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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.
Help us help them, by donating today. And because we want to inspire and thank you receive our first Mastery Course FREE.
Watch this video to see what I see.
I hope you'll support the cause. And know, that just by sharing this post, you'll be supporting the cause.
Want more from us? Be sure to sign up below.
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.
Please comment and share this article
PS. Get the Level 1 Ownership Course Free and share it with the world!
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.
Share, comment, like us on Facebook, and email us with any horse questions you would like me to write about.
PS. Buy the book that has changed the lives of many horses by turning horse "lovers" into horse "leaders." And get the Beginner Ground Course FREE.
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.
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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.
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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
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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!
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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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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
The one thing you should never do with horses is...
Assume they understand everything that is expected of them.
Many people think the horse knows what they want when, in fact, most horses don't have a clue even if they've done it a hundred times. I often hear someone say "my horse knows how to get it the trailer, why won't he do it?" As a result, of thinking the horse "knows" it, many people get frustrated and when a person looks upset, nobody wants to be around them, let alone, listen to them. When I say nobody, that includes horses too. To avoid frustration you simply need to know the real reasons why a horse won't do something.
Let me clarify. There are in fact, six basic reasons a horses wouldn't do what we want them to do for us, such as: get into a trailer or walk over a creek even if they've done it before.
Number 1. Alignment (the horse is not aligned physically for the task). It takes a keen eye to see misalignment issues but once you see them you can't NOT see them anymore and when you learn to correct alignment you can make immediate shifts in your horses behavior.
2. Energy (the horse doesn't have the right level of energy) It's either too much or too little for the task at hand. Once you learn to manage energy levels you get results like only the masters in the industry get results. It's absolutely amazing what you can do. I teach all about this in my book "Leadership and Horses"
3. Connection (the horse is distracted, focused on something else). Easy to see, not always easy to correct. Reading and addressing distraction takes practice and patience and a lot of re-aligning the horses attention, but with practice you can become a very effective leader for your horse.
4. Fear (the horse is genuinely afraid of you, the task, the environment, or her position relative to the herd). Fear is tricky and easy to misread which thing the horse is actually afraid of, but in time you can become an expert. Read my article on a guide to natural horsemanship.
5. Confusion (the horse simply does not understand what you want or perhaps why it's so important to you) Maybe he has done it before, that doesn't mean he understand in this very moment. When subtle changes take place in the environment, (even smells we can't pick up) your horse may act differently or feel confused. When you learn to see confusion pop up, you can address your horse with more clarity and simpler tasks with more rewards to help them see what you want.
6. Physical limitations (the horse is too unfit, uncoordinated, too tired, or simply too lame to achieve the results you want). Learning to read physical limits of a horse doesn't have to take a lifetime. You can learn everything you need to in a simple course with me. (coming soon - tell me in the comments below if you'd be interested) or go through the school of hard knocks and learn it yourself in a few years time. That's certainly what I did.
If your horse doesn't go in the horse trailer and you say "He knows what I want, he is just being obstinate!" You could substitute the word with "naughty, rude, disrespectful, etc." but the truth is... If he knows what you want and he's not doing it, he is confused.
but the truth is... If he knows what you want and he's not doing it, he is confused.
Let me clarify again. He's may not be confused about what you want. He's confused about "why" it's so important. He sees no value in it.
I know it's just like semantics, but words are important.
When you say your horse is being obstinate, you tend to get slightly frustrated and maybe even a little offended. When you're frustrated, you tend to add inappropriate amounts of pressure to a situation and end up compounding the problem. Or you just walk away from the situation and end up compounding other problems later down the road. The point is: FRUSTRATION LEADS TO POOR LEADERSHIP!
FRUSTRATION LEADS TO POOR LEADERSHIP!
When you say your horse is confused rather that obstinate, you being to see how you need to help clarify or simplify things to help him. You begin looking for more opportunities to reward. You also begin looking for ways to make the right thing easier and the wrong thing uncomfortable without giving your horse the impression that you are a complete asshole! Pardon my language.
Back to the top now. What's the one thing you should never do with horses?
Never assume he knows everything and anything related to what you want. After all, science has proven today that horses have the brain of a four-year-old human child.
