Thursday, December 25, 2014

Breathe With Me

We walk slowly side by side,
Four hoof beats in rhythm to two foot steps.
There is no set path, no defined motion.
We exist on this plain together with no destined fate.
Neither is leading, nor following.
Each step is allowed to fall into place as it may,
Each breath is drawn in and allowed to flow out in peace.
This is where meditation began.
To the beat of his heart.
To the rhythmic sighs and sways of his inhales and exhales.
One gets lost here.
One forgets all reason, all needs and wants.
For existence just is in this place of time.
In this moment of moments.

Breathe with me.
He guides me without pulling.
Without pushing.
Without forcing.
I let go of everything and let my body sway and swing along beside him.
The earth is eaten up below us.
This is how we dance in perfect silence.
This is where we have our deepest conversations.
Without a single word.
Without any translation between species.

Breathe with me.
A quickened pace, a half step over and a long stride away.
Up, forwards, back and around again.
This is no set pattern.
There is no plan in place.
To live fully in this moment is the most freeing task.
The power of now comes from his heart.
His instinct.
His feel.
Without his guidance I would be lost in my own mind.
Without ever knowing how transforming this moment is.

Breathe with me.
We stop. Wholeheartedly in place.
Deep breaths.
Energy all around.
He looks into my soul.
And I into his.
This is how I need to be for him.
This is how I teach my teacher.
This is how my teacher teaches me.
He has shown me through feel.
Through kindness.
And commitment.

I will breathe with him.
And this is how I will always be.
As this is how he needs me to be.
As this is how I need me to be.

A New Idea in Training Models....

      I have been playing around with the idea of pressure and release lately with some of my clients and students.. and I've stumbled on a technique which I have become very fond of. I should start off by mentioning that the reason I started searching for a new technique was that I had hit a wall with the idea of only ever using negative reinforcement and the idea of offering a "choice" in most NH training models wasn't really offering a true "yes" or "no" choice...
      What I mean by that is that the choice is always your wanted answer; and never really answered by the horse. You put pressure on to ask the horse to move over for instance; you are offering the choice to stand in pressure or to move over. That's not really a choice... that's a shaping model to do what you want. This is a very useful technique and I don't mean to say I don't use it at all; but the idea of using it all the time was starting to bother me. The idea of kindness and lightness was missing here; and it was feeling too robotic for me.
      A few of my clients are involved in FEEL facilitation; and they often talk about how they "ask" horses to join their work. They have to be prepared to receive a flat out no to their question, and deal with it. They cannot force a horse to work with them if the horse does not want to. That's real choice.

      So how do we create a model that offers "choice" but still ends in a result that we want for our working horses? As much as I wish I could say I could take a flat no from my horses; the reality of that with paying for horses can be a bit disheartening. So how do we make training less stressful so that our horses don't need to fight to find a yes?
      I believe this new technique (new to me, I'm sure there are many others using it in one form or another) is my answer. Instead of just putting pressure on, and slowly increasing pressure until the horse does what you ask; then removing the pressure when they do. This is classic negative reinforcement. We ask in waves of soft and light pressure. Pressure on, then off to wait for a response. As if to say with pressure "Would you do this for me?" then removing the pressure to say "Here, in this space." If they do not respond accordingly you ask again with a bit more pressure, in a slow wave again. And release to wait for a response. I've found this method to be very useful for horses that tend to push against pressure, or those who get resistant or afraid.
      I've found that the horse that used to push against pressure until you had to "force" them away from it; easily sit back and take the gentle cues. They do not hit a point where they get resistant and strong; they relax and settle into the suggestion of the cues. The horse that freezes in pressure follows with the release and relaxes into the pressure waves without needing to stop and think in fear. Horses tend to lick and chew faster after these waves of pressure as it seems they have time to think in between each pressure point, instead of having to think while pressure is in their face.

      An example for this would be teaching a horse to give to a halt pressure from body cue to rein aids. It starts fairly "ugly" but think of it as a very simple progression into lightness. As you walk around the arena, think about using your softest cue to ask for a halt. Do not plan to stop at any particular point; just plan to stop eventually. Engage your softest cue (ie. body or reins) for 1 second, then release it. Engage again for a 1 second and release. Think about your cue as being on a bungee cord; it is engaged softly and slowly into pressure, and released in the same manner. There is no jerking or throwing anything away. Continue this process until your horse stops. You will need to increase the amount of pressure you use the more times you have to engage.
      Eventually you will only have to ask with one engagement for your horse to respond. Soft and easy. This will take different amounts of sessions and length of sessions depending on the horse and on your timing.

