didn't believe them. But for the most part, I do now. I always want to stay open.
And that's the big problem with "Instant Expert Syndrome." It causes people to close up. They don't need to learn more, or check out new things. Because they've got what they need.
Another problem with IES or instant expert syndrome, is that when some people share their basic knowledge with the world, they leave no room for other ideas. Instant experts seem to believe that their way of doing things is the only way of doing things.
If you've ever said any of the following statements, you could have accidental and hopefully, only temporarily, become an instant expert.
"Parelli is the only way!"
"Dressage is the only way!"
"Natural Horsemanship is the only way!"
"Vaquero style is the only way!"
Basically... if you've ever said that anything containing these words: "the only way to do something." You've fallen prey to instant expert syndrome.
The good news is... you wont stay there. It's impossible. Everybody snaps out at some point. My hope is that you snap out sooner than later. Because horse people, who think they know everything, can get hurt like me. Or they can get stuck in a rut, and not make progress for years. Or they can hurt horses without even knowing it.
Horses get hurt because a 'know it all trainer' will often impose the only strategies they have to fix problems. Some horses don't cope well with some strategies. It's better to have thousands of techniques and perspectives on horsemanship. It's better to see the whole picture.
All real experts know that they are not experts at all. They are just students. Constantly learning. Constantly growing. They share from their passion and they share with a cautious, open minded attitude to other ideas.
When I first learned how to do a flying lead change, (a simple, yet not easy maneuver to achieve with horses), I thought there was only one way to do flying lead changes. Now I can give you a dozen different ways to train flying lead changes.
There is always more to learn.
In my opinion, that is what makes a true master. A master is someone who is, and always will be... a great student. Always observing, always learning.
And that's why I want you to take my Mastery Courses. Not because they are the only way to do something. But because they will give you knowledge. Knowledge that I can guarantee, isn't secret, but is rare. Only a handful of people in the world intimately know what I want to share with you. There are details within details. There are things hidden within simple experiences. There is power in this knowledge.
That may sound too "expertly" ... Let me re-phrase. It's awesome. I believe in it. And I believe that you will grow and experience new freedoms by taking the courses.
I've had the good fortune of studying with real masters. People who not only achieved great things, but continue to learn new things, even today. People like Pat and Linda Parelli, Buck Brannaman, Walter Zettle, Phillipe Karl, the late Ray Hunt, David and Karen O'Connor, and more. I want to share with you the things those masters do, and sometimes don't even realize they're doing. I want to share the basics, the whole picture, and the minutia.
Join me on the quest to mastery! Invest in your education.
Basically. The word it'self can be mis-employed. Many people use the word to describe any activities with animals. I don't. I think activities with animals can be enriching for the animal and the human.
But there are some people who are abusing their animals. And often, they don't even know it.
Most of us can tell when someone is consciously abusing an animal. We see the violent reaction to any type of misbehavior. We see, in the case of horses, where horses choose to run away instead of being caught. We see signs of physical deterioration, and so on.
But what about the average person. The person that just goes about riding their horse, doing the best they can, and without even knowing it, they may be abusing their horse?
Ignorance! That's the name of it. Abuse by ignorance!
Take this quiz to see if you may be "abusive" without knowing it.
Any yes answer to the following questions, indicates you are ready to learn more about how to be more productive for your horse relationship.
Question 1: Is your horse hard to catch in the field?
Believe it or not, horses calculate fairness every single minute of every day. In other words, they determine if the rewards they are given, are equal to the challenge they undertake in our care and service. If the rewards do not equal the challenge... they feel mistreated. they often demonstrate this, by attempting to avoid being caught. Learn to balance it!
Question 2: Do you get frustrated around your horse?
When he or she misbehaves, does it piss you off? Do you take it personal? Do you get frustrated? Everybody gets frustrated with one thing or another. It's about how you deal with your frustration, that counts. Many people take their frustrations out by yanking, kicking, or jabbing the horse. In certain safety situations, that may very well be required. In learning situations, the same tactics are considered abusive. Learn how not to be frustrated!
Question 3: Do you avoid interacting with your horse?
Maybe your horse has two hundred acres and buddies to play with. In which case, it doesn't matter if you avoid interacting with your horse. But if your horse has a small parcel of land and very little to do, your lack of interaction is a form of mistreatment. You've imprisoned them, with little more than food and water. Learn how to be a leader your horse loves!
Question 4 (last question): Do you overwork, overfeed, or generally overestimate your horses ability to cope our human world?
Horses are sensitive. Yes, they're strong too. But emotionally, they are just like you and me. They have a biochemistry that isn't too different from ours. There is a fine balance of exercise and nutrition required to be an athlete. Overworking your horse can result in unnecessary injury. Overfeeding your horse can result in unnecessary disease. Learn the fine balance!
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you're ready to learn more. Join me on the quest to Mastery and learn everything you need to know about horse care and training!
How to know if you're making progress. How to know when to reward. How to know when to quit.
The above picture, is not even mine. So don't get confused. I picked the picture because it was a pleasant portrayal of someone sharing in a positive moment with their horse. Something many riders fail to do often enough.
I believe the reason that many riders miss those special moments, is because they don't actually know what progress looks like. Their goals are ambiguous and their expectations are too high.
The nature of this article is to share my 8 measures of progress with you, so you can measure success and set clearer goals. It helps me define my goals. It helps me know when to reward. It helps me see effort from any horse I work with, when others might only see failure to comply.
Let me explain... Each of the eight items listed below gave me an opportunity to reward, rest, or simply praise my horse's effort. Then continue with a smarter, more compliant, and happier horse.
Let's say I'm asking my horse to canter. Before I canter... don't you think it would be wise to decide how long I want to canter?
Did you know that many people often make the mistake of asking for canter, thinking the horse should just keep going until they are asked to stop? This is horrifically boring for horses. There is no defined progress. There is no destination. This is an example of expectations set too high. Horses don't just canter forever. They use muscles like we do. How would you feel if someone got behind you and asked you to jog. And the only message they gave is that when you quit jogging you will be flogged, whipped, or spurred? Wouldn't it be nice if they gave you some defined parameters? Even if they spoke a different language and you couldn't clearly understand the parameters, wouldn't it be nice if they showed a positive intent to help you understand and feel good about your effort, in an attempt to understand?
So let's say I decide to canter. And lets say I ask for 5 strides of canter across the arena (by the way this works with everything, not just canter)... I have 8 possible means of progress to reward my horse for. And if my horse offers just one of them, I should acknowledge him with a pet, some form of praise, or some reward he can understand. Even if it's just a small, short lived reward (or what I call micro reward). He'll feel it. He'll know that I notice his effort. He'll appreciate it and offer more because of it.
Here they are. All 8 of them.
If my horse responds in way that is short of my expectations, I often run through the list before I ask again. Did he give me at least one of the eight reasons to reward him? If he did, I'll acknowledge him and start again, in an effort to reach the original goal.
If he fails time and time again to reach my original goal, it means my goal is too big. It's time to start smaller. If he reaches my goal early, it might be time to expand my goals. Food for thought, right?
Here is an old video I did years ago, when I was a Parelli instructor, explaining how to help a horse maintain gait for longer. Check it out. It's just concept, but it shows how to reward small efforts.
In case you're wondering, you can read why I'm not a Parelli instructor any more. click here
Here is what I want to leave you with. Be reward oriented. Don't expect the world from your horse. Reward small efforts early and let them grow organically. Use this principle and the 8 measures of progress for everything you do with your horse, and maybe even with your human relationships.
"Progress equals happiness!" Tony Robbins
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A few days ago, I was teaching a lesson to a bright young student with a dull young donkey. It's not a slam on donkeys. He was a beautiful painted jack, and plenty big enough to ride. He was also plenty smart and very calm. But he was fairly dull to any suggestions coming from us.
At least half of our lesson consisted of ground training. The same ground training you'll find in this specialty course: The 4 B's of Leadership
Setting boundaries, the first of the 4 'B's, was the biggest challenge. He simply wouldn't back out of her space. And when he finally did, it was like watching a snail crawl backwards. He wasn't being rude. He wasn't running her over. At least not yet. In an emergency, without well-set boundaries, horses can run right over a human without blinking. That's one of the many reasons we set boundaries first.
After a few minutes, I asked her to take a break and join me in the field where my horse Raspberry was grazing with his mates. I grabbed a halter and we walked out to meet him. He came over as soon as he saw us coming. I put the halter on, gave him a scratch on his favorite place under his belly, then stood up tall and asked him to perform the same basic yields we asked of the donkey.
He performed flawlessly. Light as a feather! He backed willingly away without any resistance, to any distance I required. His responses we're immediate and without any resentment. As if we had rehearsed it a thousand times. In fact we had. I handed the rope to my student and said, "Feel it for yourself now."
I stood back watching her. Wondering what she was getting from the lesson. Lots of different ideas can bounce around in ones head when they feel quality like that. When they feel the way something should feel.
Sometimes, a student will assume their horse can't do it. Like something is wrong with their horse, because clearly my horse can. Other students see the gap in their training and cringe about how long it might take to get that kind of response from their horse. And with some students, a light bulb goes off. Now they know what they are looking for. Now they know not to settle for less. Even if it takes time and lots of pressure and lots of rewards. They set themselves on a track to make progress and the excitement is evident.
I took the halter off my horse, gave Raspberry a rub and a small treat, then we walked back to the arena with my willing horse tagging along of his own accord.
I said to my student, "Remember that feeling now. That's the goal. Let's see what you can do to make a few steps toward that goal today."
Within a few minutes of what I call, "the ugly beginning," I could see her mind whirling around. I could see questions forming. Then before her questions began popping like popcorn from her mouth, I spoke.
"You might be thinking," I started. "Why is he so dull? Why do you have to put so much pressure on him? Why does it feel all wrong? You may even be thinking that you are doing something wrong!"
She looked at me and nodded.
"They are all good questions." I said. "But all the wrong questions. There is nothing wrong with you, or with him!"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"The better question is..." I continued, "Was Raspberry ever like this? Was it ever this hard for me? Was it ever this hard for him? And to that I would answer... Yes!"
You see, I went through those first few days that felt like hell too. In fact almost every time you train any new task, your horse will not respond the way you want. The question is... are you willing to get through the ugly beginning.? Are you willing to experiment with techniques and pressure, like the masters do, or are you likely to give up and question everything you're doing?
