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In the last article, I talked all about five signs you might be doing something wrong with your horse. Today I want to give you the signs you're doing it right.
Reader beware, you might just feel like a million dollars after reading this, in case you don't, I know how to make sure you do. Read to the end.
Your horse is easy to catch, easy to tack up, and is becoming more confident all the time.
There's nothing like the feeling of having your horse meet you at the gate. And subsequently not shift around nervously when the tack comes out. It says something about you, about how you work around your horse. If that's your experience, we'll done. You're doing fantastic!
The other day, some kids came to spend the weekend with us. Imagine a 1200 pound animal standing next to a 50 pound child. Was I nervous about it? Not in the least. Naturally I was attentive to the needs of the child and the horse and I always encourage safe movements about the animals, but was I worried my horses would check out and cause harm? Nope! I put in the training so my horse isn't just good for me, but good for you too. If your horse is progressing to this point, you're on track for sure. If your horse can handle kids and grandparents, congratulations, you're doing something right!
In the article titled "5 signs you might doing it wrong," we talked briefly about the accumulation of tools. It seems the horse industry has taught us that the better you get, the more tools you need. In upper level dressage for instance you don't just use one bit, you use two! AT THE SAME TIME! This is ridiculous! I've done it, I studied the benefits, I've ridden at that level and I can tell you, unequivocally, it isn't necessary. One sign you're doing things right is that your horse needs less to hear you, to understand you, to respond. Because more tools means less understanding and less tools means more understanding. I'm not saying throw away your tools. It's okay to use tools, but the goal should be to diminish the use of tools to prove your horse understands. If you can say, "my horse doesn't just do the maneuver, he truly 'gets' the maneuver and I can prove it by using less hand, less leg, less support," then at that point you are proving to yourself that you truly understand horsemanship, not just horse riding. If this is you, Congratulations you've just joined an elite club of lateral thinkers and industry changers.
Do you day dream of being with your horse and practicing that next cool trick, conquering that challenge, or spending the afternoon in nature's beauty? If so, you're definitely doing it right. If you're avoiding that special time it means you've got what performance coach Tony Robbins calls "negative anchors" associated with the activity. It means that you have ended on a bad note too many times and the only way to change it is to end on a good note more often than not. This is tricky because not everything goes as planned with horses and when it doesn't you have to learn to change your perspective so you always feel like it's okay and you're doing great.
Just the other day I took a young horse out for his first trail ride. The ride was a disaster, but the experience was magic. How is that possible? I'll tell you. I had hoped for the best and at the same time expected the worst could happen. And when the worst showed up, I got off and worked on the ground. It took a while for him to chill out but by the end of the day, both of us walked quietly back to the barn and we chilled together for a long time to let the sweat dry. It was a magical bonding and learning experience I can't wait to grow from. It can't always be perfect and I can't let perfect be the determining factor for positive anchoring. I look forward to the next ride because we ended on such a good note. That's how I know I'm doing it right and you can experience the same thing.
Day by day I see I'm closer to a goal or a dream. How do I know? Because I see the path. I made the path, I mapped the path, and I mapped progress points along the way. One of the main roles I take as a coach in my industry is helping others do the same. I want you to sit down and outline your dreams. What would you like to do, see, experience? Would you like to ride on the beach, bareback, cantering along through the ongoing tidal edge like the boy from "The Black Stallion?" Would you like to ride to the lake at the end of the canyon deep in the wilderness? Do you dream of riding piaffe and passage, not like everyone else with a frown on their face and tail swishy horse, but with smiles and energy fit for two happy athletes in harmony? How about lying your horse down or playing at liberty? Your dreams can become reality and the most effective way to make that possible is to map a progressive path starting right where you are.
Most of us look back a year or two and compare where we are now to where we thought we'd be and find ourselves disappointed. Sometimes that is inevitable, things can take longer than we expected, but most of the time, that happens because we never actually took the time to define measurable progress points. You see, it's not enough just to dream of the end result. You also have to dream of the middle result. If you can do that, you're doing something right for sure!
In case you struggle with any of the above, call me, here's my number our business number (406-360-1390). I'll give you a free strategy session worth $150. You deserve to see your dreams come true. I believe in you. Take advantage of this limited time opportunity and don't let anything hold you back. Life is too short for limiting beliefs.
And please comment below. I love hearing from you!
This might be one of my favorite movie scenes.
It's Chevy Chase getting off the horse in the middle and inadvertently landing on the horse to the right. The movie, "The Three Amigos" starring Martin Short, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin, is a classic if you like silly, funny movies.
And... naturally, when you see someone sitting backward on a horse it looks odd, which leads me to an adjacent question. What signs are horses giving us that tell us we might be doing something wrong?
Here we go...
5 Signs You Might Be Doing Something Wrong With Your Horse
I dare say, more people are starting to catch onto the truth that a hard-to-catch horse means something. In the past it didn't mean anything. You just chased them around until they got tired, then got on and rode. We know better now. We know that horses have emotions and if we stress them out, they don't want to be with us. So... let's not stress them out so much, or at least, let's balance the challenges with the rewards, like more undemanding time together, more bonding etc. And let's not skip over the game of catching just to teach different skills. I think it's important to spend several sessions just on making catching easier. You can find how in this course: Ground Work Training
If you struggle to put on the bridle on day one, that's normal, but day three or day ten, that's definitely a sign you're missing something important. The same goes for mounting, saddling, catching, spooking, and everything. Think of a task, or challenge. If your horse isn't improving within a day or two in the right direction, or at least, a week or two, you might be missing something. If they're still reacting to the same things every time, you might be missing something. It may be time to dig deeper, get some resources and helpful hints. (by the way, that's what we are here for... First call is free. Reach out!)
If I ask my horse to back up, it's natural that it wouldn't be so good on day one. But by day two, three, four, it should be improving. I just spent the weekend at a clinic in the South East, US. One student has ridden her horse for years and years and is still struggling to stop her horse. She can do it, but it hasn't improved. First of all, you need to know it's okay to settle into a way of interacting as long as you feel safe about it and your horse feels safe about it. But struggling isn't safe. Struggling is akin to "sunny day riders." (people who can only work with there horse when it's hot because any other day, the horse has too much energy.) There is something wrong with that picture and usually it simply comes down to practice. If you're buying new tools to solve the same problem, you're not helping. The tool doesn't change the experience, it's the hands that hold the tool. Dedicate one thing at a time to improve upon. Do it for a week, then enjoy the benefits for a lifetime. Don't send your horse to a trainer, don't buy a new bit. You have to be the one to learn how to get the results. Otherwise you'll get your horse back and teach him the same sloppy signals. Take the time to learn for yourself how to improve his or her skills. It's easier than you think and a whole lot of fun.
In the beginning we have an endless drive to be with our horses. For some of us that fades. It could be completely natural. I've written about emotional fatigue and the nature of needing a break. It could be fear. It could be a number of things. But generically speaking, if you're avoiding spending time with your horse you might want to dig into the answers for that. Your horse needs you. Unless you've got lots of acreage and food, and friends for your horse set on auto-pilot, your horse needs you. Find out how you can change the way you interact with your horse so it's more enriching for you too. Sometimes we just have the wrong perspective, or the wrong reasons for interacting with our horses and that's what takes away the zeal. We dive deep into this discussion in our weekly live zoom calls. Join here!
For this one, you need to look inside yourself. Do you notice you always think about riding your horse as an activity that's all about you and your friends? Or do you think it's all about your horse and you're just the caretaker. There is a balance. The horse needs to perform in a safe manner while we are around. And we need to provide for them. We need to enrich each others lives. I've seen people collect horses to avoid the kill pens, only to destroy their own lives in trying to care for so many. I've also seen people get so caught up in the "need to win" feeling of competition that they completely disregard the horse's needs and become abusive. I've slowly come to the realization that nearly all positive, life affirming activities, live in the middle somewhere. If you sense you're not balanced or your horse's experience is not balanced, don't get discouraged. Be encouraged, awareness is the first step.
And... stay tuned. Next week we're going to talk about the 5 signs you're doing it right?
Thanks for reading and comment below!
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Imagine you're going to ride or play with your horse today. Think of the things you want to do... Practice responses to your legs or hands or visual aids, try that new obstacle a few times, practice trailer loading, liberty training, getting that trot circle better, teach your horse to lie down, get him used to the tarp or saddle, teach him to stand better for mounting, transition work, and for most of us, that's just the beginning.
Horse lovers dream up a million things to do with their horse. I think that makes our unique industry so beautiful and artistic. Of course the challenge is prioritizing your tasks and, more importantly, sticking to one at a time.
Horses don't multi task well. I'm not so sure humans do either, yet for some reason we keep trying to get it all done at once. DON'T BE THAT WAY! Your horse survives on minimal information repeated often. Not maximum information stacked on all at once. Let's take loading in the trailer as an example.
For many people the prospect of getting their horse in a trailer is all too easy. For some it's daunting. The horse can be extremely emotional. But the reason it's daunting is because trailer loading is all too many tasks chucked into one. As with anything, the big task can be broken down to smaller tasks, and achievable results can be within your reach every day.
Loading a horse in the trailer requires three things. 1. Calm, responsive energy, lined up at the gate. 2. Calm, responsive energy with each step forward into the trailer. 3. Calm responsive energy inside the trailer. Each goal should be tackled without pressing for the other. One thing at a time.
Number one is simply asking your horse to face the trailer, lined up, ready to go in but not going in. In this position the horse can learn to be curious about the trailer, stretching his nose out and investigating the edges. It won't work unless he is lined up, but it's so simple, so effective, and I'm always shocked how few people know it and avoid trailer loading. It's completely safe and normal to play with step one for days and even weeks before attempting step two. The problem is when you watch a support video you think you have to do the whole thing on day one. You don't.
I wish I could give you this advice. Watch every support video in sections, not as a whole. It's okay to get the overview by watching the whole thing but go back and watch for the step by step functions of the video. Pause the video, identify the step, then give yourself permission to take hours, days, and weeks to accomplish the first step. I mean... what's the hurry? Education with horses should be enriching in every step, not utilitarian. The last thing you want to do with your horse is tell him to "get over something," so you can go have some fun without the burden of his inadequacies.
Instead, look at the inadequacies, label a few smaller steps to achieve the big goal and practice those steps with massive rewards and little distraction. Don't do what most people do. Don't fall into the trap of getting it mediocre then immediately jumping to step two. Don't get distracted by some other thing that also needs your attention. Don't buy into the, "my horse is bored," trap. Stick with one task, broken to a simple form, and repeat, reward, repeat, reward, repeat until your horse says, "I get it. It's easy, I trust you, I'm happy. I'm calm and responsive."
When you finally get to that stage, then at another step. Everything can be broken down, including flying lead changes, vertical flexion, lying down, rearing up, dragging logs, saddling for the first time, half passes, spins, water crossing, you name it. Each goal can easily be made into fun, achievable goals. That's what I call, "Putting the FUN back into fundamentals."
Here's my challenge to you... in the comments describe a goal you have and the first broken down step that you will commit to playing with until it's going well.
I'll start. I want my new rehab horse to carry a kid safely. He can be a bit explosive under saddle in new areas, so it's gonna take some work. My first step I'm going to work on, for as long as it takes, is to get him to perform a basic walk, trot, canter on the ground in a brand new space. Once we get that I'll choose another new space and get the same results. Before long I should see the progress I need to see to build on from that.
What's your one thing you're going to play with? Please comment below.
I've been deep thinking about the idea of emotional fatigue for some time now and gratefully, a student of mine brought it all to the surface again. When I hear from the people I care about, I can't help but take a moment and reflect. This time, on paper.
We all have something we are passionate about. Even my oldest brother, who often seems less energized by life than my other siblings, demonstrates great enthusiasm for certain types of learning. For those of you reading this post, you're probably like me, passionate about something you've been hooked on for years. For me, it's horses. But sometimes, something unique happens and the passion turns into a grind. The signs are obvious to anyone looking. You've lost some desire. You're crabby and short with your tongue, or something similar. You're avoiding doing the thing you said you always want to do. When you see the signs, what happens then, what should you do?
Answer. I don't know, I'm not you. But I'll tell you what I've done and what works for most people.
When you're tired, know it's normal, even for the professionals. The picture below is me, completely burned out of training, riding, and teaching after a few weeks of traveling. Here I am, embracing absolutely nothing related to progress, resting on my horses shoulder. It's the only thing I did for a long time. Ironically, both my horse and I are better off for it.
Here are the keys to dealing with fatigue.
Let's talk about acceptance first:
Lots of people think they should be invincible, and when they realize they aren't... they become hyper determined to never show it. Sounds like a recipe for fatigue. So first things first, accept that it's okay to rest and even show people that you value rest. For years I couldn't show my wife when I needed a break. I would never nap in the middle of the day. Then I got a little older and I realized I'm human and it's okay to be human and even a little bit important to be human. We, as a society value productivity so highly that we forget about sharpening the saw. Read sharpen the saw. Basically, we forget to value rest and see how it actually improves our productivity.
And I'm not just talking about a daily nap, I'm talking about weeks off, or even months off an activity. When I was young, I played basket ball. Five solid months of practice, live games, open gyms and coasting into summer. Then a long, seven month rest. Guess what, the next year, after playing very little basketball for seven months. I was much, much better. The time off made me better. Perhaps the extra seven months of practice would have made me substantially better again, but some people aren't meant to push that hard and if they try, they burn out. If you're reading this, you may know a thing or two about burn out. It's okay, breath it in. You can rest. Accept it!
Next, let's talk about how to address fatigue:
Well, obviously, as stated above, when you're tired, rest! But beyond that, when you're tired, fuel up. You need to address the elephant in the room and that elephant usually comes in the form of food that your body doesn't assimilate well. Good fuel equals better energy. Simple right? So look in your fridge, your cupboards, your pantry and ask yourself, should I? Look at your TV or smartphone as ask, should I? Is there something better I could choose, a better program, better food, something more nutritious? Trust me, I love junk food, I do. I eat it too. But I do follow patterns and when I eat too much I feel it. I used to tell myself it was just how I felt, like I always felt that way. Then I took a ten day junk food cleanse and started to feel amazing. Then, I ate some more junk food and felt like, well... junk. I never knew how much the food affected my body. Now I'm more conscious and do more to check my energy when it starts to slow down. I notice the signs of toxicity in my body and take some small steps to mitigate it. I notice signs of mental fatigue from participating in things I can't control like most things on TV. I don't have recommendations media sources, or food types or body types to invest your visual, auditory, and gustatory energy in, I only know myself, and I think knowing yourself is useful.
When you're tired, get inspired!
Sometimes you need a muse. You need a little inspiration. You need to be reminded of why you do what you do. When you started out in your magnificent passion there was an endless amount of inspiration. Everywhere you looked you saw people doing amazing things. Now you see people doing those things and they don't hold the same emotional intensity for you. That's normal life. Things that happen often, fade in significance. But smart people, and I believe you're smart, learn to see intricacies in details that others don't. You see the finer points and get inspired by that instead. And then, if you do that often enough, you even get sick of seeing the finer points and it's time to step back and see the forest for the trees again. I find that watching a horse play with other horses inspires me like never before. Even if everything doesn't look clean and perfect, it's still beautiful. It's authentic, and once again, I find myself inspired. What inspires you? It's different for everyone.
Let's talk about building slowly:
As you get back on your feet, it's important to go at it slowly. You're a little groggy, so to speak, don't go sprinting, the blood flow to your brain isn't right yet, you'll faint. You just got up from recovery, don't do twice as much as you should. Muscles build slowly and so does inspired action. Rest and rebuild but when you rebuild, build it slowly. When I fell from a horse and injured myself I thought I wouldn't ride again, then I took one small step toward my dreams and another and another, a year later I was riding again. It's amazing what can happen in a year. The problem is, the whole time I thought I should be back to normal on day two. I thought it was taking too long. With coaching and support I kept my cool and took it slow. I hope it's good food for thought for you too.
Lastly, let's talk about celebrating your wins differently:
A win, for me, used to be grand things. Now I can notice and celebrate smaller things. That's important, but more important than the win itself is the way in which you celebrate a win. If you remember when you were a kid, you celebrated wins with incredible enthusiasm. The first basket I made as a budding basketball player warranted galloping around the court like I'd just won a gold medal at the Olympics. Later in life, I found myself, not only not celebrating wins, but beating myself up for losing. Imagine a toddler beating herself up for falling down while learning to walk. The poor thing would never walk. Wins need to be celebrated with youthful enthusiasm. If you want to get back on your feet, do it with the style of your younger self. Don't say "finally. I did it, why did it take so long?" Instead say, "OH YEAH BABY!" and jump up and reach for the stars and gallop around like you're five years old. Or at least some version of that which your body can handle.
Don't downplay your early successes. Make life grander than life. I'd say it's not only a better way to live, it's perhaps a necessary way if you want to really feel like you're doing things right. When I teach my clinics and courses I'm always sure to celebrate each small thing with my students with supreme enthusiasm. We deserve that kind of energy. We live for it. We can give it to ourselves as well. Even when it feels silly, it's worth it!
In summary, it's okay to be tired, it's okay to rest, it's within reason to believe your resting doesn't mean quitting, and it's feasible to believe you will gain more by resting than by pushing through and damaging the natural glee you get from your passion. So if you feel fatigued, do what feels best for you and know you'll always have a friend like me around to encourage the best parts of you to shine.
As always, thanks for reading.
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If your horse does one of these six things while attempting to canter... don't worry you're not alone and their all easy to fix. Last week we talked about the first three. Here's the link to that article. This week we'll tackle the last three.
1. Tossing head
3. Wrong lead
4. Canters too fast
5. Leaning or cutting corners
6. Never stops trotting
Let's tackle one at a time.
Canters too fast: Lots of horses canter too fast. In the beginning they only know one speed. And lots of people just resign to always cantering the speed the horse wants. But you don't have to. If you practice, you can teach a horse to canter slower than a walk and even canter in place, and believe it or not, canter backwards. Sure, it takes time and patience and lots of practice but it's sooooooo much fun to canter a horse that feels like a rocking horse, going the speed you want rather that the speed he wants.
There are dozens of strategies so don't get caught up on just one but here is one of my favorites. After weeks of ground preparation, teaching my horse to canter for longer and keep a nice even steady pace, I'll begin cantering under saddle. While riding I'll set up my arena or round pen with two cones along the fence lines about one hundred feet apart. Once I get into the canter I wait for my first cone and when I get there I start counting the canter strides. When I get to my second cone I stop counting and tally the total. If it took fifteen canter strides to canter that hundred feet then I know my horses speed. (15 strides/100 feet).
Once I know my horse's speed I get to play a fun game to slow the canter down. My goal is to get 16/100. Then 17/100, and so on, until I have a slow, fun canter. I like to speed it up in the same way. The point is... I make a game of going a different speed, which makes it fun for me and fun for my horse and doesn't leave us frustrated with a one dimensional relationship.
Leaning and cutting corners: Sometimes horses lean in because they are going to fast. You know there are solutions for that now. But sometimes they lean in because they don't want to go at all. Horses that lean in or cut the corners while cantering will almost always stop in the middle of the arena given the opportunity. Meaning, if you stop asking for things and just ride it out, you'll see the horse traveling smaller and smaller circles to the middle and simply stopping. So... ironically, a horse that leans or cuts corners not only has a steering problem but they also have an impulsion problem. They don't like cantering. The question then becomes, "What do you do to help the horse enjoy cantering straight?"
There are many tools you can employ, too many to write in one article but I can give you one of my favorites. In the arena or riding area, set up two markers again. While riding, or even on the ground, when you reach the first marker begin to speed up, when you reach the second marker, stop completely. Once stopped, give massive rewards to your horse. The game is "point to point." It's designed to encourage your horse to see value in going straight ahead to a destination. Lots of horses hate cantering because there is no destination.
Make it fun for the horse by repeating the game until you feel he or she offers her own energy and enthusiasm to reach the second marker. Then stretch the markers out. It won't take long before you're safely cantering toward the marker on a nice, straight line. Once you've nailed that game down, you can place markers anywhere and start traveling on arcs and circle but always toward a destination of your choice. Your horse will love this game and love you for introducing it!
Speedy trot that never leads to canter: In the beginning with horses, they can sometimes struggle to enter the canter. You can find yourself asking for the canter and all you get is a faster trot. With some horses it doesn't seem to matter how fast you go, they simply won't break into a canter. Many people find this frustrating and that's why it's on the list to talk about today.
The first thing you need to know about the canter is that it's not a speed, it's a gait. There is a massive and important difference there. Most people think it's a speed thing because it's faster than a walk or trot. But, as we know from last week, we can easily train a horse to canter slower than a walk. Therefore, canter shouldn't be considered a change in speed. It should be considered a change in footwork and balance. Knowing this will help the horse that speeds along in the trot.
Remember, there are many techniques, so don't get confused when I share my favorites. "There are many roads that lead to Rome." One of my favorite strategies for horses that just speed up is to ask them to rebalance by slowing down. I like to think of a horse like a slinky spring. Remember those cool toys that you can send slinking down the steps? Speeding up in the trot stretches that spring out. If it gets too stretched out it won't be able to gather its feet to canter. Cantering requires compressing that spring. It's kind of tricky. You do need the energy output the fast trot gives you but not the balance. So the best thing to do is to trot fast for a couple steps then slow down, then fast again, then slow down, then again until the horse begins to realize you don't want the fast trot, you want the energy output. Sooner than you think the horse will give you a canter stride, nice, and slow, and balanced. Before long, you'll get it every time you ask.
Of course it will take some practice and feel and patience. It may even take some creativity like placing a small jump on the ground to encourage compression and elevation instead stretching out. But I believe you can do it. I've worked with thousands of horses now and I've always found a way to help the horse enjoy the cantering games, barring no physical limitations.
I hope all this helps you understand the canter better. Cantering is the link between the novice rider and the elite rider. Elite riders tackle canter on a daily basis, whether it's in the saddle or on the ground. The only reason novice riders don't is because there is some limitation. Usually that limitation is one of the six described above. My hopes is that if you take this all on, you'll become a better trainer, owner, rider and enjoy the canter as much as I do.