I like that perspective. It keeps me slow, soft, playful, repetitive, rewarding, calm, and assertive in safety situations. It sets me up more like a preschool teacher. That's how all horse trainers and horse owners can learn to act around their horses. Not that they shouldn't go after higher performance. I think that's great too. Just keep in mind how horses learn along the way.
To learn more about the six reasons horses don't do what you want, get the book Leadership and Horses Simply click the link here or find it on amazon.com
Thanks for reading. Follow us, like us, sign up for emails and comment below. I love hearing from my readers.
Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy
Do horses suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)?
YES, THEY DO!
I’ve seen it hundreds of times. People often chalk up misbehavior as “naughty, bad, disrespectful, or stupid.” Chronic behaviors like cribbing, bucking, bolting, freezing, swaying, sudden reactions from seemingly nothing, chasing, ear pinning, tongue or mouth displacement, grinding teeth, and many more can be signs of something going on deep inside the horse. I always give the horse the benefit of the doubt when someone tells me he’s being “a bugger, an ass, a jerk, a bitch” because the horse cannot speak for herself in our world. More often than not, when you get a clearer picture of the history each horse has experienced you start to see why they react the way they do.
Sometimes you don’t know the whole history. For example. You don’t remember when your horse was mistreated but suddenly he’s become ear shy. You can’t think of any moment from birth until now that he’s had a confusing or stressful experience yet, here he is… showing all the signs of PTSD. The truth is, it takes very little for a horse to develop PTSD like behaviors. They simply can’t wrap their minds around our human experiences very easily.
The strange thing, is that horses can get PTSD much easier than we can, simply because we have the cognitive skills to manage heightened emotional states. We can figuratively wrap our mind around more painful or scary experiences. But anyone who has actually suffered from PTSD will tell you. Logic isn’t the issue. Sounds, sights, smells, they can all trigger a traumatic moment in your memory and imagination. The same thing is happening for horses.
All of the above doesn’t mean that your horse suffers from PTSD. Many behaviors are minor in nature and not recurring. Horses buck, bolt, bite, strike, and rear at play. Why wouldn’t they attempt to do those things with a rider on their back from time to time. It makes sense they would do those things. In other words, “a horse is a horse of course of course”.
Signs of PTSD are more obvious when a horse starts doing abnormal things related to certain stimulus. Things that aren’t typical. Things that don’t make sense to us. Things like cribbing in a stall. Things like grinding teeth with a bridle on. Things like sudden bolting or twisting or bucking, seemingly out of the blue but happening more and more often. Things like freezing, sweating in odd places or prematurely. Things that go beyond the typical playful behaviors a horse would exhibit. All these things can be signs of PTSD.
What can be done for horses that suffer from PTSD?
In my book, Leadership and Horses I talk about the Four “B” s of Leadership.
Basic to advanced skill development
In the book, each piece is detailed out for better understanding and application, but for the sake of clarity and brevity. I want to give you the value of just one piece today. “Bravery”
Specifically, a certain type of bravery call “flash training”
All horses, but especially horses suffering from PTSD need flash training. What is flash training?
It’s a simple strategy that trains and rewards calmness and relaxation immediately after a visual, auditory, or tactile sensation flashes past the horse.
Basically, horses react to sudden sensations. They need to learn to relax with sudden sensations.
At my clinics, I often tell a short story then pose a simple question. Here it is:
Years ago, I was leading my horse across my neighbor’s lawn. My neighbor saw me through the window and wanted to say hi before I got too far away. She ran to the door and opened the door to call my name. In that instant, my horse jumped up, sideways, and down, landing squarely on my foot and breaking several bones.
Now I pose the question… Is my horse afraid of doors? Or is it the sudden “flash” of the door that created the reaction?
You guessed it. My horse, like all horses, reacts to sudden sensation, the only cure then becomes more exposure to sudden things (many you can simulate on your own if you have a strong imagination) and then training the horse to hold still and settle. Each time he settles, he’s must be rewarded with rubbing, scratching or treats.