      This idea of waves of pressure can be used in everything you ask of your horse. From moving them around on the ground, to turning them around a circle. Instead of grabbing the rein and pulling their head over, milk the pressure on the rein on and off and think to yourself; pressure on "Can you turn your body for me?" then release "In this freedom of space?".
      Your mind set will change the way you ride and how softly you engage your aids. This is one of the most important aspects as I've come to witness with my students and their horses. It is often said you need to be "assertive" and "firm" with your horse so they understand your clear cue. But I find in this thinking the idea of softness is lost. I believe being kind and patient is the most important thing to do in all of your work with your horse. Take your mind to a place of constant encouragement, kindness and try to think of everything you do as what you would want done to yourself if you were being taught something new. Think of working with your horse as you working with your best friend. Would you snap at your best friend and poke them and sternly say "over" to them? Or would you ask them to kindly move out of your space? Can you understand why we can't be snappy at our horses? How it forces them to be jumpy, on edge and worried about what we will do to them all of sudden if they are out of place?
      But if we instead can be soft, our pressure always slow and understood; we can create a partner who knows who we are. They can be ready for us to ask any question because they know it will be easy to answer. They know we can ask and wait for an answer. Instead of ask and expect it right away. Can you see how we can shape that process for anything we want from our horses and how it would reduce their stress... how it would allow them to become more emotionally fit and mentally stable to work through difficult obstacles. How it would slow their mental processes down to better focus, to calm themselves in high adrenaline situations and to handle anything we throw at them...

      Give it a try with your horse and see what happens! I will be putting up some videos in the next few posts to show you my progress with two of my horses. Zeppelin a RBI/RBE and Floyd a LBI; both react to traditional negative reinforcement differently... but react to this technique with licking lips and relaxed heads.

Much love!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Realization of Resistance and the Path to Relaxation

      I see a lot of posts about how our horses are full of resistance in many different ways. People talking about having "arguments" and "fights" with their horses, or how they are so tired from having to pull their horse around. These are all big signs of resistance that I think we have become far to comfortable with as an every day part of our riding and training. I will be the first to admit I am very guilty of this very thing! But over the past few months of working with my horses every day, coaching others with their horses on the ground and their mentality of the situations at hand; I've realized a lot of things that we do to cause that resistance in the first place.

      So really those arguments and fights are not with our horses; but with ourselves.

      Last night was a perfect example for me. I had a free night to get my hubby out to video tape my progress with Johnny from our dressage lessons as we have been doing so well...
First mistake: I made an expectation of our performance to be captured. 
      Then I set it up on a tight timeline as my hubby had to rush out quick to film and then back in to study for his exams.
Second mistake: tunnel vision timeline.
      So you can imagine the warm up we had was very yucky. I stepped out of my routine and skipped over our ground games warm up, (Can you say biggest mistake, number three?) then moved through out under saddle warm up with too much push. This resulted in a very fresh horse, who was working very hard to contain himself. But at times could not, and we ended up in a battle of pulling and rushing and deeking out and frustration. It was funny to me though (afterwards) that once our phones ran out of batteries and we had nothing left to film with.. I sat back and woke up. I could see how much Johnny was trying to be good for me, but couldn't. He needed a good run, he needed a good buck. And he was fighting every urge to do so with me on his back; even when I was pushing him into contact.
      This is where I realized I was fighting against myself. I had pushed myself to the point of idiocy trying to perform for this silly video; that I had compromised my promises to my horse. So we sat back, forgot about being on the stage and just rode soft. I talked to him through every step, I talked to myself through every step. I made my new goal to be the lightest rider with the softest hands, to give release to every slightest try. And that's where our moment came. That's where we put in our best work to date. He relaxed into the softest collection, I sat back and relaxed into the most comfortable and balanced sitting trot of my life. And there we had a real conversation. This is what meditation feels like.
      And then we stopped. Together we said we had had enough, we had accomplished what we had set out to do. We made amends, and called it a night.