Thanks for reading, comment below. I always love to hear from you.
If your horse does one of these six things while attempting to canter... don't worry you're not alone and they're all easy to fix.
1. Tossing head
3. Wrong lead
4. Canters too fast
5. Leaning or cutting corners
6. Never stops trotting
Let's tackle one at a time.
Tossing head: Nearly all horses toss their head related to surges of energy in their body. It's most common just before or after the first few steps of canter but lots of horses do this in the walk and trot too and even while standing still. The solution is simple and here it is: In my Free Mastery Principles course (link) you will learn a principle named "You get what you allow." This means if you end each session on a less than perfect note you'll never get perfection. But if you end the session on a good note (in this case, where your horse doesn't toss his head) you'll start developing a positive pattern in the horses mind.
Just the other day a young girl got on her horse bareback, the horse would move around okay but when asked to slow down or back up he'd toss his head. With coaching, she just kept asking for backup, kindly and patiently, until the horse quit tossing. In that moment she let go of the reins and reached to pet the horse. With this perfect timing the horse gave it up in no time. It works with every speed and every transition. Ask again and again and again until the head tossing stops, then quit. Don't get angry or upset, just ask again. And in case it get's dangerous, shut it all down. Don't allow it. Reset your boundaries and begin again in a safer environment.
Bucking: There are only four solutions for bucking related to cantering. Solution 1: Allow it and ride it out to the point the horse gives it up. 2: Stop the bucking immediately and go back to the trot then ask again, always stopping the behavior before it escalates. 3: Give up because your horse hates canter and you're not balanced enough to handle it. 4: Go slower, and teach everything from the ground. As you might guess, I use all but the third solution. But I prefer not to ride it out. So I rarely use solution number one. That leaves solution number two and four and I almost always prefer to combine them.
On the ground, I'll ask the horse to canter. If he/she bucks, I'll ask him to return immediately to the trot, then ask again. I'll repeat the cycle until the buck isn't presented then reward heavily. After a few days, the horse can canter without bucking and truly enjoys it because he/she is highly rewarded for the right behavior. After a few weeks I can canter that horse while riding without any trouble at all.
Wrong lead: Horses, like people have a dominant side. Some horses are right handed or left handed in their habitual movements leaving lead control a little harder to get. Sometimes horses experience pain related to cantering on a certain lead. You need to find out from a vet to rule out lameness issues. And sometimes it's just a mental block that prevents the horse from performing both leads. Either way, patience, persistence, and positioning is the key to success with leads.
When a horse canters to the left, the right hind foot strikes the ground first, then the diagonal pair (left hind/right front), then the left front foot, then a moment of suspension (all four feet off the ground), and it all starts over again. More than that... the hips, shoulders and head all line up in a way that supports that footwork. The hips move slightly left, and the shoulders lift slightly right. The head, in an ideal world, remains fairly neutral, if not slightly tilted left. Without all those mechanics, getting the correct lead is always a gamble. Even if you're traveling around the arena to the left, you're not guaranteed a left lead because the body parts might be out of alignment.
So... if you want to get your leads, practice the body mechanics in slower speeds. Practice positioning your horses shoulders and hips without transitioning. After a few days, that gets so easy that leads seem simple for you and the horse. There are other factors like sensitivity to your "go" signals and such, but learning about the body mechanics will give you a leg up, so to speak, when you start to one day learn about flying leads and tempi flying leads.
Stay tuned for next week and I'll dive into the other issues:
Cantering too fast
Speedy trot that never transitions into cantering
Once you tackle all these issues you'll have a perfect cantering horse. How cool would that be?
Thanks for reading, look forward to your comments.
That's a big, bold thing to say. Of course there are stubborn horses in the world by the typical meaning of the word "stubborn." It's just that I don't adhere to that meaning because I don't think it's helpful.
Having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
So by that definition, horses can be stubborn. But what happens next? What happens to the person who labels the horse as "stubborn?" That's what's most interesting to me.
Typically, when a horse is labeled as stubborn, the owner of the horse reverts to inappropriate nagging, idol threats, and even worse, real consequences that can, if distributed in poor faith, lead to emotional or even physical damage.
I once watched a friend push his horse over a ditch before he had permission from the horse, claiming the whole time that the horse was being stubborn. The horse jumped the ditch and folded onto his knees on the other side, injuring himself and nearly injuring his rider. After the accident, my friend continued to explain how if the horse hadn't have been so stubborn, he wouldn't have made him do it with such force.
I know everyone has different definitions for everything so I don't pretend to put everyone in the same box as my friend from all those years ago. I merely use his story as an illustration for what can happen when we aren't careful with the words we use. Words matter, names matter, meaning matters. So when I catch myself saying my horse is "stubborn," (and, yes, it still happens to me) I immediately change my wordplay from stubborn to "confused."
The truth is, horses do try to please, at least they would prefer to try and please. When they seem to be acting stubborn, it's almost always because the are actually confused about what you want. And if they aren't confused about that, they are most certainly confused about "why" you want it.
The reason I use the word "confused" instead of "stubborn" is because it gives me pause. It helps me give the horse some grace. Maybe he truly doesn't know what I want. (Did you know that horses have the brain of a four year old child. Which means he doesn't "know" as much as you think, even if he's done it before. Ask a four year old to recite the alphabet. If she's done it enough times with enough positive association she may get it right, but if you add fear or distraction to the situation, she will almost certainly get it wrong.)
Naturally, it's quite possible that horses experience distraction, or fear, or even some kinds of pain. One horse I knew would buck every time my student asked for a canter. I gave her (my student) all the horse psychology I could to mitigate the problem, then finally, she took the horse to the vet and found some massive problems in the horses stifle and hocks. With treatment to those physical issues, the horse stopped bucking. Cool right? Viewing the horse as "stubborn" never would have led us to that conclusion. So words do matter. Check out this recent blog on wordplay to dig deeper.
So is "stubborn" a real thing? Sure it is. But is it a helpful thing to keep using? Hmm..... probably not with horses and training. I believe there are better words that put us in a better frame of mind and reference and allow us to problem solve in a more masterful way.
Hope this helps, love your comments. See you soon
Acceptance doesn't mean resignation. There's a lot of shaming in the world. Have you noticed that? Body shaming, personality shaming, and even, believe it or not, shame for people who own horses but don't ride them.
"I know, right?"
Let me be another voice for those out there who feel shamed about not riding. It's okay. In fact, most horses prefer it! Here's what a horse needs: Food, water, shelter, hoof and health care, social interactions, and positive experiences. Can you offer those things without riding? Absolutely!
Who cares if someone thinks you should ride and you don't feel up to it! Don't let your horse down by not interacting just because you can't or don't want to ride. Get out there and just "be" with your horse. Enjoy nature for heaven's sake.
So accept your feelings a bit, accept your position, accept your experience, and don't hate on yourself for not living up to someone else's idea of what you're supposed to be or do.
Just one little caveat on the word "accept." I feel like people often think that if you accept the way things are now, you are resigning to that new norm and you'll never again be able to do things you used to be able to do. But the truth is, accepting something means giving yourself some grace, not giving up on your dreams! If you want to ride, believe it will happen again for you, but don't pressure yourself. Just breathe, think positively about yourself and your current experiences and slowly move in the direction you want to go. It's the same for your horse. If she's struggling to get something, relax a little. It will come.
I've helped many people recover (including myself) from setbacks. In the beginning it feels like you'll never have what you had. But you have to shake loose of those feelings and just accept what is. "It is what it is, right?" Gotta thank my friend Patty for that phrase! Then... look at where you want to go and take one small step toward it. Don't focus on what you've lost or you'll go crazy. Focus on your footwork. Take a step, breathe, reward yourself, then take another step. It won't be long before your acceptance turns to progress and pride of accomplishment.
In short, don't give up on what you want, but also give yourself enormous doses of grace, every single day! Grace is that acceptance of things you didn't plan for. Give yourself that gift. Trust me, it will pay off in big ways.
Thanks for reading and please comment below and share with your friends.
Written by Don Jessop
Not a horse blog, well... maybe it is.
Happiness can be elusive and fleeting. It doesn't seem to last for anyone, but it does seem to return eventually, for everyone, given enough patience and time.
What I've found over my years of study and reflection, even though I'm no therapist (although I did study to become to a hypnotherapist), is that happiness takes different forms and that is perhaps the biggest reason it's so elusive.
Here are a few of those forms:
1. A peaceful sense of relief - A feeling of a release from pressures. The kind you get as you take that deep breath before you drift to sleep or as you realize you don't have any payments left on your car. It could be a sense of acceptance, that all is going to be good in the world, and you're okay, and a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, at least for now. Simply put... a deep sigh of relief.
2. Excited for the future - A feeling of positive anticipation. The kind you get when you daydream of the planned trip to the island getaway or when you see the new horse you've been dreaming of just become available to buy and you can afford it. Basically... any relative feeling of anticipation for something good to come.
3. Proud of accomplishment - A feeling you get when you finish a big task or nostalgically remember achieving things you, and perhaps others, didn't think you could do. Like building a house, or starting a business, or getting married and having kids. Simply put... you feel you did good job.
4. Grateful for gifts you're not sure you deserve - A feeling of believing you're blessed. The kind you get when you realize you didn't create you, your mother did, but she didn't create herself and you can see where that goes. The kind of feeling you get when you narrowly dodge an illness or accident or when you see you've got enough, and maybe even more than your neighbor. (HINT. You do have more than most of your neighbors.) It's more than relief, it's feeling special, that everything is a gift and for some reason you get to receive the gift. It's perspective on how things could have turned out, and instead, you're the lucky one.
5. Organic chemical joy kind of happiness - a feeling you get for no reason at all. You might just have gas bubbles making you smile. Or for some reason, all the pain in your body is gone, or the air smells better, or the problems don't matter anymore. Adrenalin junkies look for that kind of happiness and find it in those short, edge of your life experiences. In this case, circumstances are causing your chemistry to lift, like contagious laughter at a comic club. Five minutes later you might feel differently, but in the moment it's a taste of heaven. Simply put... It's an organic sensation triggered by some type of nearly uncontrollable stimuli.
The question is... when someone asks, "How can I be more happy?" Which type of happiness is it that you feel like you need right now? What are you seeking? If you knew, you might find it easier. Like looking for a shoe in the closet, knowing which shoe helps.
These five types of happiness often mix too. It's no wonder something like having a baby is so amazing. You feel relief, gratitude, chemistry, pride, and nine months of building excitement. It's a euphoric experience.
But before you start stacking the happiness types to feel happier, it's best to prioritize them for conscious change.
Imagine not feeling happy. Can you imagine that? I can! Then imagine thinking you need some happiness, so you go out looking for excitement. The external stimulus kind. Let's say you find it, then you return home and you're still not happy. Why not? Because that was the wrong shoe, the wrong kind of happiness. That means it's time to dive deeper into yourself. Find out what's missing? Is your chemistry off? Could you change it with breathing, meditation, or professional (not amateur) support? Are you stuck in a fearful place? Did you know that fear and gratitude can't exist in the same mental space? Are you feeling bored or unimportant and perhaps taking on a big challenge would fill that gap, at least once you're done and proud of it? Or are you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, burdened by internal and external pressure? In that case you need relief? You need a win, a breakthrough, perhaps some education and a supporting hand. What you don't need is to go skydiving or giving into vices. Not to say those things aren't valuable for there own reasons, just that there could be better, more sustainable things for you based on your immediate needs.
I'm no therapist so I can't actually say what you need. I only like to play with words and lean into my own experiences, analyzing my needs and sharing my thoughts. Perhaps you enjoy that kind of processing too.
Now let's re-evaluate stacking the five forms of happiness. What activities make the biggest dent? We mentioned having babies but that's not for everyone and it can't happen very often. How about doing something challenging for the first time? Like jumping horseback or learning a new language, these types of things stack pride and relief and some forms of anticipation and gratitude all in one place. There are so many possibilities to be happy, it's a wonder we aren't happier more often.
Also, on the subject of happiness, there are other concepts like affirmations, posture, breathing, supporting friends, habit training, practiced focus shifting, multiple types of therapy and more. I don't want to limit your thinking about how to experience true happiness and keep it around longer. I'm just excited to share my own musings.
I'd love to hear how you explore the psychology of happiness. Tell me how you've noticed and shifted things to make room for happiness. Tell me some activities or supporting behaviors I haven't mentioned that combine the above five elements into a more lasting type of happiness. Have some fun. Have some hope. Have some good vibes for the future. I know life can be hard. I know it first hand. But for a moment or two, help me shift the focus. Comment below. I love reading your thoughts.
And.. if you're a horse person wondering why I didn't talk more about horses, I'll leave you with this... What do you bring to your horse when you meet him or her? Do you bring your pain and sadness in hopes of healing, that's okay! Horses can be good for that kind of thing. And... Could you also bring your joy? Imagine a horse filled up from time to time with your joy! How cool would that be?
Thanks for reading, comment below!
A little more than a year ago I wrote about the three most important things that make a great horse trainer. Here's the article...
In the article I described the 3 "P's". Patience, Persistence, and Positioning.
In short, great horse trainers have extraordinary patience, and extraordinary persistence. They also possess deep knowledge about positioning. On a simple level if the horse isn't positioned to enter the horse trailer, there is no sense asking him to go in. First prepare to a position, then ask. On an advanced scale, things like halfpasses and flying lead changes are only done with expert positioning skills. Great trainers possess these qualities, and you can too. You just have to focus on the details.
Recently I realized I made a huge mistake; I wrote about 3 "p's" and a very influential colleague of mine pointed out something important. There is a 4th "P." And... ironically, it's perhaps the most important of all. The 4th "P" stands for "Permission."
Great horse trainers, I mean really great horse trainers, I'm not talking about most people you see in the public eye, I'm talking about the elite that teach the elite, and sometimes, it's no-one famous at all, it's some backyard enthusiast that gets the whole picture. They all know there is no sense making a horse perform against her will. They know how to ask and read the response and recognize when the horse is acting in good will or against good will. Any horse can learn to say yes to a question. All trainers know that much. But do they actually want to do what you ask? Have you asked for permission to ask? It can get a little spiritual or weird here so hang on to your bootstraps.
If your horse likes you but doesn't trust you, you've got a problem. If you're horse respects you but doesn't like you, you have another problem. If your horse likes you, trusts you, looks for you, respects you, you've got permission to ask him for new things.
A short story to illustrate:
Many years ago, I began training a mule that didn't like people, didn't like his job, and didn't behave in a safe manner. I sought permission to train him, and day after day he denied me. Well... I'm a skilled trainer so I demanded it anyway and after playing hard to catch, we proceeded to skill development. Over the course of a few weeks his skills improved but his obvious disdain for people remained. He was still very unsafe to ride. I finally realized I'd been going about it all wrong. I'd began developing skills before I had permission, and, in his eyes, I failed. So, reluctantly, I went back to the beginning and learned a valuable lesson. Today, he's safer, happier, and willing, most of the time. But if you ask him to do what you want without setting it all up perfectly, he'll let you know you don't have permission.
Permission is granted, not taken. If you love horses, you'll embrace that idea. You have to patient sometimes just to get permission. But we can afford the patience. It's not like we live in a world where we have to go chase a cow and drag him to the branding pit. And in case you do live in that world, try to remember, you also have time, you have time to bond with your horse. They are more than just a tool. You have time to enrich his life and teach him trust.
And I have a challenge for you! Would you be willing to test your horse's permission giving? Test by asking him to do something like loading in a trailer and/or pick up a canter. Notice if he is hard to catch, hard to yield. Is he resistant? Can you change it?
A lot of people think you get permission by acting and smelling like a carrot. Sometimes you do. And sometimes you have to ask, you have to communicate, you have to check in. I'll never forget the first time I learned this lesson. More than twenty years ago now, I went to a clinic in Colorado. At the clinic I tied my horse to a hitching post and joined the others around the lunch table. After lunch I went to get my horse. When I returned to the arena with my horse, the instructor called me out, made a point to make a point about what I did. He said, "I noticed the way you went up and just grabbed the lead rope without checking in with your horse. You didn't even say Hello or ask him if he's ready to step off. You just untied him and walked away. He's a nice horse so he complied but you never got permission."
Take the challenge yourself now, think of all the things you ask your horse to do. Think of one specifically that you're pretty sure you forget to check in with him or her. Then change it.
I hope you find this and the other articles helpful. I love to write, and I love when you write your comments below.
See you soon,
Is your half-pass half-ass? In other words, does it feel sloppy or sluggish or tense when you ask your horse to shape his body and yield laterally to your leg, body, and hand cues?
I want to tell you how to fix it up nice. But first we have to dive into what "it" is. And what it's not.
The half-pass is a simple enough concept for humans to understand but it's not as easy for the horse at first. Three things have to happen all at once for it to look professional. It's okay to break them down individually and work on each piece independently for a long time, but eventually, they have to come together.
1st thing: Your horse has to yield laterally without reaction or resistance to your leg pressure when you apply it.
2nd thing: Your horse has to maintain forward momentum and not stall out.
3rd thing: Your horse has to yield to your hand and body cues, softening and slightly shaping his/her body in the direction of travel. The direction being, half-forward, and half-side-passing.
Think of side-passing as moving directly sideways toward an object without any forward momentum. We use side-passing for opening and closing gates while mounted and sidling up to our friend to steal a snack from his saddle bag, etc. Half-passing, on the other hand, can be thought of as half sideways and half forward. At least conceptually! It can be thought of as facing north and drifting toward northeast without ever turning toward northeast. For this to happen, the horse has to listen to your holding and asking cues. Some of your cues signal the horse to move in that shape and direction, while others hold or prevent the horse from slipping out of shape and pointing the wrong direction.
How professionals make those half-passes look so good is by independently practicing those three parts. Not always in order, but always in an attempt to be able to, one day, put them together. 1. Sensitize your horse to your leg pressure without causing them to fear you or your pressure. 2. Sensitize your horse to your hand pressure, guiding them kindly toward a slight bend in their head, neck, and body. 3.Teach them to carry forward without stalling or quitting until they've reached a desired destination or desired quality response.
The reason that half pass can look and feel "half ass" is because the rider always tries to put those elements together too soon, before they are actually working well independently. There are things that need practicing before they are ready to put together in harmony. I'm not saying don't try it early, just learn where the responses break down and then go back and fix them independently instead of forcing ugly half-passes for the next six months.
The real question about training the half-pass comes down to helping the horse understand the goal. This one is about horse psychology. My favorite game for this is to place a target of some kind along an arena fence. An orange traffic cone is a good target. I travel toward the target, stop at the target and reward the horse for making it to the target. Then I approach the target from the center of the arena rather than head on, along the rail. Each time I reward the horse for reaching the target. Eventually, keeping in mind I have a sensitive horse, willing to respond to hand and leg cues, I ask the horse to approach the target with a different body part, instead of head on. In other words, I may ask him to lead with his shoulder or hips, landing at the target shoulder first or hips first, instead of his head. This causes the horse to slip sideways toward the target, but as always, he is rewarded for reaching the target and, here's the key... mentally, he starts enjoying the game.
There is so much more to talk about related to half-passes so I'm just going to keep it simple today. Take a look at the picture below, it speaks volumes to the shape, direction, and style of half-passing. In the picture, the horse is facing North and traveling to the North-East corner, crossing all four legs beautifully, and keeping a slight bend through the body in the direction of travel. You can do it too, you just have to make sure your horse is independently responsive to your legs, hands, and mentally engaged in a game he can win. Eventually, you can do these half-passes anywhere. First, start with the cone, and second... understanding that horses naturally lead with their head and shoulders, try to slow his shoulders down and try leading with the hips for a while and notice how it sensitizes the horse more than anything else for what the end result is.
If you'd like to see an early training video for developing half-passes naturally, using the game I described above, comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let's go have some fun!
PS. Half-passes have real value in performing arts and practical application. You don't ever have to do them, but if you choose to learn and master through movement you're entire horsemanship experience will change for the better. Partly because they are not easy and hard things often bring great rewards, and partly because a strong, willing, flexible horse demonstrates a partnership like nothing else on the planet.
Actually, the title to this article is misleading. It's not just one thing horses hate, it's about a dozen things.
1. Don't let them rest
Usually, I don't have to coach my students to slow down or give their horse a rest. Occasionally, however, I see folks working their horse either physically, or mentally, for long periods of time, without resting or taking some time to simply bond with the horse. In my book, "Leadership and Horses" I talk about the 50/50 training/bonding ratio. If you do a lot of bonding without training, you make little progress, but if you do a lot of training, without bonding, you become a slave driver. Find the balance and give back to your horse for all he/she offers. If you rest often, you won't risk joint injury. If you rest often, you'll see the horse's physiology change and promote better overall health. If you rest often, especially after something challenging, you'll see them connect to you, more like a friend they can trust and enjoy being around.
2. Act frustrated toward them
A frustrated person looks identical to a predator in the horse's eyes. Curb your frustrations by expecting less. It's okay to hope for good results but to expect them is folly. Good leaders expect the worst could happen and plan for it. At the same time, they plan for the best. It's the riders that don't expect anything bad would happen that show the most frustration and ultimately take out the frustration on a confused horse. If you've ever said, "My horse knows this," you're at great risk of having your expectation being too high. Horses don't know things like humans do. They can remember things but often find themselves flooded with distractions of all sorts, both externally and internally. Don't assume so much. Play with what you've got rather that act frustrated.
3. Give up too quickly
Horses often question your leadership and start out most conversations confused about what you want. Many novice riders or trainers quit before the horse has a chance to figure it out, leaving the horse in a constant state of confusion and frustration around people. Stay a little longer. Learn about the 20 minute rule.