One of my favorite techniques is to flash my hand at the horse’s eyeball. From a distance, it looks like I’m going to smack him in the eye, but come a little closer and you’ll see my hand slow down right at the last second and kindly rub his eye. After a few repetitions, he becomes quiet and calm. He begins to trust the experience. He begins to see the flash and “be” ok about it, even rewarded, because each time he gets a kind petting experience from the same hand that looked evil before.
Do you see how it works now? Flash training for certain horses can be a miracle cure. It won’t all get fixed overnight of course, and there are more pieces to the puzzle. For instance, outlined in my nine leadership principles you’ll see how horse owners must ensure the horse has what he needs to survive and thrive in our world. Thriving requires different skills sets and different thinking on our part as owners.
In summary, yes, horses do suffer from PTSD. Is it curable. Yes, just about as curable as it is for us humans. Is it easy? Depends on the situation of course. Will Leadership and Horses help you understand your horse better? Yes. Pick it up. Give you horse the gift of become the best leader you can be for him or for her.
Don Jessop – the breakthrough guy
The horses I couldn’t help!
“I lay awake thinking of the animals. I can’t shake the images from my mind. I am haunted by their cry!”
Just a few minutes ago I put the phone down, my body was shaking. My thoughts we’re reeling. My inner voice was shouting “I should have said more! I should have…done more. This isn’t OK? Why is this happening?”
The woman on the other end of the line was a telling me how “it just doesn’t matter” that her horses weren’t getting fed enough. That her horses we’re “none of my business.”
“If you think I’m neglecting my horses, why don’t you just take them!” She shouted.
My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t take her horses. All I wanted was to encourage her to care for them in the way they deserve. I knew and have known for years now that I can’t take on more horses. Not only because I don’t have the space but because the very minute I take on more is the same minute I lose time to promote proper horse training and care industry wide.
I felt her frustration and normally I would be able to simply let it go. But for a few years now a special kind of tension has been building inside me. I see horses differently. I used to see them as four legs and a strong back that could carry me across the Snowy River with Jim Craig in the Australian highlands. Things have changed for me. Maybe it was the concussion. Maybe, I always saw things this way but couldn’t admit it. Now, when I look at a horse, I see a being. I see a heart and lungs. I see a vivid memory inside a vibrant mind. I see the pain of slavery and captivity expressed in reactive behaviors or a sullen countenance.
I want horse owners to succeed with their horses. I want horses to succeed with their humans. I care deeply for the safety and well-being of these special animals.
The problem is… I can see the future. The horse industry isn’t getting much better for horses, not yet anyway. But with your help, maybe it can.
From the perspective of the public, the care-taking of horses actually has improved, due to the natural horsemanship movement started nearly fifty years ago by men and women like Ray Hunt, Linda and Pat Parelli, Tom Dorance, Bill Dorance, John Lyons and many others. However, the natural horsemanship movement has only impacted a small portion of the entire industry and… even within the natural horsemanship style, horse abuse cases are taking place every day.
What are those abuse cases? What does abuse actually mean? Basically, in my opinion, horse abuse takes place when a trainer is consequence oriented instead of reward oriented. This kind of thing happens every single day among “natural” trainers. When I see a trainer spank a horse to go, then offer no reward when he does go, I see abuse. When I see a trainer ride a horse and put it away before the sweat dries, I see abuse. When I see an owner confine a horse to a twelve by twelve stall day after day, I see abuse. When I see a rider take a horse through challenging circumstances, far beyond the developed skill of the horse and mechanically force cooperation, I see abuse.
Abusive training styles run rampant in the natural horse industry and in the traditional training industry. But it is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is careless breeding. People keep bringing horses into the world like they’re going out of style. We need to stop careless breeding. Notice I didn’t say we should stop breeding altogether! I mean we should stop breeding just because we like babies, or because we want our special bloodline to last, or because we forgot to close the gate and the stallion got loose, or because someone offered us a bit of spare change. Breeding should be carefully assessed for quality horses of sound mind and body. Horses that are compatible for human hands in a human world.