      But after I cooled him off a bit and took him back to the arena to roll in the sand (his favourite luxury); he showed me what was really going on before. He had a run and a buck, he nickered and played. He rolled and pranced. But the most amazing thing happened... he invited me to join him. He would run over to me and tag in, making me think he was ready to go back outside; but when I went to reach for him he would shy his head away and take a step from his shoulder towards the open arena. So I would stand back and let him go, thinking he was going for another roll. But as soon as I stopped he would step back to me, again tag in and wait. But if I reached for him he would point us to the arena.
      I caught on, and went running into the arena. And he came charging and bucking behind me! We ran and jumped, and called out and laughed. Rolled and played. He would run at me and stop on a dime, then we'd rear together and rush off again all fours up in the air. I have never laughed so much in my life. His entire being was right there, full of high spirits and sharing that energy with me. What an honour it was to be invited to this amazing display of soul.
      And at the end of it all, he just relaxed and walked over to me. Put his head low and took this beautiful deep breath. As if to say, "See mum, see how much better we are like this?"

      This realization has put me on the path I have been searching for. The idea that I am not here to force my horse into anything, but to work along side him and enjoy his company. To dance and play through our "work"; not fight and argue. To sit back and enjoy the ride towards our goals in whatever way it comes; for that day, for that moment... To pull my human mind set away from the entire ordeal; and to run and kick and play like a horse.

And this is why I will forever wear this horse upon my sleeve.

Much love,

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Boarding at Nature's Run Equestrian: A refuge for the heavy and heave-y horse.

      Over the past few months we have been putting final touches on what boarding at Nature's Run really means, what it includes and why it is beneficial to our horses and yours. With every new tour and new visitor we discover new ways to help you and your horse live better!

Here are just a few of the health perks for your horse at Nature's Run...

For the heavy horse...
1) Individual slow feed hay nets
      Each horse gets their own hay net filled with our top quality small square hay, accessible 24/7. Now I know what you're thinking, how does this help a heavy horse? That's easy; it comes down to how a horse's digestive system is meant to function. A horse is a nomadic grazer, which means they need forage passing through their system all day and all night long. They are meant to trickle feed, itty bitty bites over a long period of time. This helps keep their digestive system running smoothly; reducing ulcers, pain and colic... but also reducing how much fat they store. Basically any time a horse goes without being able to decide to eat (when they run out of hay), their body goes into "starvation" mode and that tells their body to store fat. So the next time they eat, their body stores more of it than it would've if they had been able to eat hay all along. Check out this great article for a further in depth explanation of what is going on inside your horse!
      Allowing them to trickle feed 24/7 at their own discretion allows their body to settle into a functioning mode of digestion, burning calories; and therefore stops the need to store fat. The slow feeder nets limit how much they eat so they aren't just stuffing their faces all day long. Which also helps them to lose the pounds!
      We also place the hay nets in different feeding stations so the horses have to travel around to eat, to get to their water troughs and to reach their shelters. This is an added benefit to burn some calories and shed some pounds without the stress of losing their need for forage and chewing the day away.

2) Travelling more than the average horse
      Since all of our horses live out 20-24/7 year round, they get a chance to move around a lot more than the average stalled horse. Now most people think outdoor horses live around a round bale, but not at NRE! With our spread out feed stations, hills, varied terrain and happy herds; our horses travel their pastures day and night. They eat, go wandering, take naps in the sun, travel up the hills to their water troughs, then back down to the valleys to eat. They go foraging and searching for other tasty treats in the grasses and along fence lines. They also get a chance to play musical hay nets! They playfully chase each other from time to time and switch hay nets throughout their eating hours, so they are never planted in one place for a long period of time.

For the heave-y horse...
1) Low Dust Living
      Our part indoor horses spend their 4 hours inside in no dust stalls on all flax stalk bedding; with low dust high quality hay. We take every precaution to keep dust down by watering the floors and only sweeping when the horses are outside. Footing is maintained with regular watering and harrowing to keep dust low while riding in our indoor arena.
      Outside the horses enjoy low dust conditions while eating from our individual hay nets instead of stuffing their heads down into a hay bale and breathing in hay particles. All of our "muddy" areas have been covered with pea gravel and round stone to keep dust levels down when it gets dry in the summer; and our location offers an added bonus as we are on top of a hill with great ventilating winds.

2) Room to Run
      With room to run in the herd, and places to relax away from too much activity; a horse having trouble breathing has every option to clear their lungs by kicking up their heels and going for a run to open their air ways, or to rest away from the herd and recharge. Low stress levels in well socialized paddocks allows our horses to relax into their surroundings and use that energy to heal themselves in between work outs or play sessions.