4. Put them in a small space for long periods of a time
Horses need space. In fact, there are four things' horses need to, not just survive, but thrive. Space, Social interactions, Stimulating experiences, and a Sense of purpose. Space is critical. A general rule of thumb is one full acre per horse. Not everyone can do that but consider this at least... To feel free, a human must be able to explore a full range of motion. It's the same for the horse. If he/she doesn't have the room to gallop full speed, even if only for a few seconds, he/she is limited in their range of motion and therefore, less free. Living 24/7 in small spaces is like living in a prison cell for a beautiful beast that's meant to roam free. That's the harsh truth. I know boarding barns that rely on small spaces to make money. In those cases, I encourage plenty of play time in large spaces, either in turn out, or in human interactions where the horse is allowed to truly explore their full range of motion.
5. Leave their halters on 24/7
Sometimes, in the beginning its easier to leave the halter on so you can train the horse to be easier to catch. But this beginning stage doesn't have be that way and in case it does, it only needs to last until your horse is open and trusting. If that hasn't happened in a few weeks time there may be something wrong with the relationship and it's time to dive deeper.
6. Take away all social interactions
Horses are family oriented animals. It's no surprise they hate being left alone. There are circumstances that require alone time, but they should be limited. If you really want to give your horse a natural experience. Give him some friends, even if all you can do is have horses on the other side of the fence. Make sure he has companionship.
7. Forget to feed and water them
Horses in today's world usually get a good deal of food and water but some are left without for long periods of time. Talk to a vet about how much food and water your horses need and make sure they get it every day.
8. Use heavy handed aids or signals
Many riders rely on big, obvious, heavy signals. I catch many riders holding onto the reins like their life depends on it while they attempt simple maneuvers in the ring. Horses are sensitive enough to feel a fly land on their skin. There is no need to use heavy signals except in safety situations.
9. Take them away from their mates
That doesn't mean you shouldn't take them away from their mates. Just recognize it's hard and don't be so hard on them when it doesn't go perfect for a while. Have some perspective for them.
10. Use tools that hurt
Sharp bits and spurs can be harmful to the horse. Be careful with the tools you choose. The truth is, any tool can be harmful, it's more about the hands that use the tool that matters most.
11. Ask them to do scary things
Again, there are things that must be done. Like loading into a trailer or crossing a stream. But have some perspective. Be slow, kind, thoughtful. Be a leader, not a dictator.
12. Don't give basic health care
Feet trimming, regular grooming, vet and teeth work, shelter, safe fences, etc. Can horses survive without constant care? Usually! Is it nice? No! Do they act as if they want all those things? Not always, but a child needs care even when they don't think they need it and that's what good care takers do. You're not just a friend. You're a steward, a leader, and parent, a coach, and you're a friend.
They love a partner who cares about their experience even if they have to do hard things from time to time. It's that perspective that's important.
They love space, social interaction, stimulating experiences, and a sense of purpose. They love playing games and learning. Scientists have studied the effect of stress hormones in horses that play with people and horses that sit in the field doing nothing. The horses that sit around, have higher levels of stress. Hmmm.. interesting, right?
They love food rewards. If you can figure out how to train your horse to be polite around feeding time and food rewards, you'll earn a whole other level of trust and try from your horse.
They love comfort. There is a false narrative out there that horses should be left alone to mother nature. The hard truth is nature isn't always better. Take a hard look at wild horses, their feet, their teeth, their injuries, their stress levels, their lack of resources, their predators, etc. Horses, primarily, need and want safety and comfort. We can provide it for them.
They love you! If you are really a horse lover, invested in your learning and a leader in the making, then they will love you too.
Take a deep dive into leadership training with horses in our "Horse Mastery University." Click the link, and for new students, get a free consultation worth $150.00 I look forward to meeting you!
Stop believing you're doing it wrong, or you'll never get it, or you don't have what it takes, or your horse won't ever get it because it's taking too long.
The twenty minute rule was taught to me many years ago by a human psychologist. He said that in most situations there are factors that make us believe we should give up, that things will always be this way, primarily emotional factors. We might, for instance feel depressed and believe that we are always going to feel depressed and therefore we should give up or feel anxious about it. But then he said. The irony is that, unless adrenalin is involved, most emotions rarely last more than twenty minutes before recycling. Which means, even anxious people take a deep breath and feel something else beside anxiety every twenty minutes or so.
You could cycle back into the emotion but... our reality gives us a window to make new choices more often than not. If a person could remember the twenty minute rule they would be able to persist through all kinds of challenges knowing, as the Bible says, "This too shall pass!"
When it comes to horse training, the twenty minute rule is critical. Just yesterday I was teaching a class with a few challenging horses and new students. When one particularly difficult thing came up for one of the students, I noticed her attempting the task only once or twice then giving up. I stepped in and asked how she was doing. She said she tried but it wasn't working and she didn't want to do it wrong so she stopped asking.
I told her something I tell all my students. "Don't give up so quickly. And... there is no such thing as wrong unless the technique you're using is abusive and extremely dangerous to you or your horse."
Stop believing you're doing it wrong, or you'll never get it, or you don't have what it takes, or your horse won't ever get it because it's taking too long.
Naturally, this kind of comment is confusing at first. We all have a deep seated fear of being wrong or doing things wrong so when I say there is no wrong I feel the questions pop up. What I mean is the horse can learn to respond to just about any technique. Some techniques are more logical than others but any technique works if you persist. This means you can make a horse go forward by pulling on the reins or backward by squeezing with your heels. Those aren't logical directional cues but if you persist, your horse will figure out your unique way of asking and respond. Therefore, you can stop buying the line that there are right and wrong techniques. Most of us who have been training for a long time know this, and further more, when we've been stuck in the past we've even invented some of our own techniques when no-one was around to show us a better one.
The point is... stop thinking you're doing it wrong and persist a little longer even if you suppose there might be a better technique. When you second guess yourself you often quit at the wrong time and inadvertently reward the wrong behavior. My old teachers would say, do your feeling during the day and thinking at night. Which means allow yourself to go with it and learn from it, then later review and rehearse some new thoughts about it.
On the subject of the twenty minute rule this simply means most horses start to figure out what you want after about twenty minutes of attempting to understand you. If you give up in the first five minutes you're not really ever gonna get anywhere. Sure, some things are easy and they make you feel like everything should be easy, but the truth is, some things are hard for horses to understand and it's worth persisting to the point where they do understand. That's real communication after all.
Also regarding the twenty minute rule, if your horse is being emotional, please remember it doesn't last. Just be patient, work thought it, don't give up, he'll settle down soon. Unless adrenalin is involved, most of the time you just have to wait for a calm window to open up and it usually takes... you guessed it. Twenty minutes. So next time you feel like the hard thing you're trying to tackle will never end, remember, you can do this. Anybody can last twenty minutes at a task as long as it's not physically taxing to the point of oxygen depletion. Take a breath. Know you can get through the tough times. I believe in you!
In case you do want more logical techniques for getting to the next level, I'm here for that too. Together we can map out exactly what's best for you and your horse today. Connect for free for first timers and save $150 dollars on a private lesson. Click this link
Comment below as well and tell me how this will change how you interact in tough times.
How do you build a horse's trust? How do you begin to trust him or her to be safe? Trust is a big topic and one worth investing in, because without it, it's simply two individuals doing things together, when one or neither one wants to and that's a whole lot of "not fun!"
Let's start with your horse. How do you help your horse to trust you? Well... it turns out there are a few things that help, and a few that really don't. Let's start with the things that help. One, spend time with your horse. Let him/her get to know you. I don't mean a few minutes a week. I mean a few minutes every chance you get. Also, ask him to do something. Did you know that one of the greatest trust building exercises in the world is to get your partner to do something for you? When they say yes, they show trust. Imagine meeting a stranger and the stranger asks you for some trivial things like sharing a stick of gum or picking up an article of clothing she dropped. If you respond to the stranger by doing what she asks, you immediately feel more trusting toward her. It's ironic, isn't it? By doing something for the other party, you're saying "yes" to a simple request, and that makes you feel like they are worthy of your trust, because after all, you wouldn't do something for someone you don't trust, right?
Master horse trainers know the value of asking the horse for small things. One thing we encourage every new student to do when they halter their horse is to ask the horse to step back a few feet. This simple ask initiates an upward trend toward a more trusting partnership. Couple that with the bonding time you spend as often as you can, you end up with a fantastic horse/human relationship.
Now for the less obvious stuff. Lots of people tend to think that the way you build trust is by never asking the horse to do something uncomfortable. Or by never being firm with a horse in a dangerous situation. It seems logical. Don't upset the apple cart and she will trust you more. Ironically, it's the opposite again. You can't win a horse's trust by being a carrot all the time. Sometimes you have to be a leader. And what is a leader?
A leader is many things, he/she is someone who is caring, yes, but also someone who is willing to do hard things. Someone who doesn't avoid something because it's uncomfortable. I've been criticized for this before. I've been told I'm too tough on a horse because a particular video snippet is taken out of context. One time a horse tried to bowl over me in a panic and I slammed on the breaks, demanding he stop and back away with firm pressure from my lead rope. Soft natured people, kind hearted people, often confuse a moment like this as abusive. And once again, it's quite the opposite. If they only knew the hours I poured into the bonding, non demanding time together, in the pasture, with no lead rope or stick. If they only knew the hours of learning and growing through psychology and leadership training. Alas, it's all quite okay, because nature calls us to react to circumstance. I don't blame them; I hope to educate them. Help them see the moment to moment changes a leader must be aware of and willing to adapt to.
In summary, you build a horse's trust by being nice, kind, time intensive, and... asking for things, even hard things.
Now let's talk about you, how do you trust your horse?
This one's easy. Just ask him or her to perform a task. If he responds positively, then you've got nothing to worry about. If he responds negatively, well then... you may have something to worry about, and you won't trust him until he responds well again. The type of task you ask for matters too. If you ask for him to back up two steps, it doesn't show you much about his trustworthiness. But if you ask him to circle around while trotting or cantering and he happily carries the saddle without hesitation or reaction, then you're probably going to trust him more.
Years ago, I learned a simple concept that brought task/trust orientation home for me. One of my early instructors and I stood next to a ditch filled with less than twelve inches of water. My horse stood just a few feet away, facing the ditch. My instructor took the horse from me and asked the horse to cross the ditch without a rider. My horse exploded over the ditch and I dropped my jaw, thinking I could never ride that. Then he brought the horse back over the other way, getting a similar reaction from both of us. He continued asking the horse back and forth over the ditch with rewards on each side and finally, he said to me, "Have you ever heard of the rock test?"
I replied honestly that I never had heard of the rock test, and asked him to explain...
"The rock test is an idea about trustworthiness, and it goes like this. If I put a flat rock on the saddle, and ask this horse to cross that ditch, and the rock doesn't fall from the saddle, then I bet a person could stay on too."
Moments later that horse stepped lightly into the ditch and through it. I saw how quietly he navigated the obstacle, and I felt a sudden surge of confidence in him. My instructor asked him over the ditch a few more times without any reaction and then asked me to ride him over. I'll never forget how he carefully carried me over the obstacle. The rock test made the light bulbs turn on in my brain. The concept of the rock test is so valuable. Perhaps not always realistic, but without a doubt, one of the best ways to conceptualize trustworthiness. In other words, if my horse responds well with something challenging, then I can trust him or her. The word challenging is the key. If you only ask for simple things on sunny days, you'll build a false sense of trust. This is where people get hurt. It's okay to start there, but don't stop there.
I trust one of my horses more than the others, can you guess why? Because I've spent more time with him, asking him to perform tasks in challenging environments and staying until it all worked out. I have one horse in particular I don't trust much at all. Can you guess why again? It's because I haven't spent the time with him, and his initial reactions tell me I need to spend more time. When I have the time, you can bet that's exactly what I'll do and he too, will become extremely trustworthy.
I'd love to sum it all up for you now. You gain your horse's trust by spending time and asking her to do something for you. When she says yes, she sees you as a leader, someone she can trust. The cool thing is, you also gain more trust in her. It's the nature of all relationships, both horse/human and human/human. Do more together and learn more about each other. Don't avoid challenges, embrace the complexity with grace for each other and before you know it, you've got a rock solid relationship that only breaks down if one of you stop asking questions.
I hope this helps you understand the nature of trust. Comment below and share your thoughts. Also, if you haven't already, check out Mastery Coaching it's available to a limited amount of dedicated folks. Start here.
Usually, I'm all about horses! Today, however, I'm going to talk about us. You and me!
Psychologists study people's patterns, their emotions, their behaviors, etc. So that makes me a psychologist too, just not a professional or licensed one. I'm more of a practical psychologist. I'm constantly observing patterns. First of all, my own patterns, and second, all the people around me. I notice when people react and I try to understand why they react. Then I look back at myself and notice when I react, and try to understand why I react. You will often hear me draw parallels between horses and people in that regard. It seems obvious to me that horses respond and react too, and we, as horse owners, have to find ways to help them change or adapt their instinctive behaviors if they prove unhelpful in anyway.
Because I'm so passionate about the subject of growth, I've made decade long deep dives into all the literature available regarding, leadership, behavioral change, psychological adaptation, emotional and chemical reactions and expression, and more. I could write books about the things I've learned and maybe someday I will. For today, I'm just going to focus on one thing I've noticed about you and me.
How important are the words we use?
Did you know that there are over 170,000 words in the English language? Did you know that among those words are about 3,000 words that describe emotion? More importantly, did you know that among those 3,000 words, most people use only a handful of words to describe their experience in any given situation? In other words, I might use the phrase, "I'm angry," to describe my experience because it's easy to remember, even though my experience might be more like, "I'm a little put out." The first phrase is easier to access, I don't have to think, and my brain will jump to it like a shortcut. Meaning... I might express full blown anger because that's what I decided I was feeling, when clearly, a mild irritation wouldn't warrant that. Anthony Robbins (world renown performance coach) says that one of our top human needs, is to act congruent with what we think our current identity is. The phrase, "I'm angry," is an identity statement. It's, "who I am right now." Meaning, if I say that's who I am right now, then that's how I'll act right now. So, back to the first question... how important are the words we use?
Answer: Extremely important. We often use words to explain our situation, believing the situation came first, but the words we choose make a framework for future situations, and it's not even on purpose. Words can also define our identity, locking us into cages we call life patterns. I'm hoping to bring home a few important, useful strategies for making wordplay work for you and me so we don't have to live in negative cycles and we can be free to see more of our potential.
Try to remember the acronym: "AIR." I love acronyms because they help me remember simple steps to success. We all need AIR to breathe and ironically, we can use the acronym for understanding and conveniently making wordplay a winning strategy in our day to day lives.
A - Awareness of patterns.
I - Interrupt patterns.
R - Replace patterns.
That's the cycle. The first step in wordplay is to identify the words you use that support you and the one's that don't. For instance, I learned years ago, I was constantly, "out of time." I didn't have time for anything I wanted. My natural curiosity for psychology led me to observe my word patterns. Sure enough, I was saying things that seemed real to me at the time, like "I don't have any time." And I was saying it often! One person, close to me, even commented on how often I say "I don't have time." So there you have it. Step one. Awareness. Now I'm aware of the pattern.
Step two, interrupt the pattern. How do you interrupt a word pattern? Luckily, it's not that hard. Sometimes just being aware interrupts it. If not, you can for starters, just say to yourself. "Whoa, there it is again. I said it again. Okay, no more, new pattern coming up right now!" You might have to be firm with yourself, screaming, "STOP! WAIT! I don't want to be limited this way anymore." There are many other ways to stop patterns, including, reserving value of the pattern, making it seem smaller, moving your body, letting it play out, etc. etc. The important thing is to see the pattern, not beat yourself up about it, and stop it in it's tracks. Isn't that how you break most cycles?
Step three. Replace the pattern. Can you just say the opposite, "I do have time."? As it turns, out, yes you can. You can go deeper if you want as well, but in the beginning it's fun and simple to just play the opposite. Later, if you're bold, you can dive into words, meanings, affirmations, how they do and don't work at different times and for different reasons, etc. But for starters, I find it's always best to be simple. Step one, become aware, then interrupt the pattern. Say to yourself. "Okay, I'm going to say this differently." Then step three. Replace the word pattern with the opposite. "I do have time."
Repeat the AIR cycle over and over until it starts to work. You breath air in and out all day long. Keep using air. Don't do it once, do it often.
Important side note: I use the word "wordplay" to give us permission to play with words, not make rules.
Other important side note: It's easy to believe it won't work. I've written whole essay's on why positive affirmations don't always work. But the truth is, saying I believe it won't work is an affirmation of sorts too, just another negative one.
So what are some negative words patterns you might have? Write them down.
Do you know, some people have a hard time putting it into words? It's often just a feeling, like not feeling safe, for example. So... put your feeling into words. Write the words down. Begin to be aware of your translated feelings. Begin to be aware of your word patterns.
Do you say you don't have time? How about, being fearful. Do you say you are afraid? I'm not saying you should be fearless. I'm just saying, you might want to be aware of it. That's the "A" in AIR. You can decide how much you want to change. Do you say you don't have friends that like hanging out with you? Do you say you don't have friends you can trust? Do you say "life is hard," "a pain in my neck, a pain in my butt."? Do you say, "I'll never be good enough, people don't love me, people don't care."? Do you say, "I don't have what it takes."? Do you say, "people are wrong, and I'm right," or "I have to do everything myself."? Do you say, you've got it all together but find yourself beating up on yourself or the world later? Do you notice the patterns? Will you notice them?
Words have the ability to lift you up or hold you down. First become aware. Journal about your patterns. Discover some truths. But don't quit there. Some people discover how negative they've become and that makes them spiral down, beating themselves up even more, failing to register they're still doing it. But you know about step two. Interrupt the cycle! Stop those words in their tracks. Quite literally, stop them. The other day, I was on the phone with a close, very clever friend. She said to me, "I was riding my horse and found out I was doing it wrong." Then, all by herself, she said, "Wait!, Let me rephrase that. I found an opportunity for growth." I was elated when I heard her catch herself. She saw the pattern and stopped, and even went to step three, and replaced the pattern with a new one.
So now it comes down to you. Here's your homework. Research your patterns to become fully aware, make plans to interrupt your patterns, even rehearse interrupting them in a play like fashion. We call this role playing. I'll say to myself, even when I don't really mean it, "I don't have time." Then I'll slam the book down and say, "STOP!". Then I'll rehearse that last piece, one I've also planned for, "I do have time. I can do anything!" As a life pattern, which one is more likely to help me succeed, the former, or the latter? It's obvious right? So now it's your turn.
Comment below and tell me if you're up for the challenge. I don't need to hear your negative old stuff, you can share if you want to, but what I really want to hear, is that you're willing to do the homework. To uncover a few patterns, not beat yourself up about it, and train new ones. After all, our brains are a lot like horses in training. And if you believe you can make changes, you can! If you believe you can't, I'm hear to interrupt you and tell you that you absolutely can! I believe in you!
One last note: When a horse fails at a task, all good horse trainers know to give him or her some grace. Do the same for yourself. Grace, plus practice equals a new life. Grace without practice won't get you any further, and practice without grace will only make you a difficult person to be around. Allow failure and mistakes and out of the box problems to exist, and keep practicing to make the future the way you want it.
I look forward to hearing from you!
1. Safety and Trust
When a horse is afraid, they value safety. They seek an environment where all the pressures come off, allowing space to do what naturally comes next - eating and play. It’s difficult to offer safety as a reward for behavior but it does work as a prerequisite to learning rather than a reward. In other words, if you make your horse feel safe upfront, he/she will find it easier to follow your lead and learn. Providing safety often requires the leadership to plan ahead or often it requires the leadership to shut down unwanted behavior, so the horse begins to see you taking control in unsafe situations. Regardless of when and how you provide safety and trust, rest assured it's one of the foundation pieces to good horsemanship.
2. Release from Pressure
When a horse is learning, we know that pressure motivates a horse and it’s the release from pressure teaches. In other words, horses value relief. This just happens to be another fundamental part of leadership related to teaching horses. If the horse does what you want, you stop asking. Many trainers rely solely on this method for teaching. If you mess it up and inadvertently hold the pressure on the horse, he/she will assume he didn't get it right and keep looking for answers. Example: You might tap with your heels to go. If your horse responds, you release the tapping and the horse learns. If you continue tapping, he/she may become dull and uninterested because the release never came and no reward seemed present.
When a horse is no longer afraid, eating is the most natural thing to do next. Some horses value food more than anything, while others may put it further down the list. Generally, it’s ranked high in the hierarchy of useable rewards in a learning situation. However, food probably shouldn’t be used heavily in a safety or trust situation because it can trigger heightened, excited emotions. Some trainers like to avoid using food to reward horses. I can understand their reasons. Some horses become overbearing with food. But don't forget. Food is something horses value and if you're clever you can use it and achieve extraordinary results. Plus... you'll find out, it's not always about results and sometimes it's about giving back to the horse and making sure their experience is as good as ours.
4. Touching and Grooming
When a horse is not afraid, they tend to value touch and grooming. In a learning state of mind, touching and scratching can be as rewarding as any food treat, depending on the horse. Horses are tactile creatures. They get itchy and dirty, and dry. Simply brushing your horse can be rewarding. Digging a little under the surface, especially in his/her sensitive areas like ears, underbelly, tail, etc. can really light up your horse in a fun, positive way.
When a horse is does something you like, the most natural thing to do is give praise. Although horses don’t value praise the same way a dog does, or at least, to a lesser degree, they do respond to the positive expressions we deliver. Praise should generally be the first level of reward from a trainer, backed up by release from pressure, grooming and food treats. To be clear, your horse may never understand your words, but he/she will certainly respond to your intention. When you speak praise to your horse, your intention toward him shifts and you find yourself embracing a true partner. Horses read intention to survive. It's how a zebra can tell if the lion is traveling through, or on the hunt.
6. Fun and Play
When a horse is no longer afraid, playing and having fun are great activities. However, these are the hardest to implement as rewards for learning and act more as a connection tool for bonding. Horses are herd animals, and they love companionship, so offering lighthearted companionship is often a big plus. Occasionally however, you can use fun as a reward too. Let's say you do something challenging, like flying lead changes and it all goes to plan, then for a reward, you do something simple, something you know your horse loves, like pushing the ball, or standing on the pedestal. You are allowed to be creative with your horse and you should also have fun. After all, why did we get into horses in the first place, right?
Comment below, thanks for reading. See you soon.