"But what if it is wrong?" You might ask. What if you are doing something to make it worse? What if you just need a better technique?
Let me explain something. The only way to be "wrong" with a horse is to screw up your bonding/training ratio. I talk all about this in my book. Leadership and Horses.
What do I mean by bonding/training ratio?
The worst techniques in the world are better than the best techniques in the world, if the trainer who applies them balances out the bonding/training equation every day.
In other words. If I force my horse to do something, I must apply an adequate reward for him. Something he values. Whether that's undemanding time hanging out, grooming, praise, or treats. If the reward equals the challenge. No matter how much pressure I have to use to make it happen, the horse will begin to understand and even enjoy the process.
On the other hand, if I'm kind, and sweet, and never do anything unless the circumstances are perfect and my technique is perfect, so as not to upset my horse, I'll never do anything period! There is no perfect technique!
I repeat. There is no perfect technique!
Lots of trainers ask something of a horse, then don't apply adequate rewards. This is called abuse. Lots of trainers baby a horse and bathe them in rewards. This is fine, but dangerous outside a controlled environment. What I love more than anything is when I see a student fumble through the ugly beginning and remember to reward often.
I love it when students experiment with techniques. Just like real leaders do. I get excited when I see students come back after an ugly week and demonstrate a soft, beautiful response system in their horse. I love it because the horse shows signs of happiness, willingness, and an attentive, yet fearless attitude.
Back to my student. She's tackling the ugly beginning with confidence and she's making more progress than she ever imagined. She's flying high and so can you!
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I could list all the reasons you aren't riding as much anymore. Maybe you have been hurt, maybe you're getting fat, and it's too hard to climb up in the saddle. Maybe you're too busy. Maybe you think you're better as an armchair critic than as an athlete. But I'd rather flip the conversation to what will actually get you out the door again.
Number one: You're horse didn't ask to be put in a small space and then be left alone 360 days out of the year. He or she loves interactions. They love to get out and see new things. Horses need positive stimulus. Be that positive stimulus!
Number two: You're not getting any younger, which means you aren't getting any more confident, any healthier, or any happier, in many cases. Why did you get into horses anyway? Didn't you want to accomplish some big dreams? Didn't you want to canter? Didn't you want to ride off into the sunset? Are you really going to let those dreams go?
Number three: You've invested thousands of dollars to get to this point. Are you going to let it all go to waste? Was it all for nothing? Don't let the last year, five years, or ten years mean nothing for you and your horse. Think of the facilities you've invested in. The training you've invested in. Think of the equipment you've invested in. Is it all just going to sit around and collect dust? It doesn't cost anything to get started again! Just walk out your door and connect with nature. It's that easy!
Number four: Don't be afraid! Are you really going to let fear get the better of you? Do you really think that, just because it's hard, it's not fun anymore? Get ahold of yourself! You're stronger than you think. Realize, that figuring tough things out can be fun. (read How to Make Hard Things Fun). That's what most of life consists of anyway. Might as well make it fun! Make yourself feel like a million bucks because you did something awesome, rather than sit around watching other people do awesome stuff!
Number five: Time will pass and tomorrow will come. Don't let today slip away without doing something positive with your horse. I hope you realize, if you can't take time out of your life to see your horse. You don't have a life! You've got to prioritize some things to make it happen, sure, but maybe you'll find out that when you do, you'll have more time than you ever imagined. Maybe you can't right now. I get that. There are times I certainly can't. But if you can't put it on the calendar soon. You might soon discover that you are losing the very thing you set out to have. Don't let that happen.
Number six: Lazy people are unattractive. That's right. I said it. And now I'm scared you'll hate me forever for it. What I hope, is that it motivates you (if you are being lazy.) Don't be lazy! If you want to attract fun, energetic people into your horse life. Be fun and energetic yourself! Start today! Go out, find your lead rope and halter and teach your horse the 4 B's of Leadership. Then, after that. Take the next step. I'll even give you the next step. That way you'll know what to do with 100% certainty.
Clarity is Power!
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Human behavioral science has taught us there are generally five types of happiness.
One is the euphoric feeling of certainty that occurs when your live through a tough circumstance and begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise known as relief.
One is the sense of something exciting coming down the road. Like a vacation. Anticipation is energizing and can make a person feel happy and energetic.
One is the sense of ecstasy that occurs in the moment of thrilling experiences, such as roller coaster rides or sex.
One is a sense of belonging. Knowing that people love you. Almost nothing compares to this one.
And the last is a sense of pride, that comes from overcoming hard things.
You may have already guessed, given the order I've put these five concepts into play that the last is by far the strongest. Pride of self-accomplishment outlasts any other form of happiness.
It's not that the others aren't valuable and beyond amazing in their own right. It's just that, the last form of happiness simply out performs all the rest in regards to how long you feel happy.
Ecstasy is short lived. Certainty is short lived. Anticipation lasts a bit longer, depending on the circumstances. Belonging also lasts a bit longer, depending on the circumstances. But pride... Pride can last a life time.
I'm not talking about boasting. I'm talking about that feeling you get when you know you've done something hard. Something you thought you couldn't do and you did it anyway! You'll never forget that! Raising kids does that for parents. Earning a degree does that for college students. Getting a license to fly a plane does that for a pilot.
In fact, when you think about your past in a nostalgic kind of way, you'll always remember how fun it was. And... how hard it was. But the memory will be pleasant. You wouldn't trade it for the world. You more than likely cherish those moments of victory and struggle more than any other personal memory. Why? Because life is about living. Not just wishing. You are a mover and shaker. You are powerful. Capable. If only you could access that part of you more often.
So how do you make hard things fun?
It's easy! Focus on the memories you're making, instead of the shit you've got to deal with. Think about the beauty and majesty of the things your building or protecting. Think about the people you'll be able to pass your life lessons to. Think about the beings you're connecting with as you put your mind and body into challenging situations. And dare to crack a smile or even laugh, because this is life my friend.
When you lose focus, come back to it. When you keep losing your focus and can't seem to get yourself motivated. Come to us. We will help you win! That's what we do.
Don't wait to experience the life you want. Go out and get it!
Mastery Coaching - check it out! First session FREE - $125 Value
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First of all. For those who don't know what Parelli is. It's a natural horsemanship company that, among other things, trains instructors to follow a step by step horse training program, focused on foundation. Parelli has been around for over three decades and it's founders are extraordinary trainers, entertainers, and teachers. They aren't every body's "cup of tea"... but who is?
I'd been with the company on one level or another for nearly fifteen years. Prior to Parelli I spend over five years with other famous trainers including Ray Hunt, John Lions, Monty Roberts, and a few great local guys nobody's ever heard of. When I found out about Parelli, I liked what I saw. There was opportunity for a young guy like me to become a highly skilled professional. I started with Parelli, first as a student. Then employee, then franchised instructor. I wasn't mistreated. I wasn't misunderstood. I wasn't put in a comprising situation. Quite the opposite. Parelli, as a company, and I got along famously during the time I spend with them. I always felt my personal relationships with the company's founders we're well looked after too. So why did I leave?
Because something was missing and I needed the freedom to fill that gap, without the restraint of corporate red-tape and restrictions. Parelli felt like a church organization that claimed to "know all." But, in truth, the founders never felt that way. That's just part of a corporate phenomenon that attempts to keep everybody close. It's also a big problem with horse trainers in general. Read "Be Wary of Possessive Instructors"
The feeling was inescapable though. The thought that one place, had all the answers, felt a little too much like my religious upbringing. Not a horrible upbringing... just a little self-absorbed.
I always, if only intuitively knew, that many people outside my vision and circle of friends, must also have vast amounts of personal and valuable experiences. I knew there must be techniques available, but out of sight from the Parelli way of life. I have always explored beyond my own world. It's part of my nature. It's one of the reasons for these blog posts and the guest appearances on the new podcast.(coming soon)
My loyalty to Parelli, never truly disappeared. I still recommend the experience to people asking. But... It's not the end all, be all place for learning about horses. There is much more to learn about horses. I wanted to fill the gaps that Parelli missed and open doors to people outside the "natural horsemanship bubble," to express their views on training, horse management, equipment, techniques, and much more.
Parelli promotes "natural horsemanship". They do a great job of it. As many of you well know however, "natural" isn't a technique or style. "Natural" means philosophically, that you are interested in how the horse benefits from training, and not solely focused on what the human gets out of the deal. "Natural" means, kinder methods and softer training approaches. "Natural" means you care. It does not mean you are Parelli.
As many students of the horse know. You can do "Parelli" and still be abusive. And you can be traditional or performance oriented and still be "Natural". Read What Performance Riders Hate About Natural Horsemanship. to get a better understanding of what I'm talking about.
As a franchised instructor I always felt restricted in my ability to share of the knowledge of many great horse trainers around the world. I never felt free to write my book, "Leadership and Horses." And in truth. I burned out. I'd been injured many times while using Parelli methods and I didn't want that to happen again. I revised my teaching to avoid injuries. Both to humans and horses.
(Let me be clear! I could have been injured on a motorcycle. Parelli didn't injure me. I just missed the signals. I didn't see the potential for injury. And now, I put a great deal of thought into my teaching, to help people see the signals of potential hazards.)
Also, I'd taught the Parelli method for over a decade and was not getting the results I'd hoped out of my students. I found myself constantly looking for better resources to help them understand the value of certain exercises. Many of which you'll find in my book, Leadership and Horses and many you'll find in the online courses.
I have a heart for sharing. I have a passion for learning. I have an aversion to the "one and only" way of thinking that's so virally propagated in many parts of the horse industry.
I want people who study with me, to be free to learn without restrictions. To explore. To see beyond the four legs and strong back to the inner workings of the horses mind. Then back again, to the muscle, posture, physiology, athleticism and health of the horses body. I want people to see the whole picture. And to do that I have to rely on many fantastic people who share the horse industry with me. Including what's good about Parelli, Clinton Anderson, Edward Gal, Philippe Karl, Stacey Westfall, Julie Krone, and hundreds of others worth mentioning.
In summary. I left because it was time. I was ready. I had learned all of what they had to offer at the time. Perhaps they will have more for me at another time. I am open to that. Does that mean I know everything! NO! Of course not. I'm a student of the horse and ready to learn more. Just as I hope you are. I respect the people I worked closely with during my time with Parelli.