The reason careless breeding is such a big problem has to do with neglect. There are simply not enough practical thinking horse owners to care for all the horses flooding the industry. There is simply no outlet for horses. Horses are being left to starve. Mistreated horses or horses with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are being left to wither away and pass from home to home because they are no longer “safe” to ride. Injured horses are being tossed out, and if you have a heart (which you must, if you’re reading this) you find it hard to see horse families being torn apart. Horses are in fact herd or “family” oriented creatures. Mares and foals create a connection that lasts a lifetime. They never forget! Never! Would you forget if you we’re taken from your parents at an early age? Probably not..
The point is, horses are subject to human hands. If those hands are not careful and conscious and intelligent, horses will suffer. You can help me curb the suffering of horses by sharing this article and following me for more insights, inspiration, and technical information about skills and learning. I want you on my team because together we can start to make a difference.
Thanks for reading.
Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy
Now a record 90+ percent of the horse industry is made up of women. Most over 40.
I wanted to uncover why there has been such a dramatic shift and how it has impacted the industry in general.
The first answer came after nearly 20 years in the industry myself. I’ve been teaching riders and training horses for a variety of different people and a variety of different reasons. I’ve helped Olympic riders, I’ve trained Olympic quality horses. I’ve helped backyard enthusiast, and professionals.
In the beginning, the people who came to my classes varied. I’d see women and men of all ages. But over the last few years my clientele has shifted to middle aged women. Occasionally I’ll see a young girl in my class or the husband of another clinic participant. But generally, in fact almost exclusively, my classes consist of women riders between 40-65 years old. That doesn’t mean there aren’t classes out there being taught for younger generations. And certainly, in western performance classes we still see a lot of men competing, but rapidly, the industry is changing. And I believe for the better!
Why did this shift happen? In my book Leadership and Horses, which you can pick up right here on this website or buy from Amazon.com, I talk in depth about the value of a horse and how it’s shifted through the centuries. Thousands of years ago people hunted horses for food. Then used them to farm. Then came transportation. Then came warfare, and industry. When machines replaced horses in industry, people began using them primarily for sport. In the last half century, horses have been used almost exclusively for recreation and entertainment. There are still people who rely on horses for farming in certain parts of the world but most people have the resources to do without them.
The shift in demographics (the types of people who participate in horse activities) changed with the tides as well. People who used horses for industry don’t see the value of a horse. People who used horses for transportation, no longer need their four legs and strong back. People who used horses for war, found tanks and trucks were more effective. And most of the people involved in those work-related endeavors came from a male dominated work society. But today, society has changed. Women have a real voice, a well-deserved and respected voice for change. It is women who found the horses true value. It is women who see past the four legs and strong back to the very heart and spirit of the animal. It is women, who are reaching out to rescue animals, and connect with them in a way that men generally struggle with. That’s why I think it’s the best thing for the industry that women are engaging with horses more and more. Women are more sensitive (of course only generally) than men and therefore tend to be less abusive. Women are kinder, sweeter, more aware of the being they are interacting with.
Women have brought horses into their lives for a variety of reasons. Many find the connection with an animal compares to little else in this world. It’s a place where a heart and mind can clear, where the problems of the world go away. Some want horses to explore the trails, or to challenge themselves in ways no other course in history can compare to. When a rider engages in Mastery Horsemanship (that never-ending pursuit of perfection), the human soul can literally change and heal. When a rider takes her horse into the ring to teach a new task, both engage with each other in complicated and beautiful ways. Owning horses requires leadership skills, some of which need to be honed and trained. Women can be natural leaders with the ability and desire to increase their leadership skills. To better themselves. The horse is a fantastic vehicle for all of the above. And fortunately for the horse, more and more women are becoming interested in training and leadership and connection.
I believe without the demographic shift in the horse industry, one of two things would have happened in the last 20 years. Either horses would be abandoned altogether and sentenced to die in captivity with no positive stimulus or men would continue to assert their dominance over animals for the sake of sport. (another generalization to be sure). Many men are kind, thoughtful, creative, supportive, and spiritual. I encourage all the men in my classes to listen close to their equine friends. Many do, and many make magical changes in their own lives as a result.
Many horse fans continue to engage in sports and recreation. I encourage this as well. But I hope to inspire a change in the industry of sport. I hope to show people how to see the horse beyond four legs and strong back. I want to help people teach horses to love our human interactions. Horses can learn to engage with us in ways they would never even think of. These new interactions can expand their own experience while in our care.