In a recent conversation with a fellow horse enthusiast, I noticed the exchange becoming very one sided. I found myself backing away from my own points of view, not because I didn't believe what I said was valuable, but because I felt the other party was defensive and insecure. To ensure the other person felt heard, felt understood, I backed off and opened my heart and ears. I noticed she wasn't really interested in what I had to say and only interested in making sure I understood what she had to say. At first, each comment I made was met with a defensive comment in return, such as, "Yeah, but I don't do it like that."
So, I took a deep breath in until finally she felt that I wasn't being defensive myself.
Did she overcome her insecurity about being an important, knowledgeable horse person? I hope so. It would be nice to chat with her again when she's less defensive and more open. More willing to discuss rather than contradict every technicality. Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to get my point across, just to have a conversation. Her points were valid too. I simply wondered why she felt so defensive.
I remember feeling on edge like that early in my career. Determined to make others see my point of view. Determined to be right and important and noticed. It felt, at that stage in my career, like I was secure and confident because I knew just enough to talk loudly and determined, to fight for my view. Ironically the opposite is true. I didn't understand the scope of knowledge needed for mastery and assumed each new thing I learned was making me smarter and more elite. The depth of knowledge is so vast that it takes years to accumulate experience and knowledge about techniques and variables within techniques. However, in the beginning, it's all too easy to try and lock things down. You learn something, then you lock it down as pure knowledge.
Insecurity sometimes makes us think of being a shy person, unwilling to step into social circles, but usually, insecurity leads to loud talking, closed minded, single track behavior. A secure person could have an idea and be willing to improve upon the idea rather than set it in stone and defend it. A secure person can hear others and relate to them in some way rather than tell them who is wrong and who is right. An insecure person defends every point like it's some kind of perfect knowledge that can't be insulted.
So, as I listened, there came a moment when I realized I don't need her to believe in me, or to see what I think is important. The real truth is, I just need my horse to believe in me. Isn't that what it's really about anyway? It's about the people and animals we love and want to be with. We are all here, seeking ways of making the experience for the ones we love better. I think there are times to defend your positions and ideas, and I think there are times to be open and allow new ideas or improve the ideas we currently hold. But down at the deepest level, I think the important thing is to let go of insecurities about how others view us and remember, if our horse thinks we've got what it takes to be a friend, leader, and noble caretaker, then we're in good shape and we don't have to speak loudly to defend our positions.
So, if all else fails, remember this. Horse people are people too. They can be passionate, determined, defensive, loud, insensitive, just like all other people. If we can be secure in ourselves, we can hear that noise and not get defensive. We can believe it's okay for them to be learning and stuck in a stage of development without judging negatively. We can love in spite of irritations. We can breathe and believe our positions aren't threatened. They are merely moving and growing like a living thing. Remember to be compassionate toward others, and yourself. Remember to be empathetic toward your horse and other animals. Remember you're not alone and you've got great people around to support you and teach you. Even if they teach you what you don't want to do. Remember others don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. And if you think you don't have time for people with different opinions, think again. You have time and energy to support others on their journey, even if it means just making them feel loved for a minute and never getting to the technical stuff.
Ultimately, I'm super grateful for the experience of chatting with other horse loving people, even if they don't see things my way. We are all in this together, aren't we?
Please click the share button and comment below. Life is too short to be all bottled up all the time.
Don't wear your spurs to bed because it wouldn't be comfortable. Good advice right?
Anyway... the real reason for the title is to talk about spurs and bits and whips and what value they have and don't have in today's modern world of horse training.
First, everyone has opinions, that's okay. It's important to have and hear opinions and see them as opinions instead of facts. My opinion is that bits, spurs, and whips are tools. Sharp tools that can hurt if used wrong. It's easier to cut with a knife than a spoon. Does that make the knife a bad tool? How about the spoon? Is it a bad tool? Of course the answer is no. I learned how to cut with a spoon or a knife. Traditionally, one is better for cutting and one is better for holding. But both can do both. They are just tools.
So when I hear someone say you shouldn't use bits, spurs or whips, or you should, I always ask why? I don't use them myself but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. We live in a free country, use them if you like. But try to remember this... sharp tools cut easier so you'd better learn to be slower and more precise so as not to injure or abuse the animal you're using those tools on. Also, it's easier to cheat with sharper tools.
Here's what I mean by cheat. If I ask my horse to backup while riding, using a bit, I may get a better response earlier. But if I don't ask him to do it again without resistance, his response taught him nothing. In other words, it's too easy to be mechanical and not be mental about your day to day training. It's too easy because your horse responds to the sharpness of the tool rather than the mental connection of your signal/response training. What this means is, you get a horse that relies on the spurs or bit or whip and can't do it without because they never learned what you really want, they just learned to be puppets on strings. People who rely solely on sharp tools, do so because they either don't understand the deeper mental side of training or they don't care to understand or don't want to try the hard way and reap the benefits. I understand. The only cavate is the rules related to safety in competition. Some competitions require the use of those tools. Again remember, they are tools. You get to decide. Masters use those tools too. The difference is, masters can do it all without those tools or with those tools. They may choose to use bits, spurs and whips to get results sooner or easier but they don't need them.
The old joke I love is that you can give a mad genius a paper clip and stick of bubble gum and they can build a super computer. It applies to master horse trainers too. Give me a popsicle stick and peppermint and I can teach a horse to jump, lie down, canter on command, perform tempi lead changes and stop on cue while riding. It all takes time, but it's all possible. The point is, I used to wear spurs but I started taking them off to see if I could get the same results without. When I realized I couldn't, I decided to dive deeper into the mental side of training. The mastery side of training. If you like, you can try that too. If you're happy where you're at, I'm not a judgmental type. You do you. Just promise me you're kind with sharper tools. Promise your horse you'll earn and keep the bond and not just be a puppeteer.
Sleep on it. But do take those spurs off before you go to bed, because... Ouch!
Thanks for reading. As you all know by now, I love to hear from you. Comment below. I'm not here to judge. In my classes all tools are welcome. It's the hands that use the tools that need support from time to time to get to that next level.
It's a new year and culturally we find ourselves thinking about what we can achieve. What goals do we have? What habits will be break? What new person will we become? All of those things are fine to consider. But what if I told you its all premature. What if making a goal isn't the first step, that there is something bigger, more important to do first? And... by not doing that big important thing first you're almost guaranteed not to achieve your new year's goals.
That big important thing is...
Disney didn't create the parks and the movies without first imagining those things with unlimited freedom and extraordinary detail. The details would change but the process wouldn't. Close your eyes. Use your mental picture maker and allow details to emerge related to your hopes, your heart, your influence and impact on others, your feelings. This is often where people gloss over the experience and fail to become the next level human they intend.
Three things have to happen to break free and experience your goals. 1. You dream big and in detail. 2. You set small achievable and measurable goals. 3. You review and rehearse the big dream process again and again to ensure the heart and mind stay inspired.
Imagine if Disney dreamed of Micky Mouse, started drawing him, then watched some Netflix and forgot to think about him the rest of the week. If that happened nobody would know where central Florida is today. The point is... dreaming is the fun part and it requires some discipline to dream again. Not just once, but over and over until it becomes an action, and another action, ultimately becoming a reality.
So here we are, back at the beginning of a new year and the world tells you to start writing your goals, but wait, not yet! First close your eyes and use your vision maker inside your head. See the details of something grander, different or otherwise. See in detail, all the things that surround you in your new future, the people, the noises, the smells, the clouds in the sky, the colors on your clothes, the expression on your face. Then, only then, write the big dream down. After that, write your first, measurable, achievable goal. Don't leave the mental dance without writing your goal. Then... tomorrow, come back and close your eyes again. This part is easy and super important.
This new year can be yours. Everything you dream of can start taking shape. But you have to see it. In case you struggle to see it, try out a coach. One thing we've been doing for years is helping people see the details and be inspired to move. It's valuable to have someone in your corner affirming you and keeping you focused.
Here's a link to our Mastery Group. Start your new year off right.
We welcome comments below.
"Hope," the rider standing next to the tall grey mare announced. "We named her Hope because she inspires a brave new world. Would you like to ride her?"
The young girl, whose dreams were coming true right before her eyes, bobbed her head up and down with enthusiasm. She accepted the helmet the rider handed to her and reached for the reins. With the riders encouragement the young girl climbed the mounting block and leapt onto the horses back with the ease of an athlete.
"Before you start..." the handler on the ground continued, "Remember, this horse doesn't know you. These first few minutes are important. This is where she gets her first impression of you. Are you going to be kind, rude, strong, weak, graceful, tactless, patient, hurried, happy, or grumpy? It's important to decide right now. What impression do you want this horse to feel? How do you want her to remember you? And... What is your intention while on her back?"
All the questions gave the young girl a sense of trepidation. She'd never thought of horses in that way. She always knew she loved horses but she never considered whether the horse loved her back. The new thought of having a horse that was more than just a tool or toy gave her pause at first, but as the thoughts soaked in, they gave her a new sense of inspiration for an even deeper partnership and brighter future. She beamed with hope and smiled when she realized why they had given her that name. She took a deep breath and allowed her mind to clear. She focused on her intention of giving a great first impression. She thought about her goals and what she'd like to experience during this first ride. She thought about big dreams of galloping through fields, jumping, and riding with friends. Then she narrowed those big dreams down to smaller and smaller things until she felt certain that this new potential partner of hers could confidently perform without hesitation or fear. The handler on the ground noticed her new sense of inner peace and power and let go of the reins, giving complete control to the new horsewoman atop the majestic thoroughbred.
Twenty minutes later the young girl beamed with pride as she slid off the horse's side, landing next to her father. "What do you think?" he asked, already knowing the answer. "Should we take her home with us?" The girl didn't hesitate to answer, and in that moment, as if the horse could hear the question, the young silvery mare reached around to connect with the girl in what seemed to everyone a sign that the partnership was off to the right start. "Let me handle the paperwork here while you cool down with your new horse," her father suggested. And with that, she wrapped her arms around her horse's neck for a heartfelt moment, then took off the saddle and walked about the arena with her horse close behind the whole time. Over and over in her mind she kept thinking how magical and impossible this all felt, yet here she was, walking in the sand with six feet instead of two, as her dreams turned to reality.
A few hours later, she and her father cracked the truck doors open once again, stepping up into the cold cab for a long ride home. As the truck started and the heat began building up in the cab, the trailer attached to the truck, rocked back and forth and a whinny came from inside. The pretty young mare standing alone in the trailer began to sense a big change in her life. Her father noticed the commotion too and looked to his daughter saying, "Not to worry doll. Horses always get a bit excited with transitions from one place to another, it's part of the process we just have to be okay with." Sensing his daughters concern for the horse, he added, "She's a good horse, but she's going to need a good leader more than ever these next few weeks. She's going to wonder why she has to leave her family, where she's going, all those things. Do you think you can give her the reassurance and clarity she needs?" His daughter sat up tall, cleared her mind and nodded with confidence. In her heart she made a promise to her new equine friend that no matter what happened, she'd always be there for her, making sure she felt valued, loved, and never without a strong, thoughtful leader.
At that moment her father knew she'd be okay. Not just the horse, but the young horsewoman in the making as well. No doubt they'd need help along the way but the long drive home gave plenty of time to talk strategy. This day had shaped up to be everything they'd hoped for and more.
The old ford pickup with trailer in tow, shined brighter than it deserved, reflecting the bright, Montana winter sun and blue, cloudless sky. With smiles and waves from the homeowners, the truck and trailer bounced happily down the dirt road where the highways widened and a brave new journey was about to begin.
Author's note: Horses spark something magical inside us. People come to horses for many reasons. Among those reasons, is the heart to heart connection horses offer. Stories of that first horse always inspire the memory of that connection and can bring us back to why we started in the first place. Comment below and share your story. When did you get your first horse? What was it like? Do you remember the feeling? Do you still feel that today?
Thanks for reading, be sure to comment below. Sincerely, Don Jessop, Mastery Horsemanship
Don't delay, click above soon: expires: 2 Jan 2022
The road narrowed from two lanes to one and turned from pavement to gravel. The irony didn't escape the father's thoughts. For his experience, it seemed all journeys began with wide open highways, almost inviting you forward, but as the end drew near, the pathways became harder, slower, bumpier, dustier. Life was tricky that way. He wanted his daughter to experience the open road of that magical beginning but he knew, eventually, there would be bumps in the path. He knew at some point, she'd question herself, maybe even want to give up. But he shook off the burdens of the future with another deep breath and pinned his attention to the priceless smile of his beautiful princess in the seat next to him. She was scanning the fence lines looking for that grey thoroughbred she'd seen on video. The very same horse they'd travelled so far to see.
The noise of the truck and trailer bouncing down the road borrowed the attention of all the horses on the farm and they began to call out and gallop about the open fields. "It's just like the video described, isn't it? Wide open fields, horses naturally playing together. Isn't this beautiful?" Asked the father. His daughter turned and nodded an enthusiastic yes. But he could see a hint of despair, or perhaps confusion, in her eyes. After scanning the herd, the very horse they were looking for was missing from the postcard like setting. "She's here somewhere, I'm sure." He said with certainty. "They've probably got her in the barn."
The ranch road ended on top a small bench just above the valley floor, commanding exceptional views from the small house and barn situated to soak it all in. The big barn doors were closed until the truck came to a complete stop. The sound of the engine halting, like the ring of a doorbell, called the homeowners through the small walkthrough door at the side. They were appropriately dressed for cold Montana weather and he could tell they had been busy this morning. He hoped it was for the right reasons. His imagination raced with things that could be off. The welcoming smiles and waving gestures they delivered gave calm to his anxieties. He tapped his daughter on the shoulders, then he and his excited new horsewoman in the making, cracked the doors, stepped down from the truck and embraced the sights and smells of what only a small horse ranch can muster.
If you're not an animal lover, the smells generated by crisp, dry air, dusty roads, trodden pastures, wood shavings, horse hair, sweat, and even manure, can be overwhelming. For the father and daughter, this smell was the first sign that, in spite of the distance between their home in Arizona and this one, they were in familiar country, and likely, with familiar folks. After their initial greetings, the two of them followed the homeowners through the side door and down the breezeway, all the way to the end with no horses to be seen in the stalls at the sides. The anticipation in the young girl was building and only one door remained. With a light tug, the last door slid open into a section of the barn reserved for what looked like a small indoor riding or training space. Clearly, the space was not meant for large crowds of people and horses, but in the eyes of the daughter now standing at the edge, the four-legged creature standing in the center made the space feel more grand than a jumping arena filled with spectators and lights.
Dapple grey, large eyes, bright white tail, dark tipped, perky ears, sparkling coat, smooth top lines, and a generally calm demeanor all indicated a well looked after, prized partner in the making. The homeowners had clearly spent their morning making her shine because the horses outside looked like they been playing in the mud all week. The father's measure of certainty was rising. Partially because the horse looked every bit the part they'd seen on video and also because she carried a saddle. And standing next to the mare was a young rider who was beaming with pride. The rider invited the daughter over to meet her new horse and with a glance to her father, and his nod of assurance, she stepped out into the small arena. Those first steps took her back to a memory of a dream, and forward at the same time, because today... that dream was not just in her heart, but truly standing in front of her.
The silver mare's ears perked as she stepped near. She even reached out to meet the young girl approaching, and with that first touch, the father knew it was needless to wonder if the horse would be coming home with them.
Author's note: For most of us, we remember the anticipation of that first horse and the magic of seeing a dream come true. What comes next? Part three to this story will arrive in your inbox next week. Thanks for reading, as always feel free to comment below and don't hesitate to reach out if you and your horse need a helping hand. We are here for you.
Don't delay, click above soon: expires: 2 Jan 2022
As night turned to dawn, the snow capped mountains to the west began to glow, and in the passenger seat of a 1999 model Ford pickup truck a young girl began to wake. Her and her father had travelled for nearly two days from the heat of the Arizona desert to the cold of the Montana big sky country with one hope. As only horse loving people would understand, there are horses all over the world, but comparatively, there are few horses that spark something special inside you. The horse they were coming to see was one of those horses for her, hopefully.
Everything they'd seen so far on video and pictures spoke to the young girl in an almost spiritual way. Perhaps there were other horses, some even closer than a two day's drive, but this horse lingered on her mind and nothing could separate that emotional bond once it began. You could say, the hope was more in the father. Hope that the horse wouldn't disappoint his young horsewoman in the making.
The whistle of the diesel engine was quieter now they'd descended the last elevated pass where acceleration wasn't needed as often, and that quietness, plus the warm cab air, was inviting sleepiness more than waking. But the sunrise was unlike anything her father had ever seen and his daughter wouldn't want to miss it. With a nudge and whisper, he called and coaxed his daughter awake. "We're getting closer now, doll. You should see these mountains shining in the early sun."
The aches and tightness in the body as it wakes from sleeping in a truck cab can only be overcome with the anticipation of a destination on the horizon. In her case, that destination was the beating heart of a young, grey thoroughbred named Hope, somewhere near the end of the valley they now travelled through. Her fathers voice opened her eyes, but it was the anticipation of seeing her horse that truly woke her enough to lean forward and see the jagged mountains bathed in new sunlight. Her father was right, she didn't want to miss this. Every inch of this journey was a dream come true. The four-legged creature at the end was no doubt going to be the icing on the cake.
"First, let's stop for breakfast. Does that sound good to you?" The father asked, and with a nod of approval, they spent the next hour nearly speechless, consuming the best of Montana's farm raised eggs, grits, pancakes, hot chocolate, and coffee in a quaint little café, in a small town near their final stop. Being so close made her giddy and nervous. And again, perhaps the nervousness was more in the father than the daughter. The horse seemed perfect for her on video but nothing would spoil an adventure more than a poor prize wrapped in golden paper at the end. Anything could be off. The horse could be lame, or dangerously untrained, or emotionally damaged. Those thoughts kept cycling through his mind, and crossing his fingers only helped shift gears to more positive thoughts some of the time. He breathed deep and kept the spirits up. "Let's pack this up and go see our new horse, shall we?" And with an excited nod from his daughter, their journey of just a few more miles, resumed...
Author's note: For most of us, we remember the anticipation of that first horse. That special magic that's only happens once. Part two to this story will arrive in your inbox next week. Thanks for reading, as always feel free to comment below and don't hesitate to reach out if you and your horse need a helping hand. We are here for you.
Don't delay, click above soon: expires: 2 Jan 2022
Playful horses are simply the most enjoyable to watch. But how do you encourage play and perhaps more importantly, how do you keep the play from getting too playful and losing control in a moment when you need to be safe, such as riding?
Check out this video on encouraging play!
Be sure to check in with your goals and make your horse's happiness one of those goals. Comment below if this article and video have touched you in some way.
It's been our pleasure throughout our careers to help, not only horse lovers but people who know nothing about horses to learn from our four legged friends in equine therapy classes of sorts. As a result of these classes we've come to one simple conclusion we find quite useful. The horse... is a grand metaphor. This applies, not only to therapy clients but to all horse owners as well.
Have you ever heard the expression, "Your horse is your mirror?" It's a fun way of saying, whatever is going on for your horse, is probably indicative of something failing or succeeding in your own leadership and self development skillsets. For instance, if your horse fails to cross water on command, there is a chance you have failed to be a leader in some way during his development. His failure mirrors some form of your own failure. In contrast, if your horse succeeds at a task, that success mirrors your own hard earned leadership, kindness, and persistence.
I don't like how the expression, "your horse is your mirror," can sometimes turn too anthropomorphic. Some people say, your horse is scared, that means you're scared too. Or your horse is lashing out at people, that means you lash out at people too. It can mean that, but it's more by chance than anything else that your horse has the same external expressions as you. The truth is, the metaphor of the mirror is deeper than that surface expression. Here is what we've learned about the metaphor of horses in human lives.
The horse represents self. Your inner self.
It represents communication with yourself. It often represents fears, frustrations, and failures like the ones described above. At times, the horse can represent others, like a husband and wife communication team. But mostly it shouldn't. Because if I think my wife is my horse, metaphorically speaking, what does that make me? Her leader? No... The lines get blurry here. Sure families need leadership but they don't need benevolent dictators.
Horses, on the other hand, do need leadership. Horses need us to guide and lead and befriend them. And when we do lead correctly, bond correctly, and earn their respect and trust, they perform in magical ways. In contrast, if you don't lead correctly, they can run right over you, leave you fearful or damaged. You might miss important boundary setting moments and leave yourself exposed. It's in these moments that the horse begins to show us our strengths and weaknesses.
The men, women, and children who experience therapy with horses most often describe, how in dealing with the animal, they tapped into something that's been plaguing their own emotional well-being. I often hear how the horse helps them see that they are not taking care of their body, or respecting their own boundaries, allowing people in their lives to run over them and even allowing themselves to be ran over by runaway thoughts or behaviors. The cool thing is that when we hear this kind of thing we can help the person begin to become that leader for the horse and the information learned transfers to the same kind of leadership in real life with the inner self. I've met people who's relationships were falling apart, only to have them dive deep into the horse leadership side of training and begin to mend their human relationships as a result.
I once heard this saying and it stuck with me: "How you do anything, is how you do everything!" Read that again. "How you do anything is how you do everything." It's useful to adopt that kind of saying as an affirmation in your life. It helps you to focus on the moment and understand the results of your actions in that moment. This means if you're playing with a horse, you need to be aware, slow down, be kind, be firm at the right moments, and so on. It takes time to learn it all, but the time you take learning is also moment by moment. Are you living with grace, giving yourself some grace, your horse some grace? Or are you living with frustration? It's useful to check in and see how you're responding to pressure and tasks you ask your horse to do. The most balanced horses owners demand very little of their horse and achieve enormous amounts. It's all possible because they understand how one moment shapes into another. They understand that how they do what they do now, matters for later. I could go deeper but I'm going to step back now and keep it simple.
Horses are a great metaphor for reading our own emotional responses to pressure. There are many different kinds of therapy imbedded into the equine industry so I hope you don't believe the one's we're describing here are the only way to Rome. But I want to leave you with this...