I harbor no ill feelings toward my experience or the people I associated with. In fact... I try to never harbor ill feelings toward anything for long, because I believe it's toxic.
I have many fond memories of my past. And I believe in progress, happiness, health, and empowering communication. I promote those things. My courses promote those things. My book promotes those things. I hope you do too. I hope my willingness to be authentic will inspire you to be authentic.
Share this post. Comment below. Reach out to me with questions or topics you'd like us to write about. We are here to support you.
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People are asking... What are you guys up to?
The answer is simple. Everything. At least that is what it feels like. But the most important thing is developing these horse training courses that will teach you how to be the perfect partner for your horse.
Ownership - Master
We wanted to create an affordable but masterful experience for horse lovers. You can't beat the prices. Believe me, we've looked. We've taken everything we know from all parts of the horse industry and put them into sequential, easy to follow courses that lead you directly to masterful ground training and riding. What do I mean by masterful?
Imagine downloading information from the greatest horsemen and horsewomen in the world then uploading that information to your brain. What would you be able to accomplish? Masterful means, elegant, efficient, safe, beautiful, free, harmony, versatile, and so much more. Masterful means being able to change negative behavior almost instantly. Masterful means, knowing what to do before you even need to do it. Mastery is beauty!
The first three courses are available today with more coming soon. We recommend starting with Ownership. What does a master horseman or horsewoman know about owning horses and preparing for and caring for horses? Then continue to beginner courses and intermediate, where you will learn about the 4-b's of Leadership and tons of riding exercises that set you up for safety, control, and fun.
We've split it up into two basic concepts. Ground training and Riding. Because we know that many people can't or simply don't want to ride, but do still want to grow.
We'll help you achieve your horsemanship goals and dreams. That's not just part of our mission, it's a personal guarantee.
So we are here for you. Get started today. Join us.
Here is the link: https://masteryhorsemanship.com/collections/courses
or click the picture:
Here is what people are saying about it.
"Watching the videos is like hanging out with a master. I feels like I get to see subtleties I didn't know about and exchanging ideas and information while doing so.""I wish I knew about this stuff years ago!""I never have trouble understanding Don: It's clear and he knows what he's talking about.""The setting for the videos carries a majesty that attracts the viewer.""Best of all, what Don is telling the viewer works! Easy to understand coming from him to me. . .easy to communicate from me to my horse."
He was alone, two and a half miles from his truck where he left his cell phone charging. If he didn’t stay on his horse and stay focused he’d bleed out and die.
Meet Ben Lewis, one of the toughest cowboys I’ve ever known.
One time, when we were boys, he punched me square in the chest, right above my heart. I thought I was going to die. As only a good friend would do, he let me take the first punch. After all, it was just a simple masochistic game between two young kids aimed at having fun. My punch tickled him a little, maybe... His punch leveled me.
I fell back and coughed. He stood above me, curiosity struck, hoping I wasn't actually injured, and waited while I caught my breath. It took me nearly a minute before I could recover and laugh along side my grinning compadre with an outstretched hand. When I rose, we both stood a little taller. It was a small test of manhood only two idiot boys would attempt. A life-long friendship was born.
Yet, many years later, on the high mountain plateaus of southern Utah, I nearly lost one of my best friends to a horse accident, and I was feeling the same breath-taking punch I felt when we were kids. Only this time, it was his life on the line.
His story came slowly across the phone line, with large gaps between sentences, as if he was trying to catch his breath. In fact he was. He'd been through two surgeries, plus two days in intensive care, and two full weeks in a hospital bed. His road to recovery had just began. This was the first time I got hear his story from his mouth. He'd been too exhausted to do anything up to this point.
"It was just a handful of stray cows," he said. "I had plenty of time and figured I'd just head out and get them. My cell was phone nearly dead, so I left it charging on my truck seat. About two and a half miles into the ride I decided to speed up a bit. I picked up a canter and that's when she uncorked."
I remembered the mare he described to me. She was a farm bred mare with a history of irrational behavior. Both the dam and sire we're challenging horses. Working with horses like that requires leadership. And it's still no picnic! I expected no more from her. No one did. But what caught me by surprise, was the intensity of her buck.
"She gave it all she got on that first jump," he said. "I haven't seen her do that since she was a young filly. We came down so hard and square I thought we'd make a skyscraper in China."
"I heard something pop! And a strange thought crossed my mind," he continued. "I felt as though I just broke in-half, between my legs."
And he wasn't far off. His pelvis had split, breaking bone and sinew. But his horse wasn't about to quit bucking. He rode like only a true cowboy could and stayed on through every lift and twist. He didn't know it yet, but he was suffering massive internal bleeding. If he had fallen, he couldn't have gotten back on and surely wouldn't have made the walk back to the truck. Even if he made it to the truck, he had a thirteen mile drive across pothole ridden roads before he could even get cell phone service. Death was knocking at the door. Pounding at the door!
His horse settled soon after and his pain spiked. He instincts told him to turn back, knowing the only possible escape route lay parked in a meadow, at the start of his journey. A long slow ride to safety was the best he could hope for.
"I nearly blacked out several times on the ride back," he continued. "I saw stars, I saw flashes of light. But I could see the truck in the distance and just kept telling myself, 'I can get there.' My horse stayed cool the rest of the way back and once I got to the truck I lowered myself to the ground and slid backward onto the truck seat. When I saw my phone had no service I realized I had to make the drive by myself. Alone and nearly dead!"
"I left her there. Saddled and everything. I didn't have the strength to load her in the trailer. I watched her for a long time through the side mirror as a inched toward civilization. She stood stoically, unaware of all the circumstances, but oddly content with her plight."
When his cell phone reception finally lit up, after mile upon mile of invisible blood gushing bumps and potholes, he called 911. He arranged a place to meet a medical team and then called his family, who helped keep him awake through semi hallucinations, for the remainder of the long drive to an uncertain recovery. He also arranged for his horse to be picked up by family member. She was found, saddled and unperturbed in the same place he'd left her hours before.
"He's lost nearly all his blood!" One paramedic said to the other. "His blood pressure is too low. We have to move fast!"
A day after the accident, the same paramedic made a personal inquiry to his condition, proclaiming he had nightmares about him not making it. He nearly didn't.
"While we were in the helicopter," Ben continued feebly. "I felt my body dying. The sound of the whirring blades outside faded to nothing. I pondered the other side of death and felt sorrow for my wife I was leaving behind. It was a strange, yet peaceful slide to another world."
At least that's what he thought. According to paramedics his body was thrashing about so radically, they had to tranquilize him to keep him from further injury.
His body was not ready to die, and in recollection, Ben thought he heard himself say. "Not yet. I'm not ready yet."
I could tell his story was still fresh. Every detail his conscious mind could recall and all the pieces his family and medical team filled in, were all still pulling at heartstrings. His gratitude seemed limitless.
"The doctors cut me open and pulled out all the coagulated blood," Ben continued. "They stuffed me full of packing and chemicals, pinned my bones together with screws right through the skin. Then attached those to clamps on the outside. It wasn't till the next day, that they cleaned up that mess and put an actual plate on my pelvis and stitched me up. After that I spent a couple days in intensive care, but everything was looking like I would be heading in the right direction."
I sat stunned, listening to his story. Memories flooded my own mind of times we'd spent galloping up mountain roads as kids. Then later in life, learning the ropes of true horsemanship together, real estate, money management, and other business opportunities. I thought about how I nearly lost an irreplaceable life-long friend. And I felt my own gratitude swelling as well.
He nearly died several times that day. We're grateful he didn't. He's a gift to this world. A bright light with a hearty laugh. I would not like to see that light fade and perish.
He's a great horseman, a true cowboy, a real leader, and a knowing friend.
Thank God he stayed on. Thank God his horse cooled off and brought him back without exploding again. Thank God for the doctors who know how to pin bones together. Thank God for ambulances and helicopters that could transport him to professional hands. Thank God for a loving wife and family that could stand beside him day by day through a tough recovery.
I'm glad your still here, my friend!
Naturally, since I've been hurt multiple times with horses, I start asking questions. It's part of what makes me more aware, as a professional. Why did his horse buck? Why did it come without cause and so suddenly? Was there anything he could have picked up on, to avoid the buck. Why did she stay calm afterwards? Did she sense something?
Maybe, probably yes, however... the truth is, a horse is a horse.
Even when you know as much as Ben and I, you can't see everything. And the same kind of injury could have happened on a four-wheeler or motorcycle.
I'm constantly reminded of how short life is. My friend was just one ride away from never riding again..
Stay safe, my readers. Stay safe!
PS. If you want to learn more about leadership and safety. Take a close look at this beginner course!
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I never did before. I used to think helmets weren't that important. In fact I used to teach that "what kept you alive was in your head, no on your head" Meaning "be smart" so you don't get yourself in bad situations.
Although I still believe that the first part of that statement is true, the second part is false. What's on your head can certainly keep you alive. Remember you are only one fall away from never riding again. A helmet won't prevent you from falling. But if you fall, a helmet might save your life.
I have three horse related concussions. Each one could have been diminished or eliminated with a helmet. Now I always ride with a helmet. The sad part is that it took me three injuries to realize I need it. The really sad part is, that I am often criticized by many high profile natural horseman (people you've probably heard of) who think I'm silly for riding with a helmet. The critics don't bother my ego, they bother my sense of safety for the thousands of riders they influence.
I have a doctor friend (a general surgeon), who told me how many horse related injuries he sees every week in the emergency room. In a town of 50,000 people, there were more horse related injuries than I imagined. I thought maybe motorcycle injuries, car accidents, falling out of tree, would all take first place. But they didn't. Horse related injuries were the most common accident related emergency room procedures. That's in just one small city. Which means that there are multiple horse related accidents world wide every single day!
I think about that often. Either people are riding unsafe horses or practicing unsafe behaviors with their horses. Turns out, the longer I'm in the industry I realize it's both. Just yesterday a horse arrived at my facility for training. This horse has been ridden for some time, but within a hour of assessing his skill level I told the owner I wouldn't ride this horse, not yet anyway, and I'm a professional. Therefore I recommend nobody else rides the horse until he's calmer, smarter, braver, and more attentive to the important things like hand yields, personal space, and he has to learn what to do in high pressure situations.
Once he is better, I'll begin riding him again. But even then, he's still capable of being a "1200 pound ball of fire". When you stop to think about it... Why wouldn't you ride with head protection. It's not uncomfortable. You can't use that excuse anymore. There are many comfortable helmet brands. It's not expensive. You can buy a decent helmet for less than $100.