I hope to show people how to see the horse as a partner in progress. Only this time it’s not about building bridges or digging canals. Instead it’s about finding the human soul and expanding it. When a rider begins to see the true value of a horse, like so many of the women in my classes do, they can transform their own lives and give back to the creatures that gave us everything we see and touch today. This can be done in a way that is rewarding and pleasurable for everyone.
Maybe together, you and I can change the value of horses completely. We can shape the world around us to where we see less abuse and more harmony. We can change the future for all horses.
Thank you for reading! Support me now to do more.
When you buy this book, a percentage of your sale goes to the “Horses for Orphans Project”, which helps underprivileged children engage with horses to find healing inside and confidence. Find out more when you follow the link.
Click the book to get your copy today and know that you support a fantastic cause!
Also, please comment below, share this article, and help us change the world.
The horse is a being of raw emotion, expression, power, and beauty.
Look in the mirror and see how you are the same! The only difference is, you were given the gift of language. Something you learned by the age of two years old. The horse never got language skills and people all around the world seem to think they lack intelligence. But the interesting things is, when we take away your language skills, for instance if I tape your mouth closed and expose you to challenging circumstances, then every behavior or desire you have would be expressed exactly the same way your horse does. EXACTLY. It is called the language of emotion and it’s happening all the time, all around us. We are speaking in the language of emotion too, we simply mask our emotion with language from time to time. But a good observer would be able to read your emotions anyway, so language doesn’t often do as much as we might hope.
The proposition I’ve always asked of horse owners, is to see that their horse is more special than they ever imagined.
Does a horse dream? Answer: Yes. Not only does science show us this, I’ve seen it myself. I’ve seen horses act out or cry out while sleeping.
Does a horse remember? Answer: Yes. I’ve seen this too. I’ve seen horses connect with their mother after a decade of separation and instantly become “inseparable”.
Does a horse think of the future? Answer: Yes, Absolutely! I see it every single day I ride. I sense my horses desire to “be” somewhere else! That is a futuristic thought.
The point is, we are the same, horses and humans. The horse has a brain of a four-year-old human child. Cognitively that is. Animal behavior scientist have confirmed this now.
He gets nervous when learning, just like a child. He gets frustrated when he’s misunderstood, just like a child. He gets so scared he can’t see where the opening in the fence is to follow his pasture mates into a new field, just like when a child can’t see the shoes in the closet when mommy is calling for him to hurry.
He’s not dumb! She’s not stupid! She’s just young! Unfortunately, without language he or she will never “grow up” cognitively just like some children who failed to learn language and face their entire adult lives thought of as “slow” or “retarded”. These children who become adults face their challenges with emotional responses. They show their desire with sounds, wales, screams, grunts, sighs, tension in their muscles, smiles, holding breath, breathing loudly, and more.
These same behaviors are not beneath you and I either. In social experiments I’ve done with my students at certain clinics. I’ve asked them to close their mouth and speak no words while they attempt to communicate a series of very simple tasks to another person who has to figure out what they want. Always, without fail, my students resort to grunts, noises, motions, and almost always, forms of fear and frustration show up too.
You see we are the same!
So why am I telling you this? Because taking away this “sameness” is exactly what gives many people the perceived right to hold captive and enslave our four legged friends.
Throughout history societies will enslave other “different” populations of people or animals. It’s an interesting human dynamic that can leave some people indifferent and others heartbroken.
For me personally, it leaves me heartbroken.
So where am I going with all this? Am I saying horses are slaves? Am I saying we should free the horses and turn them back to the wild?
Yes! And absolutely NOT! Yes, I believe horses are held captive. They did not choose the life of human industry and recreation. But a resounding NO, is my answer for turning them back into the wild. It’s too big of a leap. There is a better path to freedom. If we turned them loose today, most domestic horses would perish, either by lack of space and food or fatal wounds caused by human inventions (such as cars and fences).