Some concepts related to equine therapy seem to crossover and stick, but we have to be careful around those blurry lines of drawing the wrong kind of metaphor from our horse experience. Example: If you learn a technique that works with a horse, don't assume it will work on people. It might even have a negative effect if you do.
Imagine being in the round pen, not able to get your horse's attention. Then, your instructor prompts you to put a little pressure on the horse to get him moving about. You comply, then... when the horse finally looks your way, you turn away, taking the pressure off the horse, essentially rewarding him for looking. Voila, you're beginning to establish a connection with your horse. Sometimes, people take that advice back to the human world and try it with other people. But be careful, you can't put your spouse or child in a round pen and chase them around trying to get them to behave. Trust me, it doesn't work that way. So don't get caught thinking other people are like horses and you should treat them so or use all the same techniques. People are much more complex. Think of horses more like a metaphor for you, for your own self love, discipline, control, focus, trust, communication, intention, personal training etc.
I am beyond blessed to have horses in my life and I'm constantly inspired to write and share my experiences. I have learned to be present, less demanding, more controlled in pressure situations, more graceful toward instinctive behaviors that I, and even others express, and more graceful in my word choices toward myself and others. It's all because of horses. I'd love to hear from you as well...
Comment below and tell me how horses have helped you become aware of a strength or weakness and how you've made moves to improve your life, all because of the horse.
In case you didn't know, you are the heart and lifeblood of our existence. Because of your love for horses, we have the good fortune to meet you. Because of your desire to, not just be with horses, but grow as well, we have the honor of serving you.
You must know we love and admire you, respect and believe in you. Without you, we don't exist. Thank you for everything you inspire in us.
We aren't asking for anything from you. Just here to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving weekend!
PS. We thought it fitting to thank our wonderful equine partners too. Read this "Tribute to an Icon," posted a year ago.
PPS. From all of us at Mastery Horsemanship, enjoy this Thanksgiving Discount
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Hello again and thank you for reading.
Within the horse training world, there are two basic trains of thought. One... teach the horse everything is "good." Or two... teach the horse everything is "not so bad." Although those two strategies may sound similar, they are dramatically different. Understanding how they differ and when to apply each thought pattern, could mean the difference between success and failure related to progress with your horse.
To illustrate, allow me to tell a story of a horse named Diesel. Diesel is, or rather, was, afraid of the farrier. He didn't want to stand still. He didn't like the abrupt movements the farrier made when he reached for his tools or pounded a nail. He would rear up, kick out, bite, strike, and leap out of position so quick, and always at just the wrong time. As a result, he often had to be sedated for farrier and vet work. Now you know the back story, I want you to apply one of those two thought patterns to helping Diesel overcome his fear of the fast moving professionals.
Science experiment one: Teach the horse everything is good. In other words, be kind when he gets scared. Go slower. Give treats and food to distract and calm him when he's got his foot in the air. Speak to him in dulcet tones and help him believe that having his feet worked on is pleasant, even rewarding.
Science experiment two: Teach him he has a job to stand still. If he does his job, he gets rewarded. If he doesn't... there are consequences that outweigh any negative feelings he already has related to the farrier. In other words, teach him standing still is not as bad as the alternative.
Now you have a multiple choice problem, which strategy is better to help Diesel overcome his fear? I suppose the answer you state depends greatly on your own experience and your own nature. Heartfelt people almost always revert to science experiment number one, whereas rough and tumble cowboys almost always revert to the second strategy.
But which one is right?
If you're clever, which I believe you are, you already know the answer is both. You also know that the timing and feel you offer for rewards and consequences depends greatly on the relative fear factor.
What I mean by relative fear factor is this: In general, a fearful horse reacts because he or she is genuinely afraid. But there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, a slightly fearful, or less fearful horse, and perhaps more disrespectful horse, reacts in the same fashion as a fearful horse but the factor of fear is much lower. In other words... he's learned to react big to get you to stop, even if his fear is lower than it looks. He's learned to react in a fearful way to things that are merely uncomfortable, rather than life threatening. How has he learned this? You may have guessed it... He's been inadvertently rewarded for acting fearful. So now, even slightly uncomfortable situations garner the same reaction as genuinely fearful situations.
It's how horse training works. If the horse does something you want, you reward them with either food, relax time, calm words, or grooming. For Diesel, unknown to his owner, he was working under the science experiment number one, getting food, relax time, calm words, and grooming while he was acting up. So what does he learn? He learns that if he feels uncomfortable and decides to react, he gets a break. Food for thought...
On the other hand, operating under science experiment number two, Diesel would get no down time, no food, no calm words or grooming, unless... he's standing calm. Not before, but during and after his calm state. If he isn't calm, the consequences become very clear, especially with mastery horsemanship techniques. When I worked with Diesel personally, I worked on what we call the "box game." See this video and learn more. If he stood in the box he got rewarded. If he left the box he was pressured, without reward, to return quickly. The pressure outside the box became much more uncomfortable than the pressure in the box and he slowly began to believe that the farrier wasn't as bad as he thought. He liked when I was calm, relaxed and rewarding with the belly of the rope hanging low. He didn't like when I was assertive and quick, demanding he return to the box. In no time at all, he stood like a pro, not taking even one extra step in spite of the noises, smells and abrupt movements of the farrier.
Naturally, I had to convince the farrier to let me do my job. I had to ask him to step back and allow me to quickly guide the horse back. The farrier kept wanting to follow the horse and pick up the foot again. I demanded he stay back and only picked up the feet when the horse was back in the box and the belly of the lead rope on the ground. I also had to convince him to offer more feel inside the box, to be a little less abrupt with his tools, less grabby with his hands and to slowly let the foot down instead of dropping it. All things that make being in the box better than being outside the box. Slowly, the farrier got the message and afterwards complimented me on helping the horse without sedation, saying that horse had never acted so good in the past, even with sedation. He even went so far as to say he might try using that with some of his other clients. To which, I said. YES PLEASE!
Feel and timing are hard things to write about. When do you put pressure on a horse? When do you reward? How long should the reward be, etc.? The answers most often come from experience and trial and error. The moral of the story here today is to give you permission to play with those two science experiments. Try rewards and consequences with new eyes and new timing. Help your horse learn to advance by helping him see it's "not as bad as he thought" and perhaps, it's even "good!"
I love hearing from you. Please comment below.
PS. For more great stories, buy my new book today!
Horses are prey animals that live with a "herd mentality." That means there is safety in numbers. Therefore, leaving the herd to venture out on your own is a dangerous idea that most horses are very opposed to.
Most proclaimed horse trainers figure out how to intimidate a horse into leaving the herd. A little tap on the but, a spur to the side, or any other kind of reprimand for trying to turn back to the herd works, for most horses. But there is something altogether better for the horse that you'll learn about today. It's called the "Easter Egg Hunt For Horses."
Every year, in nearly every park in America, kids (small humans), tear away from their mothers and fathers embrace to race across the open spaces in search of candy. It's not all sunshine and rainbows for every kid, but generally, kids love the experience. One great premise of the Easter egg hunt is to train enthusiasm in "game form," because enthusiasm is way more useful than intimidation. Any parent knows the value of rewards rather than consequences and always hope to use the former unless all else fails. Using rewards is way more fun. That same, fun, Easter egg hunt strategy can be used with horses that don't want to leave the safety of home or the herd. It works like this:
Before you ride out, or lead out. Go out on your own and place treats, buckets of grain, or anything else you know your horse loves in random, far off places. Then go get your horse and lead them to those places, stopping at each to enjoy the reward discovered. At first, your horse will balk, determined not to leave the safe zone, but once they discover the treat, they'll feel rewarded for joining you. When you're ready, head to the next, or head home, knowing you're starting something really cool because what comes next is a magical word called anticipation.
The next day, your horse will anticipate finding a reward in that same place. He or she will put effort into getting to "point b," where the treat is. Only there won't be a treat there because you cleverly moved the treat just a few feet away in a new place. Together you'll hunt for that treat and reward yourselves with it when you find it, then move onto the next or head home knowing you're onto something special.
The next day, your horse will not just look for the reward at the first spot, but also at the second spot, but it won't be there. Its moved again, perhaps a little further away. Together you'll find it again and reward yourselves heavily. Each day you'll play this way until your horse becomes curious about heading out instead of tentative. Each day the treat moves slightly, then further and further away, until ultimately the treat is miles from the herd, tucked away in some enchanted forest where you and your horse get to enjoy the true connection of the horse human partnership. The expression is "riding off into the sunset," not "fighting off into the sunset." It's what most of us want at some level.
The Easter egg hunt will be fun to setup and fun for your horse to learn to grow beyond the herd mentality into becoming a partner with you, his or her trusted leader. In the end, you'll have the horse you dreamed of. And naturally, there are some pitfalls. It's best with some horses to start small. Start close to home and grow from there. If you're unconfident with your handling skills you don't want to be out of sight until your horse starts to show some enthusiasm about the game. Also, some horses are "treat hounds." Once they get a taste of sugar, they go a little crazy. You don't have to use treats. You can use rest and relaxation or grazing time. The whole idea is to make leaving the herd, a fabulous experience for the horse. Make it fun and have a great time with no hurried timelines to pressure you. Before you know it. You will be riding off into the sunset.
Thanks for reading... want more? Buy my new book series full of stories just like this one to inspire you to get out and enjoy your horse.
Comment below, I love hearing from you!
Written by Don Jessop
Post a video on YouTube and sit back and watch the critics. Does that sound like a safe thing to do? Arm chair critics are a dime a dozen. They are willing to tell you everything you do wrong without actually engaging in conversation. It's the very reason I talk about being careful when you post videos. see link. Regardless, if you have something positive to share, you should still share it. I believe our world needs as much optimistic positive energy as it can get right now. Occasionally I do read the comments from my video posts and if I see a pattern in the comments it gives me a whole new topic. Hence this topic: "How to not be perfect and still get the job done."
So many people believe you have to be perfect. They say things like: "Don't teach the wrong thing by letting go at the wrong time. Don't do it like that, do it like this instead. There is only one right way to do anything." Comments like that led me to this article. You can be imperfect, even backward in your logic, and still get the job done.
Did you know you can teach a horse to go forward by pulling on the reins? Did you know you can teach a horse to go backward by kicking his belly? The logic is backward but if you want to teach it that way, guess what...? The horse can learn it that way. Did you know you can let go at the wrong time and still get the job done just by persisting through time to a different result? Horses are trial and error participants. They are looking for the releases and the rewards. If you release and reward at the wrong time once, then the right time once, then the wrong time again, then the right time again and again, believe it or not, he'll start looking for averages. No doubt he'll be confused with less logical techniques but in time, you'll see, he'll still get what you want because it feels best to do what you want in spite of the confusion. And if you persist to the end result you want, even if you did it all backward, your horse will shrug his shoulders and think "okay, I guess this is what she wanted."
The point is, people want rules, they want to be told how to do something and they don't tend to like variations or exceptions to rules. But I'm here to say you can throw away that basic instinct and make your own rules. Did you know that my wife and I as elite horse trainers don't always do the same things? Did you know that when I ride her horse I don't like how it feels and when she rides my horse she doesn't like how it feels? What does that mean? Is one of us doing it wrong? NO! We both offer different feel, different signals, different support mechanisms. The relationship you develop with your horse might always be your own. I believe you should be okay with that. If someone tells you you're doing it wrong, don't believe them. You're just doing it your way, or the way you learned. Are there other ways. YES! There are always other ways.
Some ways make more sense to the horse, sometimes, but not always. Horsemanship, at it's core, is an art! It's two species dancing together. Militant ideology works great for military activities. But we don't use horses for battle anymore. We have horses for partnerships, harmony, peace, and play. I believe we shouldn't be so hard on each other when we see someone do something differently. Look at it like art.
If something is being done in a cruel or unsafe manner, maybe that's when you should pipe up and say something. Otherwise, I believe we should celebrate the different art we see around us. Enjoy the unique conversations between two individuals.
When a student asks me if there is a better way to achieve a certain task, I can certainly show a dozen different techniques. One will work best for the horse and one for the human, based on coordination, skill, and so on. But make no mistake, any technique, even if it doesn't make sense, will work, if you persist. The moral of the story here is to take some pressure off you. There are three "p" words that we use in training. Patience, Persistence, and Position. Those are the basics of teaching a horse. Be patience, be persistence, and reward the position you're looking for. No where in that equation is the word "perfect." Stop trying to be perfect by knowing the perfect path forward. Relax, enjoy, be artistic, try things, then try different ways to do the same things, have fun! Horsemanship is a wonderful adventure, don't allow people, including yourself, to rob you of the adventure by trying to tell you that you have to be perfect.
As always, I encourage you to comment below. Share your thoughts, it helps me see I'm reaching the finer points of progress in our horse industry. Thanks for reading.
Have you ever seen what a horse does when a new horse shows up for the first time in visual range? How about when a miniature horse shows up for the first time around your big horses?
I'll just put it like this... When you're riding your horse and a miniature horse comes running up to say hello, it's no picnic. It's more like a garage sale with everything on the table. Everything can go flying at any minute. If you're lucky, you stay on top, if you're smart, you get off before the sail catches wind, just as you see the mini approaching.
Small animals set horses off the first time they encounter each other. It's partly because most horses don't have any exposure to smaller animals and once they get over it, all is well. None the less, those first few moments can be hectic. You know what I'm talking about if you have mini horses in your neighborhood.
Recently, a friend gave me the idea to write about this particular phenomenon and graciously gave me the title "meltdown by the minnies" because her horse did exactly that. Most of us horse lovers have been around long enough to see our horses meltdown before us. Horses are emotional animals. They feel everything and probably are more sensitive to it all than we are, because their very life depends on it. There is however, a state of mind that can occur that puzzles many horse owners. It's that state of mind I'd like to discuss.
When a horse looses all awareness of his or her leader and can only focus on the present danger, I call this "right brain blindness." The right hemisphere of the horse dictates most instinctive choices the horse makes, from fight, to flight, to freeze. The left brain dictates most conscious awareness choices, such as noticing the gate is two posts to the left and making the choice to move over and walk through it calmly instead of frantically pacing, unaware the gate is mere feet away. When a horse goes "right brain blind," it means they can only see the hazard or the problem, and cannot see the leader or the solution. The story of melting down by the minnies is exactly that. The little horses arrived, the big horse went into survival mode and failed to see the leader's instructions to calm down. After twenty minutes and a full, sweat soaked coat, the big horse finally started breathing again and life each day after that became more manageable around the miniature horses.
The pointed question remaining is this: Should you stay and help the horse through the meltdown, safely on the ground, or should you leave and avoid the meltdown, looking for some other way to introduce the two equine cousins?
The answer is simple. If you're comfortable managing a meltdown, you should definitely stay. Keep your big horse from escalating by setting clear do's and don'ts and being firm about your personal space. Don't allow him to cross that imaginary line where he can't see you and he can only see the mini. This may cause him to jump on top of you. Be in sight. Keep your horse behind or beside you, not in front for moments like this. Get off if you're riding, unless you know the escalation to bucking or rearing or scooting sideways won't occur. And stay until you get some breath back in those lungs, both for you and your horse. You don't have to find a Zen state, you just have to improve from "right brain blind less" to a manageable controlled state. Then you can come back day after day to improve on the confidence.
On the flip side. If you're not comfortable handling the meltdown. Retreat to a safe place and introduce everything much more slowly for your own safety. If you're a good leader, both techniques work. If you're a mean leader, your horse won't love you no matter how you treat the situation. If you're a wimpy leader, your horse won't respect you no matter how you treat the situation. So my advice is to be the best leader you can be by setting boundaries and standards for communication under stress. That can all start in a smaller, simpler, safer fashion back in the comfort of your safe home environment. You can ask a friend to add some uncomfortable stimulus and work toward teaching your horse to forget about it and communicate with you "the leader" instead. Over time, you'll see you can guide your horse in stressful situations and when you get to those big scary situations, you can be the leader your horse deserves. Kind, firm, rewarding, clear, present, and thoughtful.
Just in case you think you're alone with your horses problems, please remember you are not alone. We all, even the elite trainers, have communication breakdowns and moments where the horse looses track of the leader. But in those moments we can learn to be confident that all will end well. You can learn that confidence too.
Comment below. The more comments I get the more I know I'm reaching the finer points needed in our horse world. Thanks for reading.
PS. Do you ever go to the bathroom? Buy my new book set, It's a great bathroom reader.
Canter plus left circle = left lead / Canter plus right circle = right lead
Unless... canter plus right circle = left lead and vice versa. Is that confusing enough?
It just so happens that canter leads aren't determined by the direction you're travelling on your horse. They are determined by the balance and footwork the horse is displaying. A horse can canter either lead in either direction and even change leads midstride.
Leads and specifically lead changes or "flying lead changes" as they are often called, are most likely the most difficult horse training exercise you'll ever encounter. The dynamic movement of the canter makes balancing and cueing the horse very difficult and even dangerous on a green horse.
"But I see horses do flying canter lead changes all the time in the field?" You might ask suggestively.
The truth is, horses don't do flying changes all the time in the field. They do them sometimes in the field. Nine out of ten times your horse will execute a failed flying lead change in the field. And one of ten he'll come true and change his feet from one lead to the other. If you don't believe me, take a closer look at your horses when they canter. Notice how when they run around, most of the time, they canter on the wrong lead (counter canter), or crossfire (meaning the front feet are doing the opposite motion of the hind feet), or trot then switch leads after trotting. The truth is, the horse industry can feed us misinformation about how flying changes are naturally effortless. They aren't effortless but they can be easy if we use the word "EASY" as an acronym.
But wait... What's the point? Who really cares about flying changes anyway? Does it really matter? Do I really need to worry about and focus on learning how to achieve lead changes? more on that later...
When horses do manage do perform a perfect flying lead change, four things happen all at once. Elevation, Alignment, Shape, and Yes answers to your signals. If any one of these four things fail, the lead change will not take place, regardless of what technique or pattern you use. In fact, the lesson in the article is not to teach you a new technique, because, frankly, there are too many to reference here. There are dozens of patterns, and dozens of techniques, just ask any instructor, you'll get answers that differ dramatically. This article isn't about techniques, it's meant to teach you about the puzzle pieces that have to fit together for it all to work. When your lead changes fail, you can fall back on this "easy" acronym and begin to address the parts that fail, instead of the whole. Let's tackle each one individually.
Elevation - A canter consists of four distinct parts. Take a left lead canter for instance. First, the right hind foot strikes the ground. Second, the left hind and right front strike the ground in unison, third, the left front foot strikes the ground. Fourth, all four feet hover above the ground just before starting the whole process over again. It's that last part that counts the most when training flying changes. You have to teach a horse to elevate the stride for long enough to give time to make the change. It takes some feel and timing. We teach all about this and how to do it, in our Mastery University.
Alignment - Imagine a train on a narrow track then imagine that train falling from the track crumbling to pieces in the dust covered sage brush of the wild Arizona desert. That train represents what happens when your horse comes off the tracks you design.
A flying lead change must happen on a narrow track, if you turn too sharply or dive left or right, your horse will fall off the track and crumble to pieces, metaphorically speaking, and relating specifically, to flying changes.
Shape - Left and right leads kind of look like the backward C shape for left :) and a forward C shape for right (:
A flying change can only take place when the horse is willing to change shape while cantering. It's fairly easy to change shape while walking or trotting through cones or bending poles, but cantering is quite another thing. None the less, when your horse is willing to change shape with diligent, independent, flexibility practice of the horses head, shoulders, and hips, you'll notice how easy flying changes can become. What I'm describing is a rough outline of what must take place. There are too many specifics to cover in one simple article like this. But much more in the Mastery University Courses. Check them out.
Yes without question - means your horse doesn't hesitate to speed up, slow down, or keep the rhythm you want. He or she doesn't hesitate to follow your hand, leg, energy, and seat cues. If there is any hesitation, your horse will break gait or break rhythm. If that happens, you'll find yourself looking at the same crumpled train. Impulsion has to be perfect. The horse must be focused. Sure you could accidentally get a change from time to time, but consistency only comes from understanding the dynamics and then setting yourself in practice mode for a long time to ensure your horse doesn't say "no" when you ask any question.
What you can expect:
Expert trainers take a year or more to develop flying changes on an easy horse. Three years or more on a difficult horse. Experts also expect a sliding scale of success. Which means... at first you might get one out of ten and built to two out of ten, then three and so on, until finally, at the pinnacle of success, a year or two later, you might achieve 90% plus success on your flying lead change cues.
Novice riders often assume that since horses can do them naturally, if they just start practicing they will start to experience some success in a few sessions. It's simply not that simple, even for most experts.
Also, remember this. People are always looking for techniques, patterns, signals, body cues, etc. The truth is, any and all of those things work at different times. I know a dozen ways to teach flying changes on a horse, from jump changes to gallop changes to counter canter/canter changes etc. And I know a dozen more ways to teach people to ride and cue flying changes on a horse, from high inside hands, to low inside hand, to different leg cues and focus cues. Trust me, it's not the technique alone you need to learn, it's the process. It's the puzzle pieces that must come together all at once to form a perfect flying lead change. If one puzzle piece fails, the rest fall apart too. The "EASY" acronym can be a great guide to understanding why a lead change doesn't work and what to do to help the start working in the future.
Go back and read the definitions of "EASY." Imprint them into your mind and one day, when you come to one of my clinics you'll have the foundation for success ingrained, deep behind those eyelids and slowly sinking into your shoulders, arms, hips and feet. One day, you'll be asked to perform a flying change. When it fails, you'll be asked why it didn't work. Your answer will come from this article. One of those four things wasn't sharp enough. And that's the very thing you'll set your focus on and soon... you'll be mastering flying changes.
PS. A single flying change is awesome and incredible to achieve, but set your sites to pinnacle of horsemanship where one day, you'll achieve tempi flying changes. Youtube the term: tempi flying changes, if you haven't seen what I'm talking about.
I love your comments, please post them here. I'd like to see how these articles are helping.