So what prevents riders from wearing helmets? And worse, what prevents professionals from wearing helmets?
Answer: Pride, laziness, fear of criticism, image. I know a lot of cowboys who just have to wear that hat. I used to "have to wear the hat" too. Now I say, "screw it". If you like my cowboy hat that much, you wear it. I want to be safe. I want you to be safe. And I want you to make progress.
That's one of the reasons I wrote my book. Leadership and Horses. You should buy it. Right now! Click on the link and buy it.
Reading it will change your whole perspective on horses, safety, leadership, progress and more! If you already bought the book, share this article. Help someone else buy the book. Let's make a difference in this world, together!
PS. Just so you know, when you buy the book, you're also supporting Horses for Orphans. A cause that I hope you look into. Just google it, after you've bought the book.
Thanks for reading!
Comment, share, ask questions. I will be here for you!
The two biggest problems with advancing your horsemanship are:
1. Injuries plague advanced rider's horses
2. Mental stress levels increase for horses as training demands ramp up
Ask just about anybody who's made it to high levels of dressage. Ask any good reining trainer. Ask any good polo player. Ask any good performance rider, in any category, and you will find they have been through many horses.
Why? You guessed it. Either the horse became injured during training or even outside of training, but never recovered fully. Or, the mental stress of the horse became overwhelming. In which case... the horse burned out. It happens more often than you might think.
So how does a master solve the problems that plague most trainers?
Consider these factors.
Injuries in training, or even outside training, require impressive amounts of time for the horse to make a full recovery. Most riders, are in a hurry, and therefore never let the injury heal properly. A joint injury, for instance, could take several months, maybe even a full year to make a full recovery. Then once it heals, that joint has to regain it's former strength.
Master trainers know how long it takes to heal. They are in no hurry to win the gold. The horse is more important than the blue ribbon or the significance your friends might shower upon you. The horse is more important than the trail ride you've been planning all summer. The horse is worth the time it takes to heal.
Obviously, some injuries are permanent. There is nothing anyone can do about those. But injuries related to training, often occur when the horse is distracted or tired. Master horsemen and horsewomen read the horses body language constantly.They know when the horse begins to fatigue, and in general, a master will cycle through training skills. By cycle, I mean: ask for what you want, then rest, then ask, then rest again. Cycling is one of the greatest keys to success. Any trainer who just asks, and asks, and asks, and asks, attempting to get perfection, is missing one of the greatest gifts Mastery training offers. The training cycle.
Mental stress levels increase with higher levels of training too. Often trainers, work with a horse for a year or two, then tire of the horse's incessant, irrational behavior. They pawn the horse off to a person who has more time to deal with a stressed out horse and move on to a horse with less emotional baggage. Ironically, within a year or two, the same problems creep in to the new relationship. In my career, some of the best horses I've ever owned came from trainers who grew tired of the horses mental stress levels. I've acquired premium quality horses for pennies on the dollar, in situations like those.
It's not difficult, once you know the strategies, to become successful with any horse. Once you know the training cycle, inside and out like I do, you can become masterful with horses. You can progress to the highest levels of mastery without losing your horse. You can avoid heightened stress levels by slowing down and cycling through tasks in a way that keeps your horse sound and happy. You can learn to read a situation and change your approach to minimize mental and physical stresses on the horse. Your leadership skills can increase ten fold. All the while you, you and your horse keep steady progress toward the top level maneuvers in your favorite part of the horse industry.
Mastery, is really about leadership. What does it take to be the best leader your horse deserves? Take a look at my book and find out.
You can buy it on Amazon too, if you prefer. Here is the link: Leadership and Horses on Amazon
In summary, if you want to succeed at the highest levels of horsemanship without losing or destroying your horse, you'll need to consider slowing down. You'll want to open your mind to more education. To better practices. And most importantly, begin to see the horse as a living, breathing, thinking, being, instead of four legs and strong back.
More than likely, if you've read this far through the article, you are one of those people who is willing to invest your time and resources into progress and self improvement.
I thank you for your time.
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Don't get me wrong! I'm made dozens of fantastic friends throughout my career, serving the horse industry. Many are lifetime friends. But it wasn't easy finding them! Why?
One. Many horse people get into horses for themselves. Not for the social experience. My wife, for instance rides for her and her alone. That doesn't mean she doesn't enjoy company. She does. But she rides for reasons that go beyond the social aspect. She rides for the feeling you can't get anywhere else in the world. Have you ever galloped a horse across a meadow? Have you ever experienced flying lead changes at the command of a small body cue? Have you ever seen your horse come running to you from a distance, at a speed that tells you, he knows you care, and can't wait to see you? If you have, then you know why so many people crave horses beyond reasoning.
Like my wife Rachel, many people ride each day, as if on a quest toward some form of enlightenment. Not unlike martial arts students who are constantly seeking mastery. Or a meditation practice that seeks the state of zen. There is peace and fulfillment that comes from striving to be better, each time you ride.
Because so many horse people are like my wife, they seek out horse interactions for their own purposes. Many of these people are hard to meet inside the horse world. You might meet them on a plane, or in a restaurant and become instant friends, but you won't find them on a horse. Why? Because, when their on their horse, it's no time for friendship. Their goals require focus, and ambition. They don't prefer riding with other people as much as they like riding for themselves. The friendship you develop with these type of people will extend beyond riding, because they prefer uninterrupted riding experiences. - By the way... when I say "riding" I also mean interactions on the ground. I don't mean to say that you have to be a rider.
The other reason it's hard to find real friends in the horse industry is a bit more complex. It has to do with a part of the human brain that hasn't yet evolved very far. With a bit of tongue and cheek, I call this part of the brain, the "ignorant jerk" part of the brain.
I'm sure people in all industries, all over the world behave like ignorant jerks too. Because I'm connected so closely to the horse industry, I see it more often than anywhere else. People can often be judgmental and rude about their opinions of others in the horse industry because bias toward your own style is so prevalent. Horse people are often stuck in a world where they know everything there is to know... and everyone else is lost.
I know, because I am part of that "horse people." I have often been judgmental toward other riders, and their "ignorant" ways. I've often pointed out their flaws and built a fortress around my perfections. It's ridiculous! Because of this, I have often aliened wonderful people simply because they aren't like me. I hate this part of my brain. I'm trying to fix it. I know that ultimately I can only make a small dent in my DNA but I hope it's a big enough dent to invite other people into my life.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to socialize with abusive horse trainers, or careless riders either. I don't want to ride with someone who would leave me behind on a young colt while they gallop up the next hill. I truly do want to socialize with people who are like me. Don't you? But the trick is, nobody is like you or me. We are unique and so are they.
What I'm really saying is this. The only way to connect with horse people is to stop judging them. As a general practice, at my clinics, I always invite people to bring whatever horse gear they have to the clinic. Even though I'm a "natural horseman" so to speak, who does not like severe bits or spurs, I know that I must include others into my circle. You never know, we could become best friends, and even learn something from each other. It doesn't mean I have to conform to their ways of riding. It simply means that their way of riding is the way they know best. If their open, they'll invite better techniques and tools into their horse experiences. If I'm open, we can become friends.
What so many people in the horse industry are looking for is "horsey friends." Sometimes, you find them, and horses become the very thing that binds you together. But you'll find, over time, that your opinions will differ. The question is, will it break your friendship, or enrich it?
You see, real friendships can start anywhere. What makes them last is an openness to differences. If horse people could get over themselves for two seconds, they could find in their heart, that there are other ways. That people with different techniques and styles are still people. There are other wonderful people out there. There is a beautiful world available to us, just by saying, "what others do, is OK." When you say that, you can open a door for friendship. It doesn't mean the friendship will last. It just opens doors.
To make friends, you must continue to open doors. Then every once in a while you meet someone who becomes your best friend. When you do, you'll realize, it doesn't matter if they do what you do or not. It doesn't matter if they ride western and you ride english. It doesn't matter if they use Parelli and you use Clinton Anderson. It doesn't matter if they use spurs and you use carrots. You'll both learn from each other. You'll both become more brilliant.
In summary, let my intent be clear. I want you to open up to the differences people have. Learn to be friends with different people. Be willing to go to horse shows or other events. Stop judging and start opening your heart to have some fun.
In the event you see things taking place that you don't approve of. For instance, you see horse abuse happening in front of your eyes, check to see if the abuse is out of frustration or ignorance. If it's frustration based, you might be looking at someone who is easily frustrated and may not be friendly to be around. If it's ignorance based, that means there is room for new strategies and maybe, that person would be open to your friendship. Don't be too quick to judge.
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PS: Want to read a good book? Check our "Leadership and Horses"
We started early enough. At least we thought we started early enough. 6:00pm seemed to leave plenty of time to get a horse in the trailer.
We were wrong!
Before I get into the story, let me first say this. There are many roads that lead to Rome. Meaning: There are many different ways to get the same job done. Without time to explore all the options, one is often left to fewer, more tact-less options. Time, or the lack of time, can bring out the true nature in any person who is willing to attempt a challenging task.
Why? You might ask. Why we're we in a hurry to get in the trailer anyway? Basically, there was no other option. Either get the horse in the trailer, or spend the night at a facility that didn't want us there. The whole was closing down. The operator had already expressed his frustration that he'd have to linger to shut the gates after we left. He, at one point, even offered to help us load the horse by stringing the rope through the front of the trailer and tying it to his truck.
I refrained. I am a man of integrity. Especially, when it comes to the horse. There is a right way, and there are a million wrong ways. The right way, is to preserve the dignity of the horse. Any other way, is currently beyond me.
It wasn't always that way. There was a time, in my early career, where I would do just about anything to get that "stupid animal" to do what I want. I didn't care if he got hurt, or lost trust in the human race. I only cared that he did what I wanted. Like a puppet on a string.
But I'm different now. Maybe it was the knocks I got on my head, from falling. Maybe, it was by hanging around the right people. Whatever the reason, I see everything different now. I see the horse. I see his mind. I feel her energy and thought patterns. I sense her intention. I notice a horse that is thirsty, or hungry. I notice a mind that is bound by memory or fear. These are things that didn't matter before. But now, they are more important than anything else.