3) Eating Off the Ground
      Everything we feed our horses, from hay to grain is fed from the ground. This may not sound important to anyone who has not had the pleasure of rehabilitating a heavey horse, but it's a very important aspect in every horse's lifestyle. Their respiratory systems are meant to clear themselves by mucous following the flow of gravity down their nostrils and out to the ground. When a horse has to eat from anywhere above their throat level, they run the risk of getting dust, hay and other particles into their lungs as it travels down their nostrils and into their airways.
      You need only look at how a horse eats every day in a field to understand why this evolutionary trait has remained in their genetic make up. They eat grass from the ground, which can often be dusty or dry in warmer months. With the ability to drain any dust that goes up their nose simply by the use of gravity, they are conserving energy. That said, they do not have any other way to loosen debris from their airways other than to cough. Coughing has a whole new can of worms that can cause damage to your horse, and it uses up valuable energy! Moral of the story; feed your horse on the ground.

      My next post will be about how our feeding structure and hay nets have helped our skinny minnies put on the pounds without an excess in sugary feeds and concentrates; as well as how they have put on muscle and started to gleam inside and out!

Until then, much love!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Within These Walls

I stand here longing, hour by hour and second by second to run with my herd.
My nerves twitch at every sound, the air here is stale and musty with urine,
My only accompaniment is a lonely flake of hay in the corner;
Awaiting my lips to search through it's tender stalks.
I eat. I chew... This isn't so bad I guess.
Not so bad for now.

Another sound, another foot print.
Was that another horse calling?
Are they here too?
I cannot see, I cannot feel another horse...
So I call back to them.
"Let me out please!"

An angry sound responds to me.
I think I am in danger.
I panic.
I paw.
I rear.
"Let me out please!"

A broom handle bashes against the bars of this cage I am trapped in.
"Back!" is screamed at me from the outside freedom.
I am surely in danger here.
Can no one see how trapped I am here?
With no one to protect me, no one for me to protect.
I am surely in danger here.
Another sound, hoof falls!
Another horse. A chance to be free.
A chance to be safe.
I call again.
"Let me out please!"

Another angry sound responds, huffs and puffs of human breaths around me.
They tell me I'm fine here, I'm safe here...
They keep telling me this is for my own good.
But I am confused. 
I think they are confused.
I am safe with another horse next to me,
I am safe with room to run. 
With space to put between me and any predator...
I cannot run in here...

Suddenly I am aware of how small this space really is.
Suddenly I cannot feel my feet, how long have I been standing here?
I pace.
I weave.
I circle.
Walking, walking...
Faster and faster...
I am getting no where.
I am no where.
"Let me out!"

Days have passed now.
I leave here only for brief moments to greet the sun in a grassy field alone,
or to work for them in a larger space with sand.
I want to please these humans, I keep trying to show them what I need.
But they keep pushing me back, they keep scolding me to be quiet.
To stop.
Just stop....
Why won't I ever stop, they scream at me.

I will do my best, I think.
I don't know how else to show you now.
How can you not see?
How can you not understand me?
And so I stand, I stand to keep them happy.
I stare down at my lonely hay flake...
Chewing and chewing again.
I guess I will never get out of this.
I will never feel another horse's lips upon my wither,
I will never kick my heels up and race as I once did as a young colt.
I am destined to stay in this place,
this place they say is my home.
This place is where I was meant to live, I am spoiled to live here.
I should be thankful....
But as I feel my eyes glaze over, and my dreams of a herd disperse;
I know in my heart that all I wanted will never be.
And so it is what it is....
And as I hang my head low in defeat, I hear "See, I told you you'd love it here."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Emotional and Physical Ill Effects of Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is defined as;
"the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being"

We've all seen this, all the time, in the horse industry. And a lot of the time it's just us being cute lovey dovey mums to our horses; but sometimes we are doing our horses harm. And we don't even know it.

"Oh my little baby shnookums needs another blanket before it drops to 0 tonight!"

Here are some examples:
1) Assumption of Learning
      We assume our horses are capable of learning the same way we do. That if they do something one day, they must be capable of it another day with the same result. This leaves room for unmet expectations and often leads to unnecessary discipline or punishment to the horse. 