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PPS. The reason leads and changes are important is certainly a performance aspect of horsemanship, but even in the beginning, the value of leads becomes apparent. When a horse canters incorrectly, it impacts the balance of the horse and longevity of joint health in a bad way. Correct canter is a good thing. Beyond the horse's balance however, learning about leads and lead changes is the next big thing in your own education. Avoiding that education is like ignoring the elephant in the room. If you dive into the deep learning of leads and lead changes, you'll find there is a whole other world of performance and leadership available to you. Don't be an avoidaholic. Deep dive with us in the Horse Mastery University.
One big white dog. That's all it took. As many of my readers know, dogs and horses don't always get along. In fact insurance companies prohibit dogs on the premise during clinics. But we also know that dogs can be harmless and don't intend to create the chaos that can happen organically. So this isn't a dog blaming article at all. This is a story about recovery and how to tackle it.
Patty and her friends walked causally back to the horse trailers parked neatly in the South Florida, red ant hill ridden, parking lot. Their horses, after a long and beautiful ride, were carrying their passengers with ease and relaxation until suddenly, a flash of white bounding energy came billowing toward them like a Montana snow storm racing down the mountains. The white bundle of fur was a bowling ball of a dog, destined to knock over the train of four legged bowling pins walking along the fence. He succeeded!
The horses leapt, bolted, scattered, and evacuated the area leaving broken people and broken bones in their wake. This story is not much different than many other stories containing excited horses and outside stimulants beyond our control. Sometimes it's a bear on the trail, a car passing you on the road too fast, a tree falling in the forest, a horse getting too excited near your horse, the flash of a plastic bag, or even an unexpected bee sting that causes the negative reactions. Whatever it is, at the end, if we fall, it becomes like a crime scene. Like all crime scenes, people are hurt, physically and emotionally and healing is required. At some point in the future, after trying to recover from concussions, and broken limbs, and PTSD, there lingers a deep desire to return to the scene and regain some dignity and confidence. Nobody wants to go back for fun, but many of us want to go back to unlock our barriers to progress.
If you do go back to the scene of the crime to regain your trust and rebuild on the relationship you used to have with your horse, it's important to know a few things. Read closely, it may mean the difference between success and progress toward your dreams or total failure and falling further back into the pitfalls and pain.
Let me explain what that means and why it's so important to come as the leader and not the follower. Years ago I returned to my own crime scene, a place I'd fallen from my horse and injured my confidence. When I arrived I gave my leadership to the horse. I didn't mean to, it just happened. I literally gave my horse a long lead rope and let him explore. Let him tell me if everything was okay here or not. I thought that if I coddled my horse and leaned on his confidence, maybe he'd tell me it's okay and everything will be fine.
But the opposite happened. My lack of leadership gave the horse no direction. My elevated heart rate gave the horse anxiety, and my general, follower mentality led us both into disarray, distraction, and nervousness. My horse began calling out for other horses. I began to pet him, coddle him. Then he nearly stepped on my toes. I jumped back and that made him jump. Soon, with a feeling of utter failure, I left the scene and retreated to a safer place. You might have already guessed the reality of my situation. I made things worse, not better. It's all because I didn't keep my leadership. I relied on a prey animal to tell me if the world was safe. It took many more years before I returned again, only this time... I was the leader and my horse felt that leadership instantly. Even in moments of uncertainty, I clearly stood out as in control and willing to do simple things well. Like standing in one place until our heart rates calmed down.
Winning or losing most games has very little to do with the score. It has to do with time limits. If we're playing football and the clock runs out, whoever had more points wins. If you're returning to a crime scene to get closure and the time runs out before you have a chance to get your closure, you don't win. But if there was no time limit, no clock, nowhere else to be, you can outlast the heightened emotions and end on a great note. So before you go, just plan on being there as long as it takes. Reserve half a day or more to be there, undisturbed by your calendar or the needs of others. Grieving and recovering takes time. Give yourself that gift. No pressure, no timelines, just passive persistence in the proper position, with an unwillingness to give up until you start to feel calm again.
Check your breathing, is it normal? Check your heartrate, is it normal? If it's not, even if you survived, you should stay a little longer. There is value in coming back in short bursts time after time and allowing the repetition of coming back to calm your nerves, but if you want to really tackle it, you wont leave until you're starting to breath normal again. The body sends signals to the brain about the outside world and how safe it truly is. Many times, people quit too soon. They feel an inkling of success and jump in the truck and drive away, hoping to end on a good note, praying they can get out of there before something bad happens again. That emotion isn't resolution or closure. It's just more anxiety. Breathe into it, stay a little longer. Weather the ups and downs and leave when you're feeling truly safe.
If it's a horse related accident. Come back without your horse a few times. Then when you bring your horse, don't ride. Then when you ride, don't do everything you always do. Then one day, everything will feel normal again and you'll have the closure you deserve. Even before you come back you can start smaller still. You can close your eyes and imagine calmly sitting near the scene of the crime eating your favorite food. You can visualize your success before you start and even during the whole process, all the way up to the end, where you regain your full confidence and ride off into the sunset like the crazy awesome horse person you are.
I believe you can do anything. I want you to hold some of that optimism too. Get out there, make peace with your world. I'd love to hear your comments below.
Sincerely, Don Jessop, your crazy horse loving friend.
Thank you all for your amazing comments from the last blog about the "One Step Wonder" game.
As per your request. I've created a video for you. I'd like you to create a video too. Comment below if you're willing to make a video playing this game with me.
Here's the concept and your homework:
Comment and share below. See you soon.
Today's lesson is going to be short and sweet. Here it is:
When you're driving a car on a flat road and you push the gas pedal, the car goes faster forward, right? When you take your foot off the gas pedal, does the car keep going fast or does it being to slow down? Your car naturally slows when you take your foot off the gas pedal. That's normal. That's how it should be.
Imagine a car that kept accelerating even after you took your foot off the pedal. That would be bad news. Unfortunately, that's how many horses act. When asked to go, some horses keep going without regard for anything else. Some horses are even punished for slowing down. Master horse trainers know better and they can offer you a simple lesson you can take home and apply today to horses that don't slow naturally and help get the kind of results and relationship most people dream of with a horse.
Here's the lesson: Get on your horse (if he/she's rideable) and ask him to step forward. When he does step forward, release your asking signal, or stop asking for forward. Just relax, take your foot off the gas pedal, metaphorically speaking, and see what happens.
If your horse keeps walking, or worse, speeds up, even after you take your foot off the gas pedal, you've got a problem that is easily fixable.
If, however, your horse takes one step on command, then slows down to a stop because they sense you didn't ask for more, you've got a winner. I want a horse that goes when I ask, how fast I want, how far I want, and slows when I stop asking. Some novice trainers want a horse that won't slow down because they don't want to keep asking the horse to go. So it's about to get a little more confusing. Just breathe! Let me explain!
Principle one: A smart, sensitive horse will listen to all your body cues. Including, gas pedal on/off, and brake pedal on/off, and reverse and sideways, etc. A reactive horse will listen to only a few signals, primarily; gas pedal on and heavy brake pedal. Which would you rather have; a horse that's reactive or a horse that's attentive and doesn't make assumptions?
Principle two: A horse can learn to hold the gas pedal on, just like a car holds the gas pedal in cruise control, making it easier to keep your speed without having to constantly kick or squeeze for forward. This horse should only learn this advanced lesson of "cruise control" or "maintaining gait," after they learn gas pedal on/off control. NOT BEFORE!
Hopefully those two principles help make sense of any previous education you've had about how horses should and shouldn't respond when you say to go forward.
The game, "one step wonder," is about teaching your horse a simple, fun game of stepping forward without holding forward. Later you can teach holding forward. Today... find out if your horse is truly listening to your body signals, or if they are still only reacting to basic commands. My horses can go forward, maintaining gait for as long as I want, reminded by the most subtle body cues, or they can slow when I take off the gas pedal. They can do both! Your horse can do both too.
Try the one step wonder game and see if your horse can take just one step forward and immediately charge down and relax after. If they don't decelerate, put on the brakes and ask for a few steps of backup. Then try again, applying the brakes each time until, eventually, they anticipate slowing down immediately after going forward without you touching the reins to force slowing down. At that point, they will offer to slow down when you take the gas pedal off and you'll achieve the one step wonder winner's trophy. A horse that will do that, demonstrates a higher level of impulsion.
So what's the value of the one step wonder game? You horse's behavior improves because they are listening to every detail about forward energy, not just "go and stay going." Your horse learns to go slower for riders that need to go slower, like preparing for kids to ride. Your horse becomes more attentive to you and less reactive to the environment or internal anxiety. The usefulness of your horse improves too. You'll be able to open and close gates while mounted or ride in open fields, or up and down hills slowly, or even ride with other horses because your horse is paying attention to the details you need instead of everything else!
Would you like to see a video of how to play the one step wonder game? Comment below and I'll make one for you. The more comments I get helps me see your interest and will help me make that video for you sooner. Thanks and have fun!
I've written about managing your expectations before (see article) but that was quite some time ago. The chances of that same message coming up in front of you is pretty low so I've decided to write about expectations again. Specifically, I'd like to highlight timelines you could expect to achieve something.
Just before, however, it's important to remember this concept:
High expectations don't lead to results, they lead to frustration. Low expectations don't lead to results either, but they do take off the edge of frustrations when you don't get what you want. When I'm teaching people about horses, I attempt to instill both high and low expectations. Remember this line: "High hopes, low expectations, and most importantly... high standards." Having high standards ensures the most basic parts of your communication with your horse stay intact regardless of environmental pressures. It's your job to keep those intact, not your horses job. Hold yourself to high training standards and everything will start to work out eventually. What are those standards? I have a simple formula for that. CB4! It stands for...
Connection: Every day ensure a connection and take the time to get it, even if your horse doesn't feel like connecting. Even if it means you have to take more time than you hoped for.
Boundaries: Never let your horse step on you, or pull away from you. Don't let him travel on a line that you didn't choose while leading him. Don't let him walk off without you first suggesting it. Don't let him lean on the rope or reins. Don't let him be sluggish on your cues in the saddle.
Bonding: Every day, balance your training with the same amount to down time and bonding time. Give back as much as you ask for.
Bravery: If you notice your horse is bothered by something. Don't skip it. Make a program to erase the fear and build in respect and confidence. Even if you can't tackle it immediately, make a note and start on the task tomorrow. Don't wait, hoping it will just go away.
Basic Skills: Ensure daily progress to the simple, yet mostly neglected tasks, like sideways training, yielding to soft hand pressure and leg pressure, transitions with quality and smoothness, backwards on cue, and stand for everything.
Now lets get back to timelines. If you focus exclusively on a particular task and don't get carried away doing trivial things month after month, here is what you can expect from a professional standpoint and then what to expect from yourself.
The table below is an estimated timetable for some common tasks. Each horse and each individual varies enormously. However, these averages should give you some peace of mind if you feel like you're taking a long time to get something.
Have you ever felt like you or your horse just aren't getting something? Feeling like you should be past it by now? Relax... If you focus exclusively on any particular task you will get there. Having a little grace toward yourself and your horse will take off the edge of feeling frustrated. The next obvious thing is to hire some professional help to speed up the timelines so you can enjoy upper level horsemanship sooner. That's what we are here for and that's what you can expect in our Mastery University. Check it out today!
Comment below. I love hearing from you!
Anybody can do sunny day rides on a calm horse, but can you and your horse handle galloping herd mates, flapping tarps, noisy motorcycles, gunshots, leaving to ride on your own, or being left behind? If you can't do those things, do you wish you could? If you answered "yes," but don't know how or don't believe your horse could ever get there, then keep reading. If you answered "no," then trust me when I say, I hold no judgment against you. Horses are supposed to be fun for us, and taking that next step into what I call "stressful situation training," can be challenging.
For those curious minds who'd like to see some solutions for riding "into the fray," so to speak, read on...
Step one: Identify your horses triggers. What set's her off to the point where she stops paying attention to you and devotes her attention to that thing, leaving you out of control?
Step two: On the ground, linger near those triggered spaces, even in those spaces. Don't avoid them. No pressure at first, just hang out. Don't allow him/her to step into your space or pull away. Wait there until you have a calm, quiet horse. This could take a while, don't be in a hurry or expect anything grand in one day or even one week. A horse's progress is generally best measured in months, not days.
Step three: Ask for normal things you'd ask for in a normal, quiet space. Things like hind quarter yields, friendly desensitizing games to a flag or stick, circles, backing and turning, or touching hand yields. Keep asking until you get the same quality response you'd get in a quiet training area in spite of the extra noise.
Step four: Hang out some more just to prove your horse is truly becoming calm in that triggered environment.
Step five: Come back each day and repeat, until finally, one day, you feel you can move from ground to riding in that space.
Blackberry: Blackberry couldn't handle going off on his own. He would do okay if you stayed close to the other horses, but going off on his own triggered a highly explosive horse, even to the point of bucking. So what we did for him, was get on the ground and lead him away from the others. Then we played with basic ground skills in that new space, day after day after day, until one day... it became apparent he just wasn't reactive anymore. On that day, we rode off into the sunset, away from the others, without any hiccups.
Grace: Grace couldn't handle riding past other horses in a field or when other horses around her started running or jumping. Not great for a competition environment where that kind of thing happens all the time. So what we did for Grace was step into open fields with other horses. On the ground we'd hang out for ten or twenty minutes just correcting boundaries and keeping the other horses at bay. (Remember... no pushing or pulling.) Then, we'd play some basic skill games on the ground until she was quiet and responsive just like in the quiet places. Day after day we'd go to new spaces until one day she stopped reacting to the other horses. Now we can ride out into new herds of horses, or cows, or anything and boss them all around because Grace doesn't react at all to what they're doing.
Rudy: Rudy couldn't handle tarps and flags moving quickly. If you kept everything slow he'd seem confident but if something flashed quickly, especially from behind, he'd loose his marbles, even if he knew what it was. So what we did was teach Rudy to stand in a box. We call that box training, you can learn more here: video link. Whenever Rudy left the box we quickly brought him back and rewarded him. After a while he wouldn't leave the box for anything. You could have a parade going behind him and he just didn't care because his focus was on the leader and the job his leader gave him, instead of on the parade. Now, Rudy can ride safely without the fear of losing control if something spooks him.
Raspberry: Raspberry bucked every time you asked him to canter and it got worse on windy or cold days. So what we did was get on the ground and ask him to improve the quality of his transitions. Walk, trot, canter, buck. That was his model. Each time he bucked, we stopped him by literally getting in his face with the lead rope wiggling up and down to say, "DONT DO THAT!" until he would backup, look at us and think, "What did I do wrong?" At which point, we'd try again. Each time he bucked, we told him not to. Each time he cantered without bucking he got a reward. Not a treat, but a nice calm walk and a soft rewarding grooming session after he walked. It's important to walk after cantering for horses like this. Don't just canter and stop. Walk it out a few steps, then stop. There's more to that I'll talk about in another article. Anyway... after many days of correcting the canter/buck thing, in many different spaces, and temperature ranges, he simply stopped doing it. Now, it's been about six months since he's even tried bucking when you canter. We still check to be sure, but now we can ride in stressful situations without the fear of overreaction, and that's the key to a great partnership.
I believe, if you can't ride in a stressful situation, you can't get to that next level of horsemanship. We could map your progressive confidence this way:
Level 1: You can work on the ground and sit on your horse in a calm, neutral space.
Level 2: You can ride in new places but with the support of easy going company. Always taking things slowly.
Level 3: You can ride in new spaces with easy company and speed things up a bit. Challenging each other to up your game.
Level 4: You can ride in new spaces, trusting you can manage your horses reactions in spite of the groups or environmental pressures. Perhaps you can't work at every speed yet, but you can work in every place.
Level 5: You can ride anywhere with any company at any speed, and "own the ride" so to speak, because your horse is always giving you his or her attention instead of giving it to the environment. This is the horse your kid can take to the 4H classes and win every class. This is the horse you can trust will listen completely, regardless of the pressures around.
Currently, in my herd of horses, I have, one horse at level 2, two horses at level 3 but close to 4, two at level 4, and one at level 5. What level are you at with your horse? Comment below.
Want to learn more? Do you wish you could really go for your big dreams with horses? Join our mastery university today!
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Let's not talk politics or religion because frankly, as a horseman, I sit on the fence between the extremes. I find that many of my colleagues do the same. It's not to say we don't care about those things, because, ironically, we care as much as anyone. But the way we care might be related to the place we sit. On the fence, as the observer, always learning.
In a world where people always ask you where you stand, it's often hard to choose. Not because you don't have morals of your own or view points that mean something important to you, but because when you choose a side, you often leave out a few special loved ones who have chosen the other side. So naturally, I find it's best to sit in the middle. To be "the extreme middle of the road," as one of my great teachers taught me.
As a horseman, I have to live between the real human world and the horse world. I have to hop over the fence into the horse world every day. I find I spend an enormous amount time in both worlds. I like that thought. I use that thought. "Spend time in both worlds." The fence divides the two worlds, there is no doubt, but cowboys and cowgirls and horsemen and horsewomen alike can sit on the fence. It's not a wall, you can literally see right through it and over it to the other side. If you're brave, you can hop over it to be in the other side for as long as you like. Sometimes that's what it takes, bravery.
When a new horse enthusiast shows up to my ranch, they often fear being on the other side of the fence because the extreme power of the wild animal on the other side is intimidating. But with a few tools, they quickly realize that inside that wild animal is a sweetheart. And also, when the animal reverts to reaction and instinctive behaviors, they realize they can guide that reaction to a better emotional state without losing track of their own inner strength and personal awareness.
I often tell my students to take that lesson into their human world. People can react instinctively to pressures around them and show their extreme side. Remember that on the inside, they are still sweethearts. Somewhere in there is a less extreme, more capable, functioning person. If you have the right tools, you can communicate and even learn from that person.
Where I grew up, in my little community, religion was the main topic. Many, many times I was told that sitting on the fence was a bad thing. "Be committed," they said. "Do the right thing," they said. "Choose," they demanded. "Don't open the wrong book," they'd say, because the wrong book could lead you astray. But I never could follow the one-sided involvement strategies they promoted. Even at a young age, I looked to the other religions and saw similarities, not differences. That's not to say I couldn't see differences. I'm not blind. But the big pile of differences, as it happens, feels as much like a three rail fence as anything. It's got holes you can see right through, and if you're capable, you can climb right over. And from my experience, that's a great place to sit. Right in the very place I get to observe and learn from both sides. I love fence sitting. I love not choosing sides, because those who sit on the fence see more. They see both sides, they are both sides, they encompass both realms.
I get a kick out of seeing a line of spectators sitting on the edge of the corral. It tells me I have a willing audience, ready to be in the horse's world or outside in the human world. At a moments notice, any one of those participants can flexibly shift into another space. It tells a lot about a persons state of mind when they sit on the fence.
Naturally, I can't always live on the fence, I have chores to do outside the corral. I have to live in the extremes of either side for hours at a time. I have to commit to one side to accomplish a series of tasks. But you can count on one thing... my home is in the middle, with my feet on the second rail and my butt on the top rail, watching, and observing, and learning from what both sides have to offer. My whole world gravitates around that middle point. I find, even when I'm off the fence, committed to any particular task, I still glance back through to the other side. Like a driver would check the rear view mirror, I look back through the fence gaps to see something beautiful or to ensure the other side is functioning the way it's supposed to.
I know not everyone on the planet reads my articles, but if you do, take a lesson from a cowboy and try sitting on a fence, both physically, and metaphorically, and see just how much you can see when both worlds come together and make a beautiful panoramic view. It takes more balance to be in such a precarious place, to be sure, but it's worth it. Trust me. Learn to walk a mile in another's shoes and views without losing your own. Learn to trust the inner sweetheart in everyone and every animal. Learn to navigate the wild, untamed nature of instinct. It might sound naïve... it's not. I feel a more optimistic view of our friends, neighbors, countrymen, and beyond can shift, if we all just sit on the fence a little longer, or at least, look through the gaps to learn a little more about them.
And speaking of metaphors... if a lot of people sat on the fence all at once, what would happen? I believe it would crumble, and as we all fell to the ground, not a soul would be able to contain their laughter at such a great sight.
Food for thought. Thanks for reading.
In case you didn't already know, shoulder control is a pretty big deal. We use shoulder control to help a horse travel on a straight line, to follow the rail, to move sideways, and other lateral maneuvers. We even use it to calm a horse down and help them be more mentally focused. However, most novice riders and teachers of novice horsemanship only highlight the importance of hind-quarter control. For instance, if you lose control of your horse and he starts bucking, just pull on one rein and spin him in a circle, which causes his hind feet to cross, giving you the ability to keep his feet on the ground and hopefully, giving you enough time to dismount and get into a better space. So, just to be clear, I'm not here to dispute the value of hind-quarter control. In fact... I'm here to reinforce it but in an entirely different way.
"Which way?" you might ask. "In this way," I'd reply...
When you're ready, as a student, you must learn to control the shoulders to engage in higher levels of horsemanship, including flying lead changes and more. Ironically, to control the shoulders, you must also understand where those hind-quarters are so they don't mess up your shoulder movements. In the above picture, you'll notice I'm asking my horse Raspberry to yield his shoulders to his left, but to do so, I have to place my leg back behind the girth to ensure the hind-quarters stay grounded. If I don't help the hind-quarters, they will move and totally screw up the balance I'm trying to achieve. This, although basic, is the most critical part of understanding shoulder movements.
When a rider attempts to do a flying change, there is always a handful of reasons in which he won't succeed. First, if the horse loses impulsion and fails to maintain a rhythmic canter. Second, if the horse turns to quickly, causing a dip or drop in the shoulder. And third, if the hind-quarters go swimming across the arena without the rider's awareness. There are a few other reasons, of course, but primarily... a lead change (not direction change) from right to left in the canter, while cantering (this is called a flying lead change) falls apart because the rider isn't aware of where the shoulders and hind quarters are in space and time. If you aren't able to manipulate where they are while moving at speed, you won't be able to control the shift in body shape needed to achieve the flying lead change.
Put your leg on, hold with your hand, lean back, lean forward, lean to the side, hold your tongue out, hold one eye closed, you name it. Nothing you do will matter if you don't have good shoulder and hind-quarter awareness and control. So back to square one here. For safety, hind-quarter control is valuable. For progress, hind-quarter control is essential. For practice and application however, put your attention to the shoulders. It's the shoulders that must shift off their line and back across that line, that will allow you to achieve that flying lead change. Start small, even while standing still, like in the picture above, and teach those front legs to cross one in front of the other. Then advance to walking yields such as "shoulder in."
There are lots of "rules" people make about what "shoulder in" means technically. Forget about if for now. We'll get into all that later. Let's keep things simple here. Just hold those hind-quarters on the center line and try getting the shoulders off that center line to the inside of the arena. Don't go way off track, just a little. Keep walking straight ahead. If you can achieve a shoulder yield maneuver while walking straight ahead, you're on your way to a flying lead change one day. If you can't, I bet you can guess the problem.
You got it... It's those darn hind-quarters swimming off the center line. So now it's time to start practicing hind-quarter control while walking so you can keep those darn things lined up for advancing maneuvers too. If you can manipulate hind-quarters and shoulders, and flexion, and speed, you can start practicing counter bends, and half-passes. And soon... flying lead changes. Sounds fun right? It is!!!
Okay, homework time. Are you ready?
Sit on your horse and tell him how lucky you are to have him or her in your life. Then... ask him to move his hind end one step to the left without the front end. Then ask for the front end without his hind end. Be nice, be rewarding, don't do full circles. You're goal is to make one step easy, not ten steps ugly. Once you've achieved this goal (could be a few sessions), try moving the hind-quarters and shoulders while walking in a straight line along a fence or rail, or even a rope or series of cones. You don't need to own an indoor arena to make progress. If you feel you've got a good handle on the shoulders and hips independently, while moving, try moving them together, at the same time, away from your line of travel to another line. Like changing lanes in a car without turning the wheel. Just slipping from one lane to the next while facing forward.
It's so much fun! Don't wait to start! There is no vehicle on the planet that can give you the sensation horses can give while doing lateral maneuvers. I'm a pilot, a commercial driver, a motorcycle rider, and more. Nothing compares to horses doing lateral maneuvers well.
One last thing. I made a faux paw, comparing a horse to a vehicle. They are so much more than that. There is an incredible spiritual connection between horses and humans. I don't have to ride to feel that. And that should be a reminder to stay connected to your horse regardless of progress. Be nice, be firm when you need to be, but be nice and rewarding. And if you're having a good time, don't forget to tell your face about it. Show your positive energy to your horse. Be his friend and leader and see how all your dreams with horses can come true!
I believe in you! Join me at the next level of horsemanship. Start moving those shoulders. And if you want to learn more, I've got tons of videos and progress maps, just for you in our horse mastery university. Check it out asap! Limited spots available. Red rover, red rover, come on over!
Comment below and share with your friends. Thanks for reading.
I got this title from a close friend. Thanks Bill for the inspiration.
Lunging horses, at least in the natural horse training communities, has become a bad idea. How do I know? Because I'm from the natural horse training community. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say you shouldn't lunge your horse because it's bad for them. Often, when you ask the person who thinks lunging is bad, why they think lunging is bad, they don't have a definitive answer. The most common answer is some version of "because it's what my teacher taught me, so I listen to my teacher."
So... naturally, I feel like we need a little clarification on the subject.
Lunging isn't bad! Circles aren't bad. But... circles, without a distinct goal and meaning for the horse, are bad. In other words, mindless lunging is bad for the horse. Doing it because you were taught to do it without understanding the value, can be detrimental to your horse for a few important reasons.
First, when a horse travels in a circle around a center point (you), they tend to weight their feet in an imbalanced fashion, often causing repetitive stress injuries on the tendons and joints. Imagine a horse traveling a circle to the right, if his head is tilted out and his shoulder tilted in, he'll put undue stress on the right front foot, leading to eventual injury. If you don't know about that balance and keep lunging or circling for other reasons, you will damage your horse and force an early retirement. How do I know? Because I've done exactly that. I didn't know I was doing that, but it happened and I learned.
Second, if you ask your horse to circle or "lunge in a circle" as it's often called, for the wrong reasons, which I'll attempt to describe below, you may inadvertently destroy the mental connection between you and the horse. You're not guaranteed to destroy that special connection but chances are pretty high. If you don't understand more about how horses connect and enjoy a relationship with humans, you may be teaching your horse to not like you, and always leave you when the pressure's on.
So what do I mean by "wrong reasons" for lunging? Notice how I often replace the word "lunging" for "circling," and vice versa? It's because they are virtually the same thing. I don't want people to get caught up thinking that because they're circling their horse, they aren't lunging. They are virtually the same thing. The key word we want to avoid is "mindless." We don't want to mindlessly circle or lunge the horse in circles. Which leads us to those "wrong reasons" for lunging.
Lunging because your instructor says so is one of those wrong reasons, or at least, insufficient reasons. Lunging or circling because it's fun for you, and you don't really know what else to do for exercise, is another wrong reason. Many people circle their horse around and around because they like watching the horse go around. That's not a great reason for lunging and it can lead to the above stated problems. As stated before, lunging without clear outlined value for you and your horse, isn't healthy in general.
So what are some "good reasons" for lunging? First. If you're aware of the imbalances in a horses gaits, you can use circles to influence the balance and change it for the better. Starting slow is always a good idea. If you know what you're doing, you can teach a horse to carry themselves in a balanced fashion which can lead to better riding experiences and long lasting healthy horse.
Second. Lunging a horse can help get out the "zoomies." Zoomies is a fun word to describe a horse that doesn't contain their own energy well. They zip, zoom, buck, fly, leap, and generally act un-rideable. Lunging can help take out the zoomies. You have to be careful not to cause injury, but it's useful to see how a horse moves before you decide to get on. You can also use lunging for testing confidence with a saddle, or even asking a horse to jump or cross obstacles like water or a tarp. The simple act of sending a horse out and over, or through a space is extremely useful, even in trailer loading so you don't have to go inside the trailer. You can literally lunge your horse right into a horse trailer if you get the concept down right.
Third in line for good reasons to circle, is you can train responsiveness to your up and down signals, which can lead to better riding experiences too. Transition work is very valuable for horses. Finally, lunging or circling, if done well can be a life enriching experience that leads to performing arts with horses. Have you ever seen a trainer circle their horse without anything on his head, in a wide open field, and the horse is balanced, calm, responsive, and beautiful? We call that liberty training and it can be beautiful. It's one of the magical things we work toward in higher level horsemanship. I can teach you how to get there. Just comment below if you want more info.
Coming full circle back to the title of this article... Lunging, in the natural horse community has gotten a bad rap. However, I use the word all the time. I'm not interested in separating communities and looking for differences. I'm looking for similarities. I'm not your stereotypical horse trainer who says I know what I'm doing and no one else knows what they're doing. I believe in creating bridges between ideas and peoples and communities. I feel that if we can see differences, we're acting quite human, but if we can see similarities, we are acting super human. So if you're a natural trainer who refuses to use the word "lunging," perhaps you'll soften a little and start using it playfully instead of discriminately. If you're someone who uses the word lunging all the time, perhaps by reading this, you'll become aware of a whole other community of people that use different words but they're trying to get to the same place you are. All just food for thought anyway. I hope it helps.
Comment below if you have any extra thoughts. Also, if you want some tips on lunging, or circling in a way that helps the horse balance and become more engaged with you mentally, which leads to higher levels of performing arts, comment below and the more comments I get the sooner I get those video tips out.
Thanks for reading
PS. Lunging or circling to teach a horse to maintain gait is a mixed bag of good and bad. There is a way to train maintaining gait without consequences for breaking gait. If you can figure that out, you'll be on the path to mastery.
First... face your fear. Then... learn to ignore it.
When you're teaching a horse to be brave, the first thing you would naturally do, if you're on the ground, is to put yourself between the scary object and the horse and cause the horse to face you and the object and to not run away. The second thing you'd do, if you understand natural horsemanship, is to place yourself off to the side and invite the horse to investigate the scary object. Naturally he or she would lean toward you and you'd have to push them back into that scary space to learn independent confidence. When they start to show confidence and curiosity the next natural step is to... What? Why haven't we been taught the next step? Many trainers know the next step, but few horse owners know the next step, and it just so happens to be the most important next step in building the horse's total confidence.
Have you ever heard of a "bomb proof" horse? The term "bomb proof" describes a level of confidence that most horse owners dream of having in their horse. It means nothing will spook or bother the horse beyond control. It doesn't mean the horse isn't aware of scary things, it means they always remain within control of your aids. Your reins and leg cues. When they spook, it's small, easy to manage and doesn't last long. Kids need bomb proof horses and so do most adults. But how do you get that kind of confidence in a horse?
As it turns out. You get that kind of confidence by understanding that next step that most horse trainers fail to talk about. It's understanding how to teach the horse to ignore the fearful situation.
Image a windstorm. What do horses do in the windstorm? If you've been around horses, you know that they always prefer to face away from the storm. They like to put that big hind quarter into the wind and rain and protect those delicate facial features like eyes and ears. When I see a horse stand like this in a storm, it makes me think there's a better way to explain that next natural step of teaching horses to ignore the fearful situation. In other words... if I want my horse to be bombproof, I imagine the scary thing, the very thing he's afraid of, as a windstorm. And I teach him to put his big brown butt, or white butt, or painted butt, or whatever color butt, toward the windstorm. Toward the scary thing.
At first, he won't be able to handle being in that vulnerable position and he'll want to turn toward it. Naturally, because we've already been through that important first step. But now it's time for him to grow his confidence and place his confidence in my suggestions, rather than his own assessment of the situation. I, at this stage, am quite literally asking him to ignore what he's afraid of and focus on me instead. By placing his hind quarters toward the scary thing and asking him to stand still, I am beginning to teach him to listen to me, in spite of the scary thing. I prefer to teach this kind of thing on the ground, but I also get to the same stage in the saddle.
To be clear, I don't always turn my horse's butt to scary things. Once they learn to put their tail to the windstorm, so to speak, I can stand in any position. Because what they're really learning to do is ignore the windstorm. Naturally, this next step is harder to do than the earlier confidence building steps. It takes patience and timing and balance, and feel. It takes persistence and firmness coupled with kindness and rewards. It takes setting strong personal space boundaries and constantly re-sensitizing your horse to your signals. But in the end... you'll have your bombproof horse.
I like to tackle any scary thing in that way. First, face the fear, then learn to engage with the obstacles, then learn to ignore them. The last part takes the longest, but it's the most rewarding. When you're riding a horse that doesn't care about what's going on around him, it's most likely because someone in his history taught him to ignore things that scare him, not to run from them or engage fully without consideration of you, but to simply ignore the fear and listen to the leader. That's a fun horse to ride. It's a safe horse to ride. Everybody loves that horse.
Now you know that next step. You can do it too. All you need is a lead rope, a stick and string to help set boundaries and ask the horse to stand still. Oh... and you need a scary situation. Don't avoid scary situations. Devour them! Create them. Tackle them. Teach your horse to listen to you in spite of them. Before you know it, you'll have your bomb proof horse.
A couple of safety tips: Go at your speed and distance. Teach your horse to ignore scary things from a distance at first, then ultimately, up close. Start small and progress to bigger things. Also, find a friend to help with the whole "scary thing" thing. It makes it fun when a partner is out there doing silly things while you're helping your horse ignore them.
Inspiration: Check out this video of a horse that's truly learned to ignore his fears and listen to his partner instead.
If you'd like to learn more. Comment below and request an early-start "how to" video. The more comments I get, the sooner I'll make that video for you.
Thanks for reading and please share with your friends. Our horses deserve the very best we can bring.
Have you ever seen a horse go from a mild walk to a full on bucking fit, or bolting fit, or rearing fit? Why do they do that and how can we fix it?
In the video below, you'll meet Casanova, the wonderfully calm and unfortunately, explosive, black beauty, to learn more about it all.
What triggers the horse? That's the first thing you want to look for. There is no such thing as out of the blue. There is always something that precedes anything. Its just that sometimes its hard to see what that something is.
Is the trigger a flag, a plastic bag, a rope, a tarp, a whip, a car, a herd of galloping horses? Does the horse become explosive when he's standing still, or does it happen when he's moving at a walk, or trot, or canter? Does it happen when you go out on your own, away from your friends, or is it when they leave you behind? It's important to find out when the explosions are most likely to happen and what the stimulus is. You'll see in the video with Casanova, how we slowly discover the thing that upset him the most and you'll also get to see how I use a few tools of the trade to help him work through some tough situations and find some peace in the moments of stress.
If you remember nothing else from this video, remember this... Don't avoid the problems your horse presents you. Find a way to tackle them, otherwise you'll always be walking on eggshells, wondering just how much you can trust your horse in high energy situations. I don't want a sunny day horse. I want an everyday horse that works in every situation. Hopefully this video will give you some tips and tools to make your horse an everyday horse with nothing that upsets him or her to the point of losing control.
Comment below to help me find his new name and share your thoughts on the video.
PS. Get my new book: "Inspiration and Leadership for Horse Lovers"
Big horses are... well... big! But I love big horses. Apart from a few minor deterrents outlined below, I tend to think big horses are the best kind of horse for a tall gentleman like me. In part, because it's easier to get the weight ratio right. Generally speaking it's not wise to ride a horse, of which, you weigh more than twenty percent of. If you have elite level performance in mind, you shouldn't be more than about fifteen percent total, all tacked up, but twenty percent will generally suit the population and the horses needs.
Besides finding it easier to find a suitable partner, big horses have a few more qualities I love. A big horse, given a good natural physique, commands presence like no other animal. There are beautiful, well balanced horses in every breed, but when you run into a beautiful, well balanced horse of the "big" variety, you find yourself staring into the eyes of a noble variety,
For me... there is such a thing as too big. For instance, as a rider, I don't prefer draft horses because they aren't quite sporty enough for my riding disciplines. It's not that I don't like draft horses, I do! I like all animals, especially those of the equine type. But, like you, I get my kicks from the horse that makes me look out the window and nearly drive off the road, while cruising past the farm with the shiny warmbloods, or thoroughbreds.
I grew up riding Arabian horses, long distance. Fifty miles, in four hours was my fastest endurance race. Those were fit, strong horses, that I'll never forget. All my early horses were great teachers and I don't know if I'll ever feel that kind of natural stamina in any other breed. But if you found a picture of me on my little Arabians, you'd sense I didn't need a stepladder to get on, if you know what I mean. In an emergency I'd often just put my feet on the ground like Fred Flintstone and drag the party bus to a stop. (I'm joking of course. I'm not that tall.)
Then, over the years, as a clinician, teacher, and coach, I found myself riding all kinds of horses, from quarter horses on trails, in reining classes, and even cutting, to mules in the back country. Then one day, I met a horse named St. Pauli's Girl. She wasn't the first big horse I met, she was just the most incredible big horse I had ever met. She was balanced, commanding, stunning, standing just over seventeen hands high. My jaw dropped when I looked at her and when I peaked at my neighbors, their jaws were dropping too. And amongst all the drooling, I found myself begging for a pathway to own such a horse. Thanks to my dear friend in Sacramento, at a lovely ranch in the foothills named "Silverhorne Sport horses," that opportunity came. Through hard work, and some big decisions that juggled our finances and time, she finally found herself in my horse trailer, bound for Montana. Here is a picture of her and I in our early career.
As promised, I said I'd highlight a few deterrents to owning big horses. I don't want you to think It's all peaches and cream. First... they eat more. Get ready for it. They eat a lot more! Way more than I was ready for, coming from a world of mostly smaller horses. I know each horse has a different metabolism, but you can basically count on a big sporty horse like Pauli to eat you out of house and home. If you're ready for it, it won't shock you. For some people, that's all they know.
Second... they aren't robots, or playthings, or toys. Like all horses, they have a big heart, a brain, and emotions that run hot and cold. In fact, the term warmbloods kind of sets you up to see just how they operate. Hot and cold. It depends on the environment, then on the training to how well they find the middle. When a big horse jumps, they jump bigger, higher. When they spook, they often spook bigger. Not quicker, just bigger. When they don't want to move, it's harder to move. It's just physics. If they spook while you're on the ground, you'd better be ready to stop that big train coming down the tracks because they are much bigger than you and can jump right over you, given the wrong choices in your communication.
Related to them not being toys or playthings, you also need to know their body mass puts more stress on their joints. So don't go in the round pen and circle, circle, circle. I've found over the years that any horse is susceptible to injury if all you do is circle. But bigger horses are often more susceptible to injury. Big horses need clear leadership on clean, straight lines and elegant arcs. In a safety situation, all bets are off, but in general training, it's wise to consider the horses physical limitations regarding their bones, joints, and muscle development. Take your time building up those big horses. Well... all horses, for that matter.
Third, and last deterrent... you will often need a stepladder to get on. I'm quite tall and can, in a pinch, get on from the ground. If I do, I try to get on from both sides alternately, not just one, to avoid stressing the horses muscles in one repetitive way. The advantage to the height is that all you friends look up to you. Literally! But be careful on the trail, you might find you don't fit in the same small spaces you used to go. I nearly got peeled of my horse by a low hanging branch once when all my friends slid right under it. I still have a small scar to prove it. Oh, and one more thing, it's further to the ground if you need to get off in a hurry. Make sure your feet haven't been cut off from your blood supply or else you'll be feeling pins and needles in your toes when you hit the ground. But again, generally speaking, I'd still have to say, I love a big horse.
Regardless of size, all horses need a good foundation if you intend to ride. I teach these foundation classes in my Mastery University. I'd love for you to check it out.
Oops, I forgot just one more thing. If you're married, your spouse might want your big beautiful horse for herself. Just saying...
I'd love to hear from you, read your comments and share in your journey. Comment below!
The old saying goes... "Thoughts turn into words, and actions, and behavior, and character. It all starts with thoughts."
If you think you can, you probably will do, and become, exactly what you thought. That means if you think you can't, you'll get stuck in that loop too. Dr. Joe Dispenza citied in his book "You are the placebo" how humans think on average, 60000 to 70000 thoughts per day and 90 percent of those thoughts are the same thoughts you had yesterday. That means you're virtually guaranteed to get mostly the same results as yesterday, not leaving much room for improvement.
So apparently... how you think and what you think are pretty important if it leads to your daily life experiences. Would you agree? But where do thoughts come from?
Do thoughts come from the outside, meaning circumstances mold thinking? Or do thoughts come from the inside, meaning you mold your thinking? Or perhaps... is it both? If you're willing to accept that much of how you think is circumstantially driven, and mostly unconsciously executed then you're probably on the right track. But if you're unwilling to accept that you have some choice in the matter of how you think, you're slipping from the track into victimhood. In other words... own it. Expose the unconscious world around you, simply by looking at it. Take a moment to see and judge a single thought and notice how once you're aware of it, you can change it.
An example I like to use is the thought about needing food. If I feel in my tummy, a little growl, my brain says its time to eat. It happens organically, unconsciously in fact, and before you know it, I've got a snack in my hand, moving toward my mouth. So... just for fun, I become aware of that thought. I look at it, analyze it and notice how unconscious it is, how quick it is, how urgent it feels. Then I can ask questions to learn more about my thoughts. I ask myself, "How urgent is this? Why is it so urgent? Can I live without it?" Then I dive into the answers and analyze them too.
It all feels a bit tedious. So often, instead, I let nature take over and I just go grab a bag of chips, and oops... I've found myself living in the same decisions as yesterday. But there is a way out of yesterday’s loop. The answer... stay in that awareness until you see a new thought that may be more useful. In the end, I might think that I can handle not eating until later. And voila, I've made a new decision.
But the purpose of writing about thinking was not to change how you think about food. It's to open a window to how you think about yourself in regards to progress, and hopes, and dreams.
When you dream about riding off into the sunset, do you cut the dream off when the first action thought or "to-do" item shows up? Do you realize you don't have the energy and by that line that says you can't? Or do you recognize the thoughts of "can't" and analyze them. Most people stay unconscious about their thoughts, but if you see them, you can start asking questions. Who says you can't anyway? Why do you listen? What does it mean? And what do the answers mean? Is there a deeper truth? And if you stick with the analyzation process, guess what? You'll find a new thought emerging. One that you own completely, one that says, "I can and I will!" Or some version of that.
What happens next, if you're persistent about the way you think, is you start living your dreams because the things that hold you back, simply don't hold you back anymore.
It sounds easy, just think happy thoughts. Don't think negative thoughts. Be optimistic all the time. But it's not so easy. It is that simple, just not that easy. The brain reacts to circumstances and tells the body to react in tune. But the brain has a deeper consciousness, deeper than this surface reaction to everything. The brain can analyze the brain. That's pretty cool if you ask me. Because, if you believe that's true, you can start analyzing the "can't" answers to your progress and dreams.
Some people know this already. And some brave people try to do just that. But sadly, they give up too quickly. Why do they give up? Because it's tedious, just like I said before. It's much easier to give into the reactions of the brain and body, rather than try to have a conversation with them. In part, because the reactions are so annoyingly abrasive. Imagine standing at the edge of and icy pond with a hole cut out for you to jump in and experience a polar plunge. Do you think that inner voice is sweet and kind when he or she says, "I don't think so!"
That part of the brain is abrasive and curt. At times, screaming at you to not do what you want to do. You literally have to overcome that reaction somehow. Some people try to shut it down. Others try to have a conversation with it. I recommend a bit of both and at different times. The key is to be persistent with your desire to grow and make progress and live your dreams. Be persistent with the reactive brain and body. Open your inner dialogue and learn more about yourself until one day, you find yourself not thinking those old limiting thoughts and instead find yourself riding off into the sunset, like the mover and shaker you truly are capable of being.
Watch your thoughts because they become your actions. I believe you deserve to have an abundance of optimistic thoughts every single day that lead to an abundant life. Obviously there is much more to learn about the brain and the way we interact with our circumstances, but I'll leave you with this... As a challenge to you, consciously say, "I am loved, lucky and lighthearted." Say it every day for ten days and notice how new thoughts start to emerge, how old thoughts fight back, and how better thoughts begin to see the light, leading to but not limited to, your hopes and dreams.