Standing at the side of the trailer, I asked the young mare to take another step. She hesitated. Then she pulled straight back with a speed that would normally pull a person off his feet. I was ready for it. I'd seen it before. I'd seen her do it several times that evening already.
The student standing next to me, who also happened to own the horse, stood impatiently. She felt guilty for keeping me after clinic hours. She felt guilty for bringing her horse to the clinic in the first place, given the fact she knew this trailer problem would be the end of her career with horses if she couldn't solve it. She knew the clinic was not focused on the trailer loading, but secretly hoped it would come up. The clinic was focused on riding and now she regretted having come. She felt guilty for the ranch operator who had to stay behind and close the gates.Time was her enemy, and her enemy was winning.
She was tired, hungry, and ready for support. She willingly handed me the rope when I approached her. She almost threw it at me. Now, she stood quietly, but tense from head to toe. It had already been an hour. I saw her lean in every time her horse made progress. Her breathing quickened every time her horse reverted to normal resistant behavior.
I asked her to be patient. I told her it would all work out. I told her I've been in this situation before. I told her that every clinic has at least one horse that doesn't want to leave. I even offered a joke, consisting mostly of the idea that once a horse attends my clinic, they never want to leave. She laughed, her tension eased, and I put my full attention back to communicating with her mare.
This mare had a long history of forceful and unhappy trailer experiences, including the trip to get this clinic. She was tired from a long day. She was frustrated. She was in the perfect state of mind, in my opinion, to discover that she could follow her leader. To discover that her leader cared about her, but also needed her to understand the task at hand. When most would give up, I gave her my all.
The rope slid through my hands. I had to walk toward her to keep the rope from burning my hands as she pulled back. She was determined, but so was I. The thing she didn't realize, was how determined I was to show her how good life would get when she finally found peace in following her leader. Even if it meant following her leader into the hell hole on wheels.
The concept of trailer loading is simple. All one must do, is cause the outside of the trailer to be less comfortable than the inside of the trailer. The little nuances of pressure and release, timing, approach and retreat, rewards, etc., are the factors that either make or break the experience for a horse.
Twenty minutes earlier, we had successfully loaded the her two front feet. Physically, she stood half way. But mentally, I knew she wasn't even close. She did not want to be there.
Given more time, I may have quit on that positive note. I could have put her away and come back the next day to try again. Day after day, she would improve. She would keep half loading, until we could trust her responses well enough to ask her to fully load. Within a week, with maybe ten to twenty minutes per day of strictly positive experiences, she would have been loading like a champ. But we didn't have a week. We had an evening. An ever closing evening, at that.
As the rope slid through my hands I sank my feet deeper into the sand. I wasn't frustrated. In truth, I was having fun. I love helping horses that can't see humans as anything worth trusting. I love seeing them come out the other side. I relish the moment they, not only respond with respect, but with enjoyment too. I love seeing how a horse that "can't" becomes a horse that "loves to." How do I know that they "love to?" Because they show me through consistent enthusiastic responses, how they need not hesitate. But better than that, they immediately look to me for a treat, or scratch, or a bonding moment. They express no fear toward me or my tools. They know they did good. They know I love them for it. And they know that I love them, always.
She stopped pulling and gave one last lean into the rope, then bounced forward in my direction just a step. I immediately let go, stood up straight, and paused. It was as if the rope was made of rubber, and it's maximum tension had been tested. She found, yet again, that her strength was no match for my perseverance.
Step by step I rewarded her forward progress until we, once again, reached the trailer threshold. I gently pulled on her lead rope. She hesitated, but within a few short seconds, stepped up into the trailer. Half way!
I attempted to give her treats. She wasn't interested. I attempted to scratch and rub her head and neck. And although she wasn't resistant to the grooming, she didn't seem to value the experience. I found all I could offer her, was a calming voice and absolute neutral body expression. She needed time to think. She had to believe I recognized her effort. And to me, there were signs that she was coming around.
To my student standing outside, all she could see is a half loaded horse who's likely to bolt backward at any moment and further drive her desire to be a horse owner, into the grave.
A minute passed, then I asked her to take another step forward. She hesitated, just like before, and did as my student expected.
Straight back she went. I followed to avoid burning my hands on the rope, but kept a tight feel. I didn't want her to learn that pulling was the answer. I could only let go of the rope when she took a step in the right direction.
With a lazy horse, there is a moment in time, albeit very short, where rewarding the wrong direction is helpful toward inviting energy. Anything trumps nothing, in that special case. Once the horse is energetic, then all you must do is hold the energy until you get the response you initially wanted. This young mare, was no lazy horse. She always responded after a moments hesitation. In this case, it was backward... I held tight.
Once again, she ultimately came off the halter pressure, and moved in the right direction. I released and back and forth she went from half loaded, to frustrated bolting backward with a negative reaction.
Never beat a horse! That's been my motto for years now. I've had to be firm. I've had to protect my space. I've hand to stand my ground, but since I awakened to the heart of the horse, I have not laid a finger on the spirit and the relationship we all want to keep with our horse partners.
In the past, her reactions would often fluster her owner to the point of resigning. Others would push back, and beat the horse into submission. Many would try to correct the negative behavior. I simply outlasted her. I knew eventually, she'd learn my intent was not to load her. My complete intent, was to teach her to respond with confidence, knowing it was worth it, knowing it was pleasant, knowing it was time, knowing her leader was someone she'd love to be with, even after the experience was over.
As the hours slipped by, the sun began to set. The ranch operators impatience disappeared and turned to genuine interest. He no longer had anything important to do, and he was enthralled in the story unfolding in front of him. "Would this young horse begin to believe? Would this story end well?" he pondered. He stood next to my student now, consoling her. Unwinding her tension with words of hope and uncollected stories of his own horse experiences. He was connecting dots in his mind that he never knew needed to connect. His attitude rubbed off on hers and by the time dark had set in, we were all having a good laugh when the moment would allow.
Clearly, the mare had been traumatized in regard to trailer loading. Clearly the rewards were not equal to the challenge in her mind. But as the dark crept in, her trust also crept in. She quit pulling back so fast. When she pulled it was just a step or two. When she came forward, her hind leg would rise to stand in the trailer, but often fail to achieve it's goal. Each form of effort was rewarded with calming words and a kind touch until the moment of magic. She finally stepped all four feet up over the threshold and stood like a champion inside the trailer.
I petted her, I calmed her, I once again attempted treats. She accepted everything I had. We'd been through dozens of cycles of success and failure. With more time I could have ended on any one success and reconvened the next day. Without the time, I had to keep cycling through. There were many times where it seemed all would go well, and all would work out, only to have it fall apart. She'd go from trying her heart out to ripping my hands off in a moments notice. Each cycle of failure and success eventually led us to our end goal.
Many people get frustrated when a successful moment turns into a moment of failure. But that's all it is. Just a moment in time. When a seemingly positive thing goes negative, don't be afraid. It's all part of the cycle of failure and success. With persistence, any horse will eventually find your leadership. With rewards, the same horse will love your leadership.
It was well past 9:00 pm now and she was on the trailer with all four feet. I turned to my human counterparts and said something that would have made any human do a backward somersault in confusion. I said. "Now we've got her on, I'm going to take her off and do it again."
"What? Why?" came the stammering words of my two new friends.
"Trust me!" I said. "It's the only way to see if what we have is real or accident! Sometimes a horse gets on a trailer out of respect, but not desire. They often conform out of fear. I want to make sure she is responding with desire. If I'm right, we'll take little to no time to get back on. If I'm wrong, we'll know the truth. I want her to be successful tomorrow too. Not just today. If we leave her on now, and close the gates, we'll only be proving that we wanted her on the trailer. If we take her off, and ask again, we'll be proving a much more important aspect of our relationship. We'll prove that I care about her and I think about her. We'll prove that I want her to trust me and I want her to trust that I have her interests in mind too. I want her to love responding to me."
Reluctantly, they complied. They had their doubts, but their trust in me was growing too. I politely tugged at the halter from under her chin and asked her to step back off the trailer. She hesitated, as if she expected me to simply leave her alone and close the doors. Just a moment later she respectfully stepped back over the threshold into the moonlight. I paused for nearly a minute. I petted her on the nose and spoke in calming tones. Then I asked her into the trailer again. Without any hesitation she stepped right up. All four feet. Then, without hesitation, I poured my heart into my hands and praised her soul with a soft touch and a calming voice.
We closed the doors behind her, my job was done for the night.
As I said my goodbyes. I heard a mouthful of thank-yous and sorry's. To each I responded, your welcome, my pleasure, and no need to be sorry... It's what I do.
I never heard from the ranch operator again, although I sense he felt his time was not wasted. A week later I heard from my student. She said, amid a dozen thank-you's, how she had never been so inspired. Each day since that day, she loaded her horse successfully. She even talked about how she dealt with the failure cycle a few times. I was pleased to hear it. I thanked her for her patience and hung up the phone just a few minutes after scheduling some more lesson time with her.
I've known her for nearly a decade now. Since that clinic we've worked through many levels of horsemanship. She's an extraordinary student. One who is willing to fail, in order to succeed. I admire her leadership.
Thanks you for reading.
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The fact is... It's impossible to be perfect by everyone's standards. So just forget about trying to be perfect and move on.
It's often easier to criticize than it is to compliment. Take the picture below, for instance.
Can you see what's wrong with this picture?
Look closely. Although there are many fun, beautiful elements of this photo, many riders can, and will, find the faults. My elbows are out, instead of in. My horses front legs aren't together. My legs are too long. I'm not in the correct saddle for jumping. I should be wearing a bullet proof vest. The power lines upset the picture. The lighting is wrong. The list goes on and on.
In the horse industry, no matter what you do, or how good you get, you will always have critics. It's part of the world we live in. Even the best of the best, or what I call Masters in the industry, face enormous amounts of criticism. These are men and women who can do just about anything with horses. They seem to have the "Midas touch" with animals. Everything they do gets better. Every challenge they meet dissolves. But the reality is, the moment I point one of these Masters out, a flock of critics will come to my side with mind boggling comments.
The point is... These comments are unavoidable. They are part of the normal checks and balance system of our social structure. The first time I realized how important it is to let go of negative comments and just move on in the direction of my own dreams, was years ago. I looked up a young singer on Youtube named Justin Bieber.