2) Expectations of Emotional Stability
      We often assume our horses should be able to handle their fear the same way we do. But it has been studied widely and proven that horses (and other prey animal species) experience "fear" much differently than we do. Therefore we need to act appropriately when our horses experience fear while in training; so we can calm them instead of light them up.
      We also often assume that since our horses can perform in certain situations; they should be able to perform in other environments without issue. This again leads to unnecessary discipline or punishment.

3) Ability to Adapt to "Solitude" Lifestyles
      This one I see far too often. "My horse enjoys his alone time, just like I do." Unfortunately, as nice as this may seem; as if we are doing our horses a favour by giving them time off in a stall. But the truth is that horses have evolved to live in a herd for a reason; to avoid predation. They feel comfortable and "good" in a herd, because it means they are safe. The only time a horse leaves a social herd is when they are driven out, they are sick/dying or they are giving birth. Yes, our horses eventually adapt by "learned helplessness"; but this is not to be confused with them being comfortable. 
      "My horse is on individual turnout so it doesn't get injured by other horses; but it can still see and hear other horses. That's good enough." Again, this is us thinking we would be ok with this idea. We are a language leading species; meaning we use our verbal language as the #1 way to communicate with our fellow human beings. Horses use body language and touch. They stand close together, they mutually groom and yes they bite, kick and chase each other. That's part of their lifestyle. But a well socialized herd of horses do not "injure" each other on any kind of regular basis. They keep each other safe, in shape and healthy because it benefits everyone in the herd to have such a strong band of horses.       
      Horses don't live in caves. Wild horses don't even go nears caves, know why? That's where predators live. Like us! Another reason we think we are doing horses a favour. "It's ok little horsey, come live in this dark cave with me!" 
      "But my horse loves to come inside to their very own stall!" Of course they do, they get fed grain in there, they get positive attention in there and have an easy access to feed in there. But if you were to leave the stall door open after they ate their grain, the next place they would find is another horse to socialize with.

      Removing a horse from the ability of touching another horse is like making a human wear ear plugs for the rest of their life. You are removed of your basic communication skills and ways to comfort yourself with others. Horse to horse contact has been studied to be one of the most important enrichments in a horse's mental well being and stability.

1) Thinking Natural is "Barbaric"
      Just because humans are an evolved species who live indoors, and wear clothing; does not mean horses are. Yes, it's nice to think that we are doing them a favour by taking them out of the cold and into cozy individual stalls. But the truth is that we aren't doing them any favours. If you are blanketing your horse for the winter; consider the "why". For the horse, not for you. If you are clipping your horse for show, a blanket is an obvious necessity. But if you have horses living out and don't work "hard" all winter; why would you stress their natural lifestyles by blanketing them? As long as they have a free choice shelter and the appropriate feeding options; a horse is happier and healthier without a blanket to as low as -15C (though many have success with healthy horses down to as low as -30C)

      Again, horses learn to "adapt" to live in dark places, and small confined places; but they are not "happy" to be there. Open the barn door, and see where they choose to be in bad weather, hot weather, good days and bad days. Horses are not fools, they do know how to care for themselves when given the option and they know how to find their "safe" place. An unhappy horse with the option to, will seek a happier environment.

2) "I wear shoes so my horse should wear shoes too"
      I won't push this one too far, you get the idea. But this comes down to a complete lack in understanding of hoof mechanism and the ability for a horse's hoof to grow callous. Management is the number one reason for this idea. I encourage anyone who doesn't believe every horse can go barefoot to look up Jaime Jackson, and everything related to a Paddock Paradise system. The research and proof are strongly rooted that barefoot is not only possible, but meant to be. Horses are healthier, happier and safer barefoot. Shoes are the barbaric way of the past.

3) "I like sugar, so my horse must like sugar as a treat too!"
      Sugar is something horses learn to like. And unfortunately end up thinking they like it too, the same way we do. (Yes, processed sugar is actually really bad for us... but way worse for our horses) Anyone who has had to deal with a laminitic horse understands why sugar is bad. But there are still many who feed sugary feeds (for "energy") and sugary treats on a regular basis thinking their horses like them for it. Unfortunately the reality of this treatment is stress to the digestive system and harm to their hooves.
      Talk to an equine nutritionist about sugar in your horses diet if you don't believe me. There are many PhD's and vets out there now pushing us to feed our horses as if they were sugar intolerant. Basically as if they were diabetic/insulin resistant. This means free choice forage grass hay and minerals.
      Check out "Feed Your Horse Like a Horse" by Dr. Getty. It's an incredible and eye opening study and has endless information on how to feed your horse safely and to the best of their digestive system!