Thanks for reading, comment below. You guys are the best.
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This story is inspired by one not so brave horse named Star. Star is an athlete, like most horses. Only Star can really turn it on when she's in the right mood. And by "turn it on," I mean buck, buck, buck, rear, slide, jump, buck, rear, buck, buck, bolt, run, slide, spin, buck, bolt, freeze, and do it all again. Have you ever met a horse like that?
In natural horsemanship, it's common practice to allow a horse like Star to fully express themselves in a small, contained space, until the pattern slowly wears out. In other words, if they get tired of doing all that... they'll stop doing it. However, it's important to know that some horses take too long to get tired of it, and inadvertently learn bad behaviors. Star, was one of those horses. Her energy level was so high in those circumstances that she could "turn it on" and "leave it on" for twenty minutes before tiring out. Then, the next day, she'd do it again.
Whenever you see a horse starting to learn the wrong thing as a pattern, it's important to find a way to interrupt that pattern. You don't want a horse to learn to bolt, or buck, or rear, or bite, etc. How would a horse learn that? Simple. They get away with it. Like I said before, some horses give it up, while others don't. I always allow for the former because I think it's a more graceful way to enter the horses psyche. But if it becomes apparent that the horse isn't giving it up on their own, it becomes imperative they get the immediate support to stop that behavior.
One obvious solution is to avoid high energy situations. Just walk on eggshells around your horse for the rest of his life. I don't recommend that solution. A better solutions is to introduce high energy situations and teach your horse to overcome the habit of over-reaction. The phrase I often use while teaching a horse to stop reacting under pressure is in the title, "Pull yourself together man!"
I will literally ask the horse to stop doing what she's doing, if what she's doing isn't what I ultimately want. In the case of Star, I'd asked her to carry the saddle in a walk, trot, and canter. As a pattern, she'd learned to buck, buck, buck, bolt... you get the point. Once it became an obvious pattern, I started shutting her down. I would put pressure in front of him, blocking forward motion, then she'd spin and go the other way, then I'd put pressure in front of her in that direction too. Each time she'd try to find a gap and push through to express herself, at points, even considering jumping through me, and each time I'd shut her down with my lead rope. Finally, she stood there, frozen, unwilling to move (not ideal either). So after a few moments I asked her to move again, at which point she would try it all on again. And again I'd shut her down and she'd freeze. Then after a few moments we tried again. And again I had to shut her down and she'd freeze. Then again, and on that fourth try, she tried something I hadn't seen her to do date. She walked calmly, responsibly, carrying the saddle nicely with blinking eyes, and licking lips. I found myself rewarding her within moments and celebrating, because a new pattern was about to emerge.
For the first time I could see a brighter future. And sure enough, within a few days she could walk, trot, canter and even carry without any signs of bucking, bolting, or rearing. So the moral of the story is... sometimes, you can't leave it up to the horse to pull themselves together in moments of stress. Sometimes you have to ask them, even tell them, to pull it together and behave like partners. If you reward good behavior and interrupt the bad patterns, you'll end up with the horse of your dreams. That might mean stopping your horse on the trail when they start prancing and dancing, and really taking the time to make a lesson of it. It might mean shutting the horse down before he explodes and really making a lesson of it. It might mean you need a few sessions to make the impression, but make no mistake, it's worth it. It's important, and it's a priority. Don't allow your horses to take over and develop bad habits. Remember, it's okay for a horse to jump or spook, it's just not okay when they can't control what happens after. Teach them to pull themselves together and you'll join an elite class of upper level horsemen and horsewomen.
Thanks for reading, post and share this with your friends, and comment below. I love to hear from you all.
May the horse be with you
PS. Buy my new book. Inspiration and Leadership
Horses read your body language, not your tools. I often ask people this trick question: When you're riding, and you squeeze or kick with your legs, what should your horse do?
People always answer the same... "Your horse should go when you squeeze."
I always interrupt and say, "Remember... it's a trick question. The real answer is, your horse should do nothing. That is, unless you want them to."
Your horse should not respond to your tools, they should respond to you. In this video you'll see how you can teach your horse on the ground to read you. Thanks for watching and comment below.
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Don't quit too early! Don't quit on just any, one good note. If you do, you're at risk of frantic feet and mindless responses.
Quit on good notes, yes, but quit on the right mental space for the horse, not just mechanical movement.
People can interpret the saying "quit on a good note" to mean quit on the first good note you get, like the first sign of relaxation on a windy day, but it shouldn't mean that. It should mean quit when the horse actually begins to understand and carry a happier mindset. If you quit on the first good note you see, you may be fooling yourself to believe your horse has got the idea of what you want. But if you persist, and stay in that space, you'll find a deeper truth.
Often, horses give you what you want, but when you ask a second time, they revert to resistance. That resistance doesn't mean you should have quit sooner, it means you did the right thing, digging for a real response. It tells you, your horse isn't in the right mental space yet.
People can sometimes be afraid of drilling the horse and therefore, they are quick to stop early, but its not a drill when you ask a second time, its just a question about your horse's mental state.
Side note: if you ask and succeed once, then twice, then maybe even three times, you should certainly not ask again, because at that point it becomes frustrating to the horse. But quitting early, after just one success, and not testing for a true response, leads to what we call the "one and done" horse.
Confident "one and done" horses need to expand their focus patterns to more than just a few minutes, to be calm minded in spite of boredom and frustration. Scared "one and done" horses need to chill out related to the experience, so doing it more than once is fantastic for them too.
Also, you have to know the difference between quitting and pausing. Expert horse trainers always pause on a good note but they don't always quit. The pause is a type of release from pressure. Long pauses can even feel like a reward for good behavior to the horse. But quitting usually means you're done for the day. I know it's semantics but semantic communication is helpful to clear our heads and engage our leadership skills. Better definitions equal better results from clearer leadership.
Here's a great example to bring home the idea of pausing instead of quitting. Let's say I'm teaching a new horse to load into the trailer for the first time. Let's say after an hour of approach and retreat, and pressure and release, he finally steps into the trailer. That's a good note to quit on right? Not according to what I'm talking about here. To be clear. It's okay to quit then, but not ideal, it's better to pause and come back in a few minutes, and for a few important reasons. The long pause will give the horse the recognition of his effort and encourage relaxation. Quitting will do that too but it may also leave you puzzled when tomorrow comes around and your horse doesn't respond how you hoped. Horses that do things only once are short on attention span. You may find that when you ask tomorrow for the same results, that you never even got real results at all. I hope you can see that it's time to grow that attention span.
To clarify... if my horse goes in once and I pause, then ten minutes later I ask him to go in again with the same patient, kind demeanor we expressed before, and he fails to go in, or worse, resists all or any suggestions I have for him, what mistake did I make?
A) I should have quit on the good one and come back tomorrow
B) I didn't make a mistake. Asking again was the right thing to do. Its normal for the horse to question the second time you ask at this early stage.
If you answered (A), don't worry, we all answer (A) in the beginning. But the reason we should answer (B) instead, is one hint to what makes a trainer masterful.
Here's why... If I ask my horse to go in and he says yes, then we pause for a long time to reward him, then I ask again to see if he's okay with the process and he says no, did he really understand anything about the whole experience? Worse yet, did he learn to be relaxed around the trailer or just move his feet frantically?
You see, if you said you should quit on the first time he goes in, because now you've gone backwards in your progress by asking a second time, you're fooling yourself. Because, if a horse can do something once but not twice you're in trouble. It means he didn't understand the first time. But if he can do it once, pause for ten minutes, then do it again, he will be truly showing understanding of the mental space he should reside in. And that means you don't have to wait until tomorrow to find out that you ended on what felt like a good step but your horse learned nothing.
Summing it all up. End when the horse is in a good mental space. Don't end just because the feet did what you wanted for one brief moment.
Sure it will take some patience, and persistence, and repositioning, but if you stay, you'll find you have what it takes to be a leader that guides the horse with elegance and mastery, rewarding mental calmness and good behavior.
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If I said, "never feed your horse treats," would you consider that to be a good rule or a dumb rule? Is it even worth making a rule for it in the first place?
Rules are important. They help us function and they help us stay safe, but does that mean you should never break rules? Does that mean you shouldn't be flexible?
Recently I posted a video demonstrating horse training at liberty using treats. I made a simple helpful rule in that demo that you should never feed treats to a horse that's asking for them or demanding them. This rule helps ensure you don't reward grabby behavior from the horse. It's better to wait an extra few seconds until the horse's energy changes to a calmer, less grabby state and then feed the treat reward.
However, in that same video, I broke my own rule several times. I clearly gave the horse a treat just after he lifted his nose toward me, indicating he was ready for his reward. Naturally, several people commented on how I broke the rules I established, as if I didn't know... and naturally, I started looking for ways to explain deeper levels of mastery, hence this article. You can watch the liberty video. I'll post a link at the bottom.
I have three general guidelines in this article (notice how I didn't use the word "rules") to help take us all a step further toward better communications with our animals and maybe even our human relationships regarding rules.
NUMBER 1: Sometimes, rules must be broken. Even safety rules must be abandoned in some unique situations. Take rock climbing for example. The rule is... you must always climb with a harness. But what if you're half way up and your harness fails you, should you stop climbing and wait for the fire department or find a way to climb down without the rules?
Take horse riding for another example. I have a rule for riding with a helmet. I almost always ride with a helmet. But sometimes I don't. Recently a friend came to ride and we only had one helmet that fit him properly. My helmet. (A poor-fitting helmet can be distracting and lead to more problems than it solves.) So I gave him my helmet and I rode without while taking extra care not to do anything too risky. I broke my own rules. So should I have opted to not ride at all? Or did I do the right thing?
The truth is... I've noticed over the years how people love rules. But I've also noticed how when, and if, a person clings to rules like life depends on those rules, that person will be severely stunted in their progress and often judgmental of others. Have you ever had a horse friend tell you, "That's not how you do it," and later you feel like they didn't really understand your point of view? Being to rule-oriented can keep you closed-minded.
It's the people who see rules as helpful guidelines instead of a rigid structure that succeed at the highest levels. It's the people who are willing to see the value in simple rules and the value in bending those rules, from time to time, that enjoy higher levels of living.
So I ask you, do you think you're a flexible person? Do you feel you are good at understanding exceptions to rules? I hope so. There is a beautiful life out there worth living, full of artistic variations to just about every rule you've heard of.
NUMBER 2: Sometimes rules must NOT be broken. This idea laughs in the face of our first idea that rules can be broken, but that's our reality. We have to learn to live with contrast.
Let's say you're an instructor and you've got a new student who's got an excitable horse that you wouldn't even ride without proper ground training first. You know the risk of injury is very high. Your new student asks you to ride the horse right there to show him what to do when he's riding. But you've got this rule about not riding ill-prepared horses. Should you break that rule to please your student and get on without preparing properly? I wouldn't.
That rule is there for a reason. There may be exceptions to any and all rules but you've got to start paying attention to your own feelings instead of listening to what others think the rules are. I have a cowboy friend who would ride that horse. Does that mean you should too? Of course not. Your safety is everything and you get to be the judge for which rules to keep and when.
NUMBER 3: Try not to impose your rules on everyone and everything else. It's important not to judge others for breaking your rules. Should I impose my safety standards on my cowboy friend and combat him every time he breaks my rules? Would you? If you saw a training demonstration and the instructor did something that opposed your preferences, or previous learning, would you tell the whole world how that instructor can't be trusted or would you open your mind a bit more? Your answer tells a lot about your personality and flexibility. Food for thought.
People make their own reasons for adopting rules and that's okay. Hopefully, their rules change over time to allow for progress because progress almost always requires flexibility. But even if nothing changes, it's important to me to stay open rather than closed. I believe an open mind is the key to growth in our beloved horse industry.
As a teacher I give out lots of rules. Rules like: Don't pet a distracted, disconnected horse. Don't ride an Ill-prepared horse. Don't eat chicken with waffles, etc. But that doesn't mean you can't make your own rules and exceptions to rules. You have every right to adapt and personalize your experience and communication with your horse. I try to help my students see rules as guidelines that should be upheld and sometimes broken but I also don't impose my standards on everyone.
For instance, I don't tell you that cowboy boots are stupid because I like to use top-leather English riding boots. I don't judge you based on your rules or preferences because, in truth, I want to communicate with you. I want to share in your journey. I want you, all of you, to become closer friends because... good friends can have these kinds of meaningful debates about when and how to employ rules. I hope you see that's an invitation to you to share your thoughts. I want you to comment below.
Add your thoughts and experiences related to rules you've kept and rules you've bent. Let's become closer friends today.
PS here's the liberty training video
Step 1: Hold tight.
Step 2: Lead right.
Step 3: Ride in sight.
My name is Don Jessop and I want to show you how I train a kids horse. Believe me when I say this is surface information. There is more to learn about every subject. But I believe this basic outline will empower many parents and youth instructors or teachers to guide horses to become great kids horses.
Step one, (hold tight) is all about teaching your new kids-horse-prospect to hold his or her ground. Basically, to stand still no matter what. Make him or her unflappable. Desensitize to flags, flapping arms and legs, saddles, hoses, ropes, noises, flashing plastic bags, touch, bumping, poking, climbing, scrambling, you name it. Teach your horse to hold his ground till until the cows come come, unless you want movement, then he/she should move on command too.
Step two, (lead right) is all about teaching your horse to lead properly in preparation for being a calm, responsible horse. Many people get this wrong. Or perhaps I should say, backward. There are a many ways to lead your own horse, but when training a horse to be a kids horse there is only one truly effective way that both gets you where you want to go and teaches the horse something about consistency, reliability, and giving full attention to the handler. That one truly effective leading style is simple. Cause your horse to move slowly behind you, never in front, and not usually to the side. You want you horse to walk like a trail horse, nose to tail, and completely focused on the one in front. Cause the horse to stay on the track, not allowing drifting left or right or forward and not dragging on the line either. My best kids horses are the ones that lead slowly and lead consistently. If a horse won't do those things, he/she's not ready to hold a kid up there yet.
Step three, (ride in sight) is all about staying connected to the rider. As an adult you don't want your kid riding off into the sunset. Not yet anyway. Be there, be near by, be an anchor. Use a lead rope and teach the young rider to ride around you and turn each way, all on his own cues. Gradually, the horse will become responsive to the rider and not you on the ground. Before you know it, you can take the lead off and get the same results. But don't leave the area. Be that anchor for the ship in harbor. Stay connected and safe and before long, your young rider will be able to perform all the basic riding tasks around or near you, gradually stepping out into bigger spaces. Take your time with step three and have fun.
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PS. Be open, there are many roads that lead to Rome. Consider the information above as one of those roads. Don't be too rule oriented when you're learning and sharing information.
Comment below and share with your friends. Thanks for reading.
The reason horses are so scared of crossing bridges and water.
First of all, the horse's eyesight is different than ours. They see with less depth perception. Try closing one eye and notice how its a little harder to judge distance. This is sort of how horses see.
Second, trolls live under there:)
Regardless of the trolls and the eyesight issue, how does one address a horse that's terrified of water and bridges? Answer...
With patience, persistence, and positioning. Those three magical "p" words that every horse owner should memorize.
Patience means, don't have a timeline. If you come to the bridge with a "gotta get it done now" attitude you'll fail with many horses. If you're patient you'll express better energy toward your horse and create a better relationship overall. One that's based on mutual trust, not one that's based on servitude.
Persistence means, don't give up. If you have no timeline that means you can come back to the task tomorrow. Not giving up doesn't mean getting everything you want all at once. It means staying active with a program for as long as it takes. Take a day, two days, or two weeks addressing the topic, just don't give up. Horses need leadership. Leaders know when to quit. And leaders know the difference between quitting and regrouping. Being persistent requires regrouping often. Imagine trying to cross a bridge over water but your horse says he won't do it. You may need to pause for a few minutes, regroup your thoughts and tools and start again. Starting again might mean starting tomorrow but it most certainly means you'll start again. Persistence doesn't mean you'll finish today. Persistence means you'll start again, and try, and try, and try, until some sort of progress is visible. Then regroup, then try again, knowing eventually the horse will cross that bridge.
Positioning means, body awareness related to the task. If you stand in the entrance to a horse trailer, asking your horse to go in, but fail to notice the horse's crooked body related to the entrance point, you'll struggle to access your goal. You must first correct the position and reward it, long before you ask for forward steps. The horse has three major body parts to be aware of. The head, the shoulders, and the hips. If you line those parts up relative to the direction of travel you seek, you'll achieve your task sooner. People often try to drive their horse forward onto a bridge or water crossing, or into the trailer, when the feet are near the entrance point but fail to notice the nose, shoulders, and hips are offset. That's like trying to shoot an arrow from a bow that isn't even attached to the string. Sure the head is sticking out the front but the back end is way off course. Positioning is about teaching the horse to feel rewarded in position, then feel rewarded for forward steps as they come. Don't think about the feet, think about the head, shoulders, and hips, and notice how much easier it is to cross that troll bridge.
As always, I write to support you, to hopefully inspire you, and to simplify some complicated leadership issues with horses. If you enjoy reading these articles, comment below. Let me know I'm reaching you. Give me some feedback by commenting below. May your dreams with horses come true!
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The power of vulnerability is clear to me, just think about your horse and you'll see what I mean. Would you say you have a good horse when he's being stoic and resistant, or would you say you have a good horse when he's being open and unoffended? You see, it's when our partner is open and not so quick to react or be offended that we trust and admire them most.
Of course, we also value determination, and a strong mind, and so on, but vulnerability is waaaayyy underrated as a valuable trait. It's often considered a weakness, but maybe we can change that with a little perspective.
Imagine your horse trusting you, responding to you, believing in you, even excusing your mistakes. Wouldn't you love to have a horse like that? Have you ever seen a horse that doesn't do those things. You know, a horse that bites, kicks, reacts to little things, lets you know every time you make a little mistake, and always stands on guard. That's not a fun horse to be around. In fact, it's the very horse that people send to me for training. Why? Because people don't want reactive, frozen, closed up horses. They want vulnerable, leadable, teachable, kind, open horses. And if that's something we want in our horse partners, it's probably something we want in our human friends too.
But humans add a little element of confusion to the mix by viewing that kind of open and kind nature as weak and susceptible to danger. It's not a hated trait, it's just looked upon poorly because it seems submissive. That's where the confusion comes in. We want our horses to be submissive but we don't want to be submissive to others. We all know that there are some people that we can't and shouldn't submit to. And this is where I want to step in and say... you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable. We can separate those words. Submissive can be powerful too, in some situations to help de-escalate and manipulate the tension in the room. Great negotiators know there's always a moment or two where it may be required. Generally, however, you don't have to be submissive to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable means you stop reacting when people point out your flaws. It means you're not afraid to put yourself out there and inspire others. It means you expose yourself in an authentic way. It seems dangerous right? It seems like people could tear you apart. And guess what... they can and they often try to. And that's why people are so afraid of letting their guard down. That's why horses stand on guard too. They've been hurt when they've been exposed.
But there may be no need to fear. If you can stop putting your faith in how others will treat you and start putting your faith in how secure and strong and capable you are, you can let go of the fear.
I've often referred to this short, true story to illustrate the point here. Years ago I helped my older brother build his house. At one stage of the building process we had to stand on the walls and prepare for trusses to arrive and be set. My brother invited me to stand on top and walk around the wall structures, all of them not more than six inches wide. I remember feeling afraid and vulnerable. He encouraged me not to dwell on those feelings and instead embrace a natural inner strength. He simply asked one question. "If you begin to fall, do you believe you can catch yourself? Do you believe you can recover?" When I stopped to think about it, I realized I do have what it takes to recover, to catch myself, to start over, to heal, to be whole. With that new powerful thought I began to test my balance and discovered I was more capable than I thought. And in that vulnerable state I became powerful and useful. There was certainly risk, but there was also reward. In those moments, walking those walls, I began to feel alive like never before.
My point is this, if you want to fly, you have to expose yourself. If you want to ride, you have to expose yourself. If you want to feel alive in a relationship, you have to expose yourself. And only in that vulnerable state will you feel truly powerful, because you'll remember you are strong enough to catch yourself, to recover, to adapt. Fear will keep you locked up and guarded. Vulnerability will open you up to what life can really offer. It's riskier but more rewarding. My hope is that with that perspective, you can not associate weakness to vulnerability and instead associate the word strength to vulnerability.
Here are a few qualities of a vulnerable person, just to hit it home.
A vulnerable person is strong, braver than most, and capable of more.
A vulnerable person is slow to judge and quick to forgive.
A vulnerable person is open to opportunities and ready to reach for them. It's hard to reach up when your arms are guarding your heart.
A vulnerable person can be more situationally aware, knowing when to be on guard and when to let go.
A vulnerable person is a better communicator, accepted by more people and trusted more by his or her animals and loved ones. If you're a horse owner that means you'll get better results with your horse by being less guarded. Not blind, not unaware, just more open.
One last note. If you've been hurt, if you stepped up on that wall and fell, if you opened up and was taken advantage of, you're not alone. That happens to everyone who dares to be vulnerable. Try not to associate that pain with openness and instead associate the pain to awareness and learning. Pain can teach us to see what we missed and do better next time. It shouldn't teach us not to try anymore.
I went deep today. I realize, as I read through for errors, how big this topic is and how close to home it comes for many people. I've exposed a little of my own heart and I know the risks. Lead by example, isn't that what they say?
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Horsey, horsey may I ride you?
If not ride, then stand beside you?
If I earn your trust to guide you
Would you see me as a friend too
In the past you have been lied to
But with me, you'll find a soul true
You stole my heart and I am proud to
Say I'm part of all that you do
In my life there's nothing I choose
That compares to what we've been through
When I walk a mile in your shoes
I see how much I am just like you
Wild at heart and kind of shy too
Willing, strong, intention so true
Horsey, horsey may I ride you?
If not ride, then stand beside you?
I've been writing and writing and writing, all because of you, my dear horsey friends. Over the the last season I published three new books. Check them out here and be inspired to be a better leader.