At the bottom of the video, there we're hundreds of mixed comments. Nearly half, were negative. People hate Justin Bieber. Yet, some people love Justin Bieber. He had over one million views and nearly four hundred thousand dis-likes on the video. Did it stop him? No! Is he the perfect human? No! Do you like him? It doesn't matter. What matters, is that he has guts. He's not the only one, either. Look at any top level actor, business person, athlete, or performer of any kind. They all have their critics. Yet, somehow, they all keep going! It's a rare, but powerful quality. It's a quality worth practicing. When I saw the harsh reality of negative mixed with positive, I realized, I couldn't let my life be dictated by people who frown on what I do.
When I saw the harsh reality of negative mixed with positive, I realized, I couldn't let my life be dictated by people who frown on what I do.
You can't avoid negative comments. Even if you're the best of the best. So let them go, and move on. Don't let negative comments about you, or about your horse, or about your training style, deter you from making progress. Don't let other peoples' voices keep you from venturing out. Don't get stuck inside your own mind, replaying the mentions of people who don't agree with you. You can shine! You can shine in spite of what others think about you.
Recently I wrote an article that generated nearly thirty thousand views in less than three days. I had overwhelming positive comments streaming in about it, all day, each day, and for weeks to follow. Along with the positive, however, came the negative. Some folks didn't like my tone, or my grammar errors. Others, didn't like my picture. Many didn't like my approach. Some, noticed how I left out critical information about their own styles of horsemanship.
See what I mean? You can't be perfect for everyone. So stop trying to be perfect for everyone. Let the world around you happen. Let the parts you can't control, go. Focus on what you can control. Follow your dreams. Become a leader! (you can buy the book that everyone is talking about - Leadership and Horses - by clicking the link)
Don't let a little comment knock you back a decade, or even a day.
The only caveat I have in regards to this blog post is this. If someone says you are being abusive with your horse. Take the time to test if what they say has some truth. They may be wrong, but at least, take a look. The horse industry is riddled with people who just don't see the horse for what it is. They ride and train with confidence, but without sincere understanding of the horses condition in our world. Don't be one of those people. Be the kind of person that values the horse's experience.
Other than real abuse cases, let all the negative comments flow right over your head and back into outer space. You are more powerful than you think and... you don't have to be perfect.
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She came to my course with a bright, helpful spirit. She came alone. I thought she must be in her mid sixties, but from the moment I saw her I thought she could be someone who would fly through the course quite easily. She wasn't fit, but she looked like she had drive and a desire to learn. There were nearly thirty other people in the course but she stands out in my memory. It was only day three. A little early for big breakthroughs, yet there we were, in tears, broken.
I had seen her sitting on the log a few minutes earlier. She had her horse grazing near by on a slack lead line. I casually made my way over to check on her and as I approached I could see something wan't right. She looked as if she'd been crying. Indeed she had.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Is your horse giving you shit?" I asked in a light tone as I sat next to her. I often use strong language with a massive smile on my face to break the ice in emotional moments.
She looked up, smiled a gracious smile, and replied. "No. My horse is doing just fine."
I sat down on the weathered log next to her and the two of us gazed up at the mountains in the distance.
"Good to know... Now how can I help you?" I continued. "I see something isn't quite right, and if you would like me to give you some space, I'd be happy to come back later or find someone who can help."
"Thank you." She said through her sniffles.
She paused. I didn't know if that meant I was supposed to go away or stay. Was she thanking me for saying I'd leave or thanking me for just for being present with her in a moment of darkness? I was sitting just a few feet away, close enough to touch her, but I didn't. Instead I waited, watching her body language from the corner of my eye and looking for clues.
A few moments went by, and finally she broke the silence.
"I left my husband to come to this course!" She stuttered, and tears broke out again. Her shoulders started to heave and she quickly buried her face in her hands. Her horse lifted his head kindly in response to hand movement then back to eating quietly.
What is a guy in his late-twenties supposed to do with a women in her sixties who just told him that her marriage is over. And... she picked horses over her husband?
I sat in silence, stunned, frozen to my seat, afraid to speak, and afraid to move. I leaned forward and took a deep breath as I put my elbows on my knees and supported my expressionless face with my hands. I turned my gaze to the mountains again.
A few moments went by. She had obviously shocked herself for even bringing it up. I don't think she expected to let the cat out of the bag in front of her instructor. She began to apologize for even talking about something so personal, and then I finally broke out of my mental state and began to act more like the caring human my mother raised me to be.
"You don't have to apologize." I said.
"I'm not going to pretend I know how painful that must be. You must have your reasons and I won't judge you for your choices."
She took a deep breath.
I took a deep breath.
On a personal note, I always find it strange, yet powerful, how a simple non-judgmental viewpoint can soothe even the most painful human conditions.
She sat up a little, looked directly at me and said, "I know you care, I see it in your training style and in your videos. It's one of the reasons I wanted to come to the course. There was more going wrong than right in our relationship. This course, was just the last straw for us."
"I know I can help you with your horse, I said. And I believe your horse can help you with your healing. There is probably nothing I can say that would change your past for you or set you on a better course in the future as far as your relationships. Just know that I'm here for you and I care about your success!"
She smiled. "Thank you."
"Now, are you sure your horse isn't giving you shit?" I said grinning a soft but cheeky grin.
"In truth," she began. "I couldn't get my horse to do this one simple task. I found it frustrating and that's what sent me down this road of fear and negativity. I began to feel like I couldn't get anything right."
"Thanks for saying all that." I responded. "Would you like some help with your horse or would you like some time and we can address it later?"
"I think I would like some help." She smiled. And we began.
Within minutes we narrowed down a solution to her horses misunderstanding and the problem was solved. Her countenance brightened considerably and I left her with a hug and a promise to be there when she needed.
Her story, never really left my imagination however. Even a decade later now. I still think of her words. At first, if I'm honest, and I always promote being authentic and honest, I was pissed off. I didn't like what I heard. In those early, fragile moments, a higher power granted me a mouth that would not open. I'm grateful for that. I couldn't believe she would prioritize horses over her relationship. But as the moments passed on, and my heart opened, I began to see who she really was.
She was not a women who prioritized horses over her husband. She was a women who prioritized her passion over her dead relationship. She had felt robbed of her gifts for years and felt it was time to shine as an individual. I saw that there must be things I couldn't see. Things that made her marriage horrible, with or without horses. I softened and gave her room to be herself. As a result, she shined.
I don't know where she is now. I hope she's found peace.
The message I hope to convey here is this. Relationships don't always work out, but I believe you if you stick to your core passions and follow your dreams, new relationships will develop. Perhaps even better relationships.
To be clear, I'm not advocating divorce. In many cases there is a clear path forward to healing your relationships. Relationships are important and should be honored. I would hope anyone in a bad relationship would look for resources to heal their relationship before leaving it. Most people do try to figure things out before they leave. In some cases there is no clear path forward, leaving you with hard choices.
What I'm actually advocating, is being who you are. I'm advocating letting go of fear and pressing forward into pain instead of hiding away from it. I'm advocating opening up to become the person you always wanted to become, even if that means criticism. For some people that might mean trying to figure out how to keep things together. For others it might mean figuring out how to take your first step into a new world, all by yourself.
The reality here, is that I'm not just talking about marriage and horses. I'm talking about fear and passion. Those twin forces that impact our lives in every way.
I commend that women in her sixties who sat with me on that log facing the mountains. I commend her courage. Courage is the first step to becoming a true leader.
Thank you for reading.
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The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship - by Don Jessop
Hate is a strong word! I should say "The things performance riders don't like about natural horsemanship."
And by the way, there are a few things to not like about natural horsemanship. And even though I promote natural techniques, I understand that the bias performance trainers have isn't completely misaligned. What I mean is this: The natural horsemanship movement that started nearly 50 years ago has been devoted to helping people see "inside" of a horse rather than the "outside". A good, and much needed premise for change in a mostly abusive horse industry, but it has a few big holes in it.
Traditional performance riders learned early on about the outside of the horse. Things like balance and energy management, foot placement and engagement. Unfortunately, performance horses often suffer from from problematic behaviors, due to riders having minimal understanding of the mental processing of horses.
However, natural riders usually don't learn enough about physical balance or energy management, because very few "Natural Horseman" (even famous natural horsemen) actually know much about it. They don't have the experience in performance, such as dressage or jumping. That's not to say that some of them aren't brilliant. They are. Every person on the planet has something good to offer the world. And a handful of trainers or "horseman" are what I call "Master Horseman". These men and women cross over. They see the whole picture. That's why our program is called Mastery Horsemanship. We don't want to live in one world. We want the best of both worlds. Traditional and Natural.
The thing performance riders don't like about natural riders is that typically, even though a natural rider learns early a lot about emotions and psychology, they learn little about the physical requirements of performance. That's why we see "natural riders" with horses that have horrible self carriage issues and balance. We often see "natural riders" with horses that have horrible posture too. Not because the natural rider doesn't care, but because they don't know. The more they learn, the better they get and if they are willing to cross over into more traditional education, they can learn about balance and energy development too.
The other thing performance riders don't like about natural horsemanship is how too many "natural" people are wimps. That's right. Wimps. They don't dare be firm with their horse for fear of losing the relationship. Ironically, they often only have a relationship that's based on "walking on eggshells" in order to avoid offending their horse. In other words. We see too much "soft love" with natural horsemanship and not enough "tough love".
Of course the pendulum swings both ways. I see people in the performance industries showing too much "tough love" and very little "soft love". There has to be a balance if you want to be a master.
In my book "Leadership and Horses" I talk about this balance. I called the training/bonding ratio. It's important that trainers stay as close to 50%training and 50%bonding as possible.
The reason we need to stay close to that number is because, anything outside those numbers either verges on wimpy, ineffective techniques that create a dull and disrespectful horse, or they slide toward abuse techniques that create a reactive and fearful horse.
The point is, when performance riders see a wimpy leader they immediately blame the "natural" industry. And on the other side of the coin the "natural" people are doing the same thing. Their calling out abuse when they see a rider be firm and direct, but in my opinion being assertive can be important if it's done for certain safety situations.
The truth is, "abuse"... is riding a horse that you know doesn't want you up there. That's why the bond you create with a horse is critical. But riding a horse that likes you doesn't guarantee you'll be safe and it certainly doesn't guarantee the horse could ever perform well. Because without proper alignment, energy management, and postural control, it's hard to achieve anything outside a controlled canter. Once again. We find ourselves looking for balance. We find ourselves looking for strategies that accomplish all aspects of horsemanship. We find ourselves looking for what it takes to be a better leader!