     There is another side to this idea of anthropomorphism that I want to touch on. One of a uniting idea. I often see those who are in the show world guilty of the physical applications of anthropomorphism, judging the "pet owner" side of being guilty of the mental applications. And vice versa. The fact is that everyone in this industry is guilty of some part of anthropomorphism; the important thing is not to point fingers. But to educate ourselves to what our horses really "want" and "need" to be the healthiest they can be. Not to be as convenient and accessible as we want them to be. Not to be as safe and cozy as we would want to be if we were horses; but as free and healthy as they want and need to be as the horses that their genetics dictates.

    It is there where we will unlock the true potential of our equine partners and athletes.

Much love,

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Some Farm Updates; With Love.

      We've been so busy lately it's hard to find time to sleep these days, nevermind get a blog post up.. But here is a quickie to give you some insight into all the work we've been doing!

      Inside the barn we've been getting the lounge, boarder tack room and arena ready for winter use... With our lockers all ready and heaters finally in place, we're getting cozy!
      Our footing is finally drying and settling in, so we moved our poles and jumps into the arena. It's been a blast to ride in with the weather turning so quickly.

      Outdoors we've been building shelters for our herds living outside 24/7; and they have turned out great! Big enough to house 6+ horses without any issue. Next week when our straw order comes in we'll be fluffing up beds for them too.

      We've finally got a grip on these hay nets and everyone enjoys their lucious hay every day and night; while still getting to move around from feed station to feed station! Next we'll be putting up posts and hitch rings for the nets to hang off the ground over the winter months. With a few going in the shelters too. Everyone loves breakfast in bed!

      And lastly we brought in 30+ tonnes of round stone gravel for all of the paddocks to fill in any mud spots around the water troughs, shelters and fence lines. I love the results we are getting already! The horses choose to walk on the round stone instead of the mud and it doesn't freeze rock solid like the muds does. Their hooves are getting a great chance to transition into the harder ground instead of the usual winter shock of soft grass and mushy mud to hard as rock mud rivets. All the while getting tougher by the day with the added bonus of naturally wearing down. We are already seeing hooves harden, soles growing back in, toe callus formation and less to trim each time our barefoot trimmer comes up. Keep an eye open for our monthly updates following our horses transitions into real barefoot living! Remember, just because you took shoes off your horse doesn't mean they are really barefoot. You need to properly manage their living and access to harder terrain types to keep those hooves strong and allow for a proper callous to form. Otherwise you risk soreness and the inevitable unsound, bruised hooves we've all come to hate!

That's all I have for now, expect a new post later this week... I have some ideas brewing!

Much love.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why My Journey is a Bitless One...

      I'd like to start this post off with the disclaimer that I do NOT look down on anyone who chooses to use bits; but I do however challenge them in their horsemanship. A bit is a final refinement tool, not a control device. If you cannot ride your horse around a ring at the walk, trot and canter on the buckle; you don't need more leverage, you need to go back to the basics!
      A bit is a tool used to refine a horse's movement and to further your communication with them. If you can't communicate with them on the ground, and in a casual riding environment in the saddle.. You are not ready to have a bit.

      That said, I'd like to share why I am on a completely bitless journey with all of my horses and my students. It all started with my first horse, Johnny. As if he hasn't taught me enough!

      It's funny, everytime I start a new student with a difficult horse; we end up going down the same road I went down when I first was shown how to go bitless...