We must protect them, we must serve them, because they have served us. We built our roads, canals, and cities on their backs. We built and entire industry of recreation on their backs. They deserve better than to be turned out blindly into a world without support and maybe in a hundred years or so we’ll be able to evolve into a species that takes no more from them.
In the meantime, here is what we can do? Give them what they need to survive and thrive in our world.
I talk about these needs in depth in my book Leadership and Horses.
One of those needs is positive stimulus. (That can mean riding too!)
But there is something else we can do for our four-legged-friends. Would you like to know what it is?
Brace yourself. STOP breeding them. Not completely, of course. Any big leap in giving back the horses rights turns into a problem (I’ll explain in second). The best thing to do is, limit breeding to horses of a certain quality. I mean emotional and cognitive quality. I mean “calmer, safer, braver” horses. Stop strictly breeding for athletic ability, beauty, and muscle power, or for the mere thought of having a cute baby on the ground to look at.
The reason we can’t stop breeding altogether, is because any big leap to change the horse industry results in people losing interest in horses altogether. If a law were passed today to prohibit people from riding horses, many people would abandon their horses, allowing them to starve or worse. Time must pass slowly. And in the meantime, we can make a difference in our own backyard. We can give our horses a real “home” to live in. A safe place, even a fun place! We can both enjoy the experience. It no longer has to be one-sided.
Another thing we can do is ensure our methods for training and interacting develop a positive experience for our horses. I wish I could say… “Gone are the days of forces learning and consequence oriented training.” In truth those days aren’t gone. Famous trainers you may know, continue to sell cruel, consequence oriented training methods to an unsuspecting public. We can rise above this. In my book you’ll find exactly how I teach my clients to rise above this.
What I want to do for you today is bring a cold sprinkle of the reality our horses face with a bright ray of sunshine to inspire you to do more and be more. When clients of mine realize what value they can bring to their horse, they become excited about it. When they realize they can enjoy their horse on a deeper level, they become excited about it. When they realize they can achieve more, create more confidence, develop true leadership skills, they become excited about it. I want you to be excited too. The future is ours. How shall we share it?
I can’t wait to hear from you. I love your comments.
For now. God bless and keep you!
What do I mean by that? Nearly every day people lose their confidence to ride due to injury or near injury. Just today I read an email telling me how she got hurt, broke her nose and cracked some ribs. She's lost her confidence and she's asking me how she is going to get it back.
I spend a lot of time talking about recovery because I've had to make recoveries from injury and loss of confidence. I don't want anyone to go through what I've been through and that's why I want to set people up for success.
In case you have been through injury, just know, you're not alone. I'm here for you. I believe in you!
Confidence recovery is a fickle thing but it's also definitely possible to recover completely. In truth you will be more aware, more alert, more guarded but your confidence to go ahead and do what you love can return.
The safe scenario for most people is to avoid accidents altogether. In other words, don't go out and risk your life to ride a horse, motorcycle, subway, or scooter. Stay inside, stay safe. But of course this isn't really the best case scenario because there is no life in complete bubble wrapped safe rooms. Life happens outside, in the exact same places that death happens. There is no getting around risk, but there are certain steps one can do to avoid risk and in the event you can't avoid injury, you can learn to recover physically and emotionally.
Set the stage for a safe ride by ensuring other horses aren't apt to jazz your horse up. Ride on days that won't be so spooky for your horse (such as windy days) and do the proper ground work to ensure your horse is connected. Because all injuries. ALL injuries stem from a momentary lapse in concentration either on the riders part or the horses. I'm not saying accidents can't happen. I'm saying you can minimize accidents happening when you have total awareness of the situation and every possible pitfall. Just like a pilot crossing the Atlantic, checking fuel gauges, maps, radar screens, and more, you must be vigilant about your horse's emotions, physical limitations, energy levels, concentration levels, etc.
In my book Leadership and Horses I talk in detail about setting the stage for safety and confidence. Pick it up today!
Time heals all wounds, except injury related fear wounds. One hundred years can go by and you will still be afraid of injury and even more afraid because you're body isn't what it used to be. Therefore, the only way to recover from lost confidence or (fear wounds) is to rejoin the living.
Yes, the body needs to heal, a broken rib needs mending. And when it is healed, you must walk again, you must run again, you must ride again. You must find the inspiration to become whole again.