Here is what I think. I think good leaders look for balance. They learn about alignment and energy and power. They learn about psychology and how the horse thinks. They learn about how people think too, so they can pass on a more balanced message and have it get through. Good leaders in essence, don't stop learning. And if you've ever heard someone say, "my way is the only way" then you know they're closed to learning and you also know they are losing ground as a leader.
Here is what I hope for. I want performance riders to see the value of natural horsemanship and I want natural riders to see the value of performance training. I also want natural trainers to see how, many performance riders are in fact "natural". Because "natural" shouldn't mean wimpy. "Natural" should mean you are reward oriented instead of consequence oriented in your training style. Many performance riders are natural.
Also, performance or "traditional" riding shouldn't be considered as thoughtless or mindless. It's takes enormous amounts of concentration to balance and align a horses body parts. That level of concentration usually exists, only in the "elite." The best of the best, or what I call "masters", can teach a horse to align and even stay aligned by themselves, plus feel rewarded for it. The road to mastery can be enriching and powerful for both riders and horses. It's a road I have been on for decades and one I hope you'll join me on.
My real hope is that people find common ground and look for ways to make progress. And that doesn't just relate to horses. Hint, hint:) Life, politics, marriage, religion, raising children. Whatever the endeavor, we need to look for balance and keep the doors to learning... open.
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"The Natural Horsemanship movement is so old it's new again!" Pat Parelli
Historically, Mr. Parelli wasn't too far off when he made that statement. From the oldest records of horse interactions, we can discover both abusive people working with animals and many positive, supportive people working with animals. The kinder methods are what we call "natural". There is evidence, Native Americans used more natural methods for working with their animals. Of course, there is also evidence that some tribes didn't use the kinder methods. Once again it comes down to each person working with the animal.
However, industry-wide, horses were poorly treated for several centuries during our industrial revolution. Because things had to happen so quickly, people often took shortcuts in a horse's education, causing lots of undesirable things to happen between horse and rider teams or horse and driver teams.
In the early 20th century a few brave souls decided to start promoting kinder treatment of horses and softer training methods. Men like Tom and Bill Dorrance, just to name a couple. At first, they didn't get much traction, but soon came a few more brave souls, and also, came better technology. Many of those men and women you've heard of. Monty Roberts, John Lyons, Pat, and Linda Parelli, just to name a few. Then, even more, entered the scene. People like me who focus on bridging the gap between natural training and performance training. Today, there are thousands of "Natural" horse trainers. It's a beautiful thing.
I remember Pat Parelli telling me once in a private conversation, how he intended to help change the word "horsemanship" to "natural horsemanship" worldwide. He wanted the two words to be synonymous. I believe now, with the help of many other professionals scattered throughout the horse industry, brave enough to raise their voice, that he's nearly done it. The word "horsemanship" is becoming synonymous with "natural horsemanship"
So what is Natural Horsemanship?
In a nutshell...Natural Horsemanship is meant to be a psychology based training platform for horses and trainers, and it's consists of five basic concepts. Psychology based means working with the inside of a horse instead of the outside (which many trainers still do).
The five basic psychology concepts of natural horsemanship are:
1. Approach and Retreat
The words "approach and retreat" refer to training confidence in a horse. Let me give you an example. If I notice my horse is scared of a saddle, I wouldn't just throw it on his back and hope he gets over the fear issue. Instead, I'd throw it toward his back, then take it away to give him a chance to relax about what's happening. Then I'd do it again, and again. Slowly, I'd swing the saddle a little closer, backing away each time until he relaxed. Ultimately I could place the saddle on his back with him staying in a relaxed and calm state of mind.
There are many variations of this concept, involving speed, size, expression, time spent toward or away, and positions, but the premise is always the same. Move toward, and move away and repeat until calm.
2. Pressure and Release
The concept of pressure and release is simple enough to explain, a little harder to apply in every detailed situation that arises, but here it is in laymen terms. If I notice my horse really does not want to follow me into the horse trailer, I wouldn't just push him in with a tractor. Instead, I'd hold tight on the rope and as soon as he took one single step in the right direction I would release my grip on the rope to acknowledge his or her effort. Then I'd repeat the process. Tighten the rope, wait for a small positive response then loosen the rope when he starts heading the right direction. Timing is everything. Release at the wrong moment and he "might" learn the wrong thing. Release at the right moment and he "should" begin to learn the right thing.
Of course, there are many variations to this concept as well. Variations in the amount of pressure, the speed of pressure, the rhythm or steadiness of the pressure, the type of pressure (visual, tactile, or audio) the time the pressure stays before it changes, the type of release, amount of release, and time spent before restarting the cycle. However, the premise is always the same. "Pressure" motivates the horse and the "release" is an acknowledgment the horse is heading in the right direction. Anyone willing to invest just a short amount of time experimenting with pressure and release concepts will notice the benefits right away.
3. Rewards and Consequences
What motivates a horse, the carrot or the stick? Each moment is different for every single horse at any given time or space. That means one moment you have to use a carrot to encourage and reward a horse and the next moment you have to use a stick to push, prod or drive a horse. In natural horsemanship, both strategies are employed. For instance, if a horse steps on your toe, you push her away fast enough to make her feel that was a bad idea. And on the other side of the scale, if a horse shows good effort to perform a task, a reward will be applied to show you appreciate the effort. Ideally, trainers should be slightly more reward-oriented in their training styles, which isn't always the case in natural horsemanship or many traditional methods. In "Mastery Horsemanship" (an all-encompassing training platform that crosses all horse industries) we actually encourage tipping the scales to reward-oriented training.
There are many variations to the reward and consequence concept. Including, but not limited to: the size of the rewards or consequences, the type of rewards or consequences, the speed at which they are applied, the timing of when they are applied or taken away, the frequency of application, the amount of time between corrections or rewards and continuing the task at hand, etc.
If you want to have some fun, pick up my book, Leadership, and Horses. Inside the book, I'll give you three basic things that horses absolutely love, as rewards. Fundamentally, horses need rewards they understand. For instance, horses don't really care for hamburgers or fizzy drinks.
Desensitizing a horse means, training him not to react in negative ways to challenging stimuli. In other words, building your horse's confidence. If I notice my horse doesn't like birds flying out of the tall grass while we're riding down the trail, as a natural trainer, I will begin a specific program to take away his or her reactivity related to the experience. I might start riding with a dog, for instance, to simulate the coming and going of things at random in the tall grass. Or perhaps I'll work with a flag or plastic bag, flashing it past his vision randomly, integrating rewards throughout the process. Also, only carefully involving consequences if he puts one, or both of us in harm's way by moving in the wrong direction.
There are also many variations to this concept, including time spent in the program, how many sessions, how often, variations in rewards, intensity of stimulus, randomness or stimulus, type of stimulus, type of environment, whether or not the stimulus approaches the horse or the horse approaches the stimulus, and so much more. You'll find it all in my book "Leadership and Horses."
The point is that horses benefit from desensitization of scary things. They need to be confident to carry a rider. Using approach and retreat techniques, a natural horse trainer can build confidence quickly for a horse that shows signs of fear.
5. Foundation Training
The Natural Horsemanship industry has most certainly cornered the market on the word "foundation". Foundation means, the beginning or start. It also means a "building block" for success. It's like kindergarten for kids. Horses desperately need a foundation before they are asked for higher levels of performance, and many natural horsemanship trainers have really good programs. So take a look at my article about trainers, to know how to find good trainers. Or click the link below and get a FREE strategy session with me.
For many people, Natural Horsemanship has also often been synonymous with "trick" training. You will often see natural trainers lying down with their horses, teaching them to rear, spin, jump, ride without a bridle, ride bareback, practice ground maneuvers without a rope (liberty training), playing with toys like the giant ball, standing on pedestals, and much more. You'll often see natural trainers using non-traditional tools, such as long sticks, whips, rope halters, and long lead ropes. All of which gives the trainer the ability to interact in unique ways.
Natural Horsemanship is an exciting way to think about training. It's not the end all, be all, that's for sure, but it helps a rider or trainer develop fantastic skills. Skills that can help you solve problems when you reach a plateau. Skills that can help you breakthrough scary situations and become a better leader for your horse because training is really about working with the inside of the horse, not just the outside.
Also, keep this in mind as you venture further into the field of natural horsemanship: Technically, any trainer, doing any type of task, including high-level Dressage, Reining, Jumping, etc., could be "natural" in their methods. Remember, "natural horsemanship" means psychology based training. Therefore, anyone who's willing to consider their horse's thoughts as something real and important is heading toward being more "natural."
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When your looking for help, look for these five qualities in your teacher. It doesn't matter if you're looking for English riders or Western riders, what matters are these five qualities.
Quality Number 1: Safety is a priority.
You sense your trainer wants everyone to be safe. Many trainers prioritize fun over safety. If you're a super confident rider you might want to join a more advanced instructor. But even with advanced instructors, safety should ALWAYS take priority. You and the horse must live to ride another day!
Quality Number 2: Genuine caring for the animal.
You sense your teacher genuinely cares about the animals experience. In other words, they want the horse to learn, and feel rewarded. Read the article on reward versus consequence oriented training.
Quality Number 3: Genuine caring for your experience.
You sense your teacher genuinely cares about your experience. You might wonder why I don't put this one first. The reason I prioritize this as number three isn't because you aren't valuable. Your teacher must see you as extremely valuable. It's just that many teachers value the experience of the student over the experience of the horse and literally enslave the horse to make the experience good for the human. Whereas in my course, classes, and coaching, my team and I always ensure the horse is recognized and honored and then we proceed to ensuring your experience is perfect. And by perfect I mean, you want your teacher to ensure you are safe, you have fun, and you make progress.
Quality Number 4: Extensive knowledge about the inside and outside of a horse.
You sense your teacher has a deep understanding about horse psychology and horse physiology. That means, they get what is going on inside the mind and emotions and at the same time, they see the value of helping a horse physically. Horses need help learning balance and self carriage. Once a horse learns, they need reminding from time to time.
What all that means is, many instructors don't know anything about horse psychology or physiology. You can ask just a few pointed questions to uncover their knowledge base. For example. I always recommend asking your potential instructor these four questions:
4. If your horse doesn't do what you want, how do punish him?
This is a trick question. You want to see their reaction. If they answer you with strategy and forget to correct you on the word "punish" you can begin to second guess his or her skill sets. Many trainers do punish horses and act as if it's OK. The best trainers will always correct you on the word "punish" and encourage a softer word. They may say "You mean, how would I support him to understand me?"