      When I first bought Johnny he was coming off of time in the pasture, but he had a good amount on training on him. I rode him in a simple single jointed snaffle and things were pretty ok. He had his moments, but overall wasn't a very difficult ride. But as we progressed into more refinement in our training, things got more and more difficult. He wasn't disobedient, he was terrified. Everytime I asked for contact or collection, he would jolt forward and throw his head up in the air. Take off, freak out, scare me to death... And I always got a similar answer as to why he was like this; "He's a thoroughbred", "he's too hot", "he's being disobedient" etc etc... But I knew this wasn't the case with him. I could do so much with him on the ground, and he was connected to me. We had a very good relationship even through rough times; he had no reason to suddenly become sullen under saddle.
      Under the advice of different trainers and coaches, I tried a selection of different bits. A single jointed copper roller (which ended up being THE WORST for him, almost landed me in the stands one night), different combos of single and double jointed snaffles, happy mouths, rubber, copper, sweet iron... I tried a very soft french link, and a second level Myler comfort snaffle. But the result under saddle was always the same. Hollow backed terror.
      At some point during this battle through bits, I reunited with my NH coach and she took me down a new road. She pushed me to try bitless. I had just moved Johnny to her farm after finishing school and I was mentoring with her. I was riding horses every day in bitless bridles.. but with Johnny I was absolutely terrified at the idea. How would I control him when he decided to take off? What would I do to stop him when he decided to jump out of the sand ring?
      But she just laughed at me, and pushed me into a lesson. And the result was the same result that I get every time I push one of my students to try bitless with their horses...
      Absolute shock and astonishment. But how? How can they be so soft? Is he rounding?! Sitting back and relaxing even? We did a full lesson walk, trot and canter in the most relaxed frame of mind (and body) I had ever experienced from him. No terror. No panic.. no pain.

And I've never looked back. Ever.

      It's funny to me now because I think of how scared I was to try something new. Something that I did not totally understand at the time, and had only really experienced from afar. And because of it's stigma, had deemed myth. But here I am, with a facility full of bitless horses. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Johnny showed me that bad hands had ruined his mouth, and no matter how soft a bit or working hands could be; they would not shake his past. This is why I choose bitless. Not only because I believe all of that refinement is totally possible without a piece of metal in their mouth, but also because it allows room for bad hands to create torture in a horse's life.
      And yes, I hear it all the time. But a bit is just a tool, and a bitless bridle in the wrong hands can be bad too. And it's true. It most definitely can be. But there is no way you can tell me that a jointed piece of metal (nevermind two) is softer than a padded piece of leather. Test it! Put a bit on your wrist (the boniest part) and tap it around, pull on it, push on it, bend it up and down and pinch your skin with it. Now get a padded leather noseband and do the same. Point made? Point made.

      With that said, there are a million different types of bitless bridles. And there are a million perspectives on each one. And to this I say, as with all things, to each their own. This is just my opinion. My experience and my perspective. It's right for me. And that's all I can say about it! But from my experience in trying new bridles over the past couple of years, here is what I do with my horses.

      I start all horses in a rope noseband sidepull. This is a very simple bridle, with easy questions and easy answers to find. It is soft with no contact, but can be very strong if needed for emergency stops. It also lends the hand of pushing horses up off their forehand if they tend to lean on your hands. It is the very basics of pressure; it makes the right answer easy to find, and the wrong answer uncomfortable. There is no bridle I feel safer in. I have no doubt in my mind that I could stop just about any horse (with foundation ground training) under saddle in this bridle. It is my go to, and also the bridle that every student begins in. This bridle teaches you basic steering with minimal touch on your horse's face; and forces you to use your body as your main aid. You cannot lean on your hands, you cannot rely on steering for everything. It encourages a loose, casual rein; which encourages relaxation in your horse.

      Step two is into a simple leather noseband sidepull. Basically the same as the rope, but allows the horse to lean into the noseband a bit more with comfort. And thus lays the foundation to search for contact. This is a bridle you move up to when you have proven you can go walk, trot and canter with your horse with a loose rein and good connection; in any environment.

      Step three is into a padded noseband hackamore. Only those looking for "contact" and "collection" need to move up to this step. It is one I am just reaching myself, and with only two rides on Johnny in one.. I am inlove! Johnny had started looking for contact when we were in work last year, but I didn't know what options I really had. I have found every bitless I try online from different countries.. And the one I have chosen for this step is the Zilco flower hackmore. It's padded, and fits nicely. And it allows you to configure your "contact" to best suit your horse. It's almost like an elevator bit where you can choose what level of leverage you want/need. So far I haven't felt any real difference in my mechanics with this bridle in comparison to riding with a bit. The contact weight is the same, the hand aids are the same... but my horse is seemingly happier and no more taking off!

      Our next aim is to get our bitless show team out into the area and showing what we can do! With hopes of being allowed to ride in higher level events which require a bit to show. I have some girls dying to try eventing but whom aren't allowed to show because we need a bit for dressage...
Here's a great article about that whole ordeal!

To Bit or Not To Bit - Dressage Naturally