"If a horse bucks you off, what should you do?"
"Get back on again!"
You know who said that? Jim Craig in the famous "Man from Snow River" film.
This is one of the films that drew me to horse riding. I find if I stay connected to the inspiration, I recovery more quickly for riding again. I've had injuries, and I've recovered. So can you.
What inspires you? What do you want to remember about riding and horses? What will compel you to return? Find it, find the answer!
Let's start communicating about your confidence. Sign up for emails at the bottom of the page here and we'll send you regular inspiration.
To your success!
PS. Buy they course that will make you safer when riding! Beginner Riding
"OK" I said to my self... "Here we go!"
It was ten o’clock in the morning and I hadn't had my ice cream yet. I should have known it wasn't going to work out well!
"Go ahead! Push record! I'm ready!" I told my wife who was standing behind the camera. She is a tall slender beautiful woman with legs that just don't quit.
"Would you quit with those legs!" I demanded.
Ever since I asked her to film my audition I noticed a steady sewing machine like twitch in her legs. Probably because she knew I was about to undertake the most challenging task on the face of the planet and she was worried for me. Either that or she really needed to go to the bathroom.
Anyway. There we were, me, my horse, and my audience. Of course my audience was just a camcorder and a couple of giggling ponies on the other side of the fence. Maybe they knew what I was just about to get into and thought they should stick around to watch the action.
I was about to film my Parelli levels audition to see if I would qualify to join the elite group of people who actually passed the entirety of the Parelli program. (The Parelli program is a wonderful measuring tool for success and progress with horses in the Natural horse training discipline).
I knew I could do it. I knew my horse could do it. What I didn't know is that under the pressure of my audience I would crumble like a really crumbly cookie. You know the kind you get from the free sample tray at the local super market when they put them out on display because there is no way they would be able to sell them without someone complaining and filing law suits about how they couldn't eat the cookie because it crumbled to fast.
It's a funny thing how we crumble under pressure! In my mind I could see it all going so well.
"All I have to do is be perfect!" I thought to myself. “I can do this!”
It didn’t take long before my plans for perfection were thwarted. My long ropes got tangled under my horses legs and began wrapping around my legs. Luckily my horse was calm, but my film was ruined. How could I send in a professional looking audition when I can’t even contain the spaghetti like equipment?
At first I was frustrated, but then I laughed out loud. I looked up at my wife and said. “Spaghetti happens!”
“This is how all my students must feel, every time they have an audience or try out some new equipment.” I recalled.
As a professional, I support many students in many different disciplines but those who are reaching for goals with in Natural Horsemanship ultimately end up advancing to longer ropes and inviting more spaghetti like experiences, as ropes wrap needlessly around legs, hands, sticks, fence posts, etc.
The bottom line is. Don’t get frustrated when you look silly or fumble. It’s part of the learning curve!
Are horses losing their value?
In the year 1934, the US army was accused of slaughtering US Military mounts(horses) because there was no longer any value for horses in a mechanized military force. To be more precise, the accusations surrounding the army were made around 1995, when the movie “In Pursuit of Honor”, staring Don Johnson and Gabrielle Anwar, arrived, claiming the military events of 1934 to be accurate. In review, however, the story was little more than a novel and no proof the events depicted in the movie were ever discovered. In other words, Hollywood made a story about horses losing their value and a few great men challenging the status quo to honor the horse. The real question of a horse’s value, however, remains and has become even more integral in our current world.
Industry and agriculture have all slowly moved toward machines in the last century. However, in the 1970’s through to about the early 2000’s horses played a big part of a unique industry called the entertainment industry. Their value changed on a public scale from ranching and farming to recreation. Then, from about 1985-2010 a huge boom in the information age changed the general public’s perception of horses and specifically, what is considered, the ethical treatment and training of horses. Slowly, but surely horse owners around the world have become more interested in the well-being of their equine counterparts.
Here is the real interesting part: From about 2010 to our current time, horses have slowly started leaving the entertainment scene and fading into the background. Not completely of course. Just ever so slowly, horses are losing their value into today’s world. This change is noticeable, only to a few people in the horse industry known as “master horseman.” These are people who’ve devoted their lives to learning everything there is to know about horses. From bloodlines to training methods. From care taking to facility management. From Western, English, and Traditional riding styles to ground training of all types including, liberty, driving, and tricks. From working with the most difficult of abuse cases to most expensive sales transactions. These men and women have seen everything and done most everything for themselves with their own horses. Many of these men and woman have their own unique specific skill sets but they all have one thing in common. They all believe that the horse’s dignity must be preserved.
We have a special responsibility to our equine partners. Not just for what they’ve given us but for what we, as a people have taken from them. We’ve placed them in small spaces compared to the great outdoors, mother nature provided. We’ve mindlessly split mothers from their foals. We’ve bred horses needlessly and watched horses suffer in stock yards and neglected homes.
The fact that horses are fading into the background and slowly losing their value is discouraging news, because the problem of mistreated horses becomes amplified. As people’s interest for horse’s fades, so do their care-taking responsibilities.
You must realize, of course, that all these observations are generalizations and not true for everyone in the industry. Many wonderful people put their energy into ensuring this world is a safe and beautiful place for horses and horse lovers. This good news is that these same wonderful people (perhaps, you included) are starting to share their passions with the world around them using the horse as a vehicle of change and growth. But this time, it’s not about industrial growth, it’s about emotional healing, and the development of leadership qualities.
Anyone willing to risk thinking of a horse as more than just a piece of property will begin to see how horses have feelings. Horses have dreams. Horses have memories. If horses could speak, they would. They can learn. They can solve puzzles. Most animal behavior scientist believe horses have the brain of a four-year-old human child. I agree. Some horses are more reactive, just like some children. Their ability to focus, think, solve problems, and manage their own emotions is just about the same level as a pre-school child.
As more and more people discover how easy as 4-wheeler is to ride compared to a horse, less people are learning about what it takes to be a steward of emotion and relationship. I agree, horses aren’t the safest thing to be on or near. You’re looking at 1200lbs compared to the average 200lb human. When you fall, you fall hard. You can get hurt. But if you’re willing to look at your life as an opportunity for growth, passion, energy, relationships and more, you will feel something only a devoted horse person feels. There is a connection, a special bond between riders and horses, that can only be understood if your see the horse as more than a four-legged ATV.
I want the value of the horse to remain in our society. In fact, I want the value of a horse to increase in our world. Let me be clear! I don’t want more people breeding horses. Breeding too many is the leading cause of horse neglect and abuse. There is no outlet for too many horses. They have become disposable items. Even cows get eaten when they are no longer useful. Horse get cast out, abused, starved, then finally die a lonely, slow death. Again, I’m generalizing, but I hope my point is clear. Horses deserve better from us. After all, they gave us industry. They gave us transportation. They gave us farming. They gave us entertainment. No I ask the question… What can we give them?
I say, let’s give them the life they deserve. Let’s keep their bodies in motion through positive exercise and pleasant relationships. Let’s use them again for riding and play, but this time, let’s take a closer look at our relationship with them. How do we ensure their integrity is maintained? How do we ensure they say sound, healthy, and happy? How do we ensure they know their true value in our world? And that’s where I come back to us. How do we become the leaders they deserve?
If you’ve read through this article this far, I thank you. You are a devoted horse person. Devote yourself further to becoming the best person you can for the equine world around us. Pick up my new book created to help people strike up meaningful relationships with their horses in today’s world. The book is called “Leadership and Horses” buy it today by clicking this link:
Special note: A portion proceeds from every single book purchased, goes to support Horses for Orphans. Which is a powerful leadership program created by some very passionate people for some desperate children in underprivileged worlds. Look it up here: www.horsesfororphans.com
This is so cool. Fishing on horses! Wow!
It takes a confident horse to not only stand quietly in shoulder deep water and watch a fish leaping high into the air just a meter away from her nose. Mastery Horsemanship invites you to show us your most extreme confident horse experience. Post your comments below.
I'm the one standing on the horse while my friend Richard casts his fly rod out to catch a rainbow trout near our Montana home in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley.
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Corivallis MT 59828
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