Quality Number 5: Your teacher hasn't stopped learning.
You sense your teacher is learning themselves. In other words, you don't want to study with someone who isn't a student themselves. Yes, instructors do need a good knowledge base to be effective instructors, but the minute a teacher stops learning, is the same minute they begin closing the doors to new and better technologies, or different styles of horsemanship for different folks. One simple way to find out if your teacher is still willing to learn, is to listen when you hear a teacher say, "this is the only way you do it." If you hear that comment, make a mental note that your teacher isn't open to new ideas. If you have time, ask your teacher if there are other ways to do it too, if the answer is "no", then you know. If the answer is "yes, there are always other ways to do nearly anything, some I'm sure I don't even know." then you know you've got a good teacher.
Also, be sure to ask your teacher, who he or she is studying with. Their answer will give you clues to their mindset and their own goals. It's important you find a teacher with a progressive and positive mindset.
Of course when looking for an instructor you might want to look inside a particular part of the horse industry. In other words, do you prefer English or Western riding styles? In Mastery Horsemanship we teach both, because ultimately it doesn't matter if you ride English or Western from the horses point of view. What matters is that you are safe, have fun, and make progress toward your personal goals, while maintaining and growing your relationship with horses.
We know how hard it can be to find good local trainers, so we created a distance coaching program to support people. Ironically, we're finding in many cases, some of our students make more progress in this safe and inclusive format than they ever did face to face. We call it Success Pathways.
We've helped hundreds of students worldwide with our Success Pathways program excel in western riding, English Riding, and natural horsemanship styles. We've helped riders make it all the way to the top levels of cutting and reining shows. We've also helped Olympic riders in with their jumping horses and dressage patterns. We have members on our team of instructors who demonstrate regularly in front of large crowds, showing the pinnacle of natural horsemanship, including liberty, bridle-less riding, working with multiple horses and more. We have expert colt starters and clinicians that travel the world teaching, and bringing that knowledge back here to this program.
What I'm saying is, I know we can help you with your horse. We know how hard it is to find a local instructor who has all five qualities. We encourage you to give Success Pathways a try. And to show much much we believe in it, we're going to give you a FREE trial.
All you have to do call this number:
or send an email to us
and we'll set up a private conference call to help you uncover your goals, and challenges with your horse.
Take a look at Success Pathways. We can give you step by step instruction, no matter what level you are starting at and there is no financial risk to you. Begin to see the benefits of having an instructor at your side.
"I looked at my journal from this past month, and the last thing I wrote was, "I'm beginning to believe..." Nothing is more powerful than what we believe in our hearts to be true. This program is really, seriously, amazingly helping me. Thank you!" - Karen
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That's a scary thing to say, don't you think? Why would a horseman of my skill and experience ever even think it wasn't ethical?
Then again, maybe you've never met a horseman like me! To answer the question: Is horse riding Ethical? I say, Yes... and no.
Horses bring great joy into a horse lovers world. And genuine horse lovers bring safety, pleasant experiences and healthy lifestyles into a horses life. The reality is, it wouldn't be ethical to turn all the horses back to the wild. Most would perish. It also wouldn't be ethical to leave them stranded in small pastures or tiny stalls. Therefore, one of the best things a horse lover can do for a horse is create positive interactions, which of course can include riding.
The question of riding being ethical or not has to do with what type of riding or training a person does.
For instance, a consequence oriented rider tends to punish the horse for confusion or missteps. A consequence oriented rider takes a horse out for a trail ride to bask in nature without thinking of the horses experience too. (forget about the horse, he's just a vehicle to get to nature faster). In my opinion, this is abusive and definitely NOT ethical.
However, a reward oriented rider tends to encourage the horse to grow, learn, and engage with her environment in playful or fun ways. A reward oriented rider goes on a trail ride because it's fun and because it's an opportunity to bond with and educate their horse partner.
The question of ethics then must move from the subject of riding to the subject of breeding. This is where it really get's scary. You must understand, I love horses. I live for horses! I am here on this planet to serve horses. I feel like I owe it to them. In fact I feel like our generation owes it to them. They helped build our cities, roads and canals. They gave us security, power, speed, distance. They gave us happiness, romance, and now, enlightenment.
I want people to see their value and honor it. And one way we can honor their value is to stop breeding. Not altogether, and not all at once. We just need to be smarter about it, be more conscious, because there is no outlet for horses flooding the market.
Do you know what happens to a thoroughbred that doesn't race well? Do you want to know? There are a few programs to help solve the problem, but none of them are talking about the root of the problem. Breeding carelessly, feverishly almost, looking for the next best horse, is the root of the problem. Everyone loves baby horses, but rarely do people stop to think about that new babies chances of having a good life.
Would you like to know what his chances are? Without hard evidence, I can't give you a direct answer. I'd only be making something up and I don't want to lead you astray. What I can say and what you could probably guess is, the findings so far from preliminary studies, aren't good.
You can follow your own horses history. By the way, if you're reading this and you've made it this far, I'll take that as an indication that you truly do care and your horse is one of the lucky ones. Now simply take a moment to review or follow your own horses history. Where did he come from, what did he experience before you? Or ask about your neighbors horses history and discover the challenges that each horse went through. Now think about their future. What will happen when you can no longer care for them? Have you thought of that? I think about these things often.
Sometimes, people ask me, "How did you get like this Don? How does a horseman, a trainer, a rider, get to be so sensitive about issues like this?" And often the very next question is..."If you feel this way so strongly, why do you have horses? Why do you ride?"
First of all, I appreciate the questions. I love horses. I care deeply, but the most interesting thing is, I think I'm a little bit autistic. Even from a young age I remember seeing things differently from my brothers. I would see a horse shy away and in my imagination see the very thing that caused her to shy away. Not being completely sure of what I was seeing, I would test the horse and watch a little closer, and time after time I would confirm that what I saw was exactly what the horse saw. I can "feel" what they feel. I can see what they see. I can understand them, their plot in life, their pain, their comfort, their joy, their questions. After twenty years of seeing it, feeling it, living it, helping horses recover, helping students learn, I see deeper now. I'm more practiced.
Is it possible I'm just hallucinating and I should just go back to thinking a horse is a dumb animal? Is it possible I'm reading into things too far? Of course, anything is possible. But if you could see what I see, the way I see it. I don't know if you would ever look at a horse the same way.
Here is what I want you to see. If you want to see...
You're horse has every single human emotion. Yes, every one. Fear, Stress, Anxiety, Joy, Happiness, Pain, Hunger, Depression, Sadness, Appreciation, Gratitude, Loneliness, Apathy, Disgust, Anger, Embarrassment, Desire, Playfulness, Longing, Insecurity, Peacefulness, Bliss, Tension, Scarcity, Patience, and any others not named here.
How do I know? I see it.
Can you read someone when their fearful? Probably. A practiced psycho therapist can read you like a book. A married couple can read between the lines and instantly pick out the emotion driving the behavior. What I am is a practiced and gifted horse psychologist.
I can see the tension in the muscles, the face, the breathing patterns. I can see the digestion slow and speed up. I can see the hesitation to move a certain muscle. I can see the early sweat patterns. I can even see what is causing the emotion most of the time. I can see where their attention is moment by moment. I can see when they hope to explore and when they want to shut the world out. And you could see those things too, if you're willing to learn how.
I want to show you how, if you want to learn. And there will be much more to come along the subject of reading horses. But allow me a moment to retreat to the first question... Is riding ethical?
And that, I cannot answer for you, but I can say that the answer is already "in" you. Are you ethical in the way you interact with your horses? Do you think of the horse first, or even at all? I bet, if you've read this far, you're one of a growing population of horse lovers who really, truly do see the horse and want to give her what she deserves!
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"You're welcome at my campfire anytime."
Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy
By the way... the quote "you're welcome at my campfire anytime" didn't come from me. Can you tell me where it came from? Extra points if you can:) Comment below.
Be Wary of Possessive Instructors
When you hear your instructor say "Don't go spend you money on that clinic!" or "Don't take a lesson with her or him!" Take a deep breath and recognize your instructor is being possessive.
It's a chronic problem in the horse industry. A phenomenon really. Instructors seem to think once you spend money with them, they are your new guru. They even get offended if you study with someone else. They take it personally, as if you don't love them or something. But the truth is, horse owners need to be free.
I can't tell you how many times I've taught a clinic in a new area, only to have one of my students say, "My instructor told me not to come to your class." I always ask. "Well... are you having a good time, are you learning what you need to know?" The answer is always "Yes."
I can also relate how, many times, I've had my students tell me about an upcoming clinic with another instructor. Sometimes I can't tell if they're telling me because they are nervous or because they are excited. Either way, I always tell them to go. Because you learn things everywhere you go. Learning is the key. Sometimes I know they are going to learn what "not" to do instead and I may even warn them about the things that could take place. I may even explain the value of consistency to ensure that when they do take lessons with another instructor, they must continue to work on the foundation skills with their horse. But I still encourage the experience. I always encourage the experience unless I know first hand that the instructor is abusive.
In my opinion, mastery is about learning every aspect in a category. It's not a singular endeavor. It's an all encompassing endeavor. Therefore, it's important for horse owners to experience what's in their heart, not mine. I don't mind seeing people take the long safe road to success. I love to see people cross over disciplines and techniques and ultimately find their own style, in their own time. As long as they care about the animals experience, I don't mind where they go, what they do, who they want to study with. What I care about is safety, progress, and fun for both people and horses.
The crazy cool thing is, how students keep coming back for more lessons and clinics and courses with me because I don't hold them so tight. I even encourage new personal growth and they always feel welcome or even at home in my classes.
It's true that many people can't afford to take multiple classes or clinics every year and that's one of the reasons instructors fight so hard to keep clients, but the reality is, people need to do what people need to do. If I could advise instructors, I'd say, "Stay true to your values, and don't be possessive. Don't discourage learning from others." If I could advise students, I'd say, "The world is yours. Discover. Explore. Learn. I'll be here when you need me."
I hope you get what you want out of life and your horse experiences. Life is too short to live in scarcity and under possessive personalities. Be true to yourself. Enjoy yourself and your direction. Be open. Live your dreams with horses!
Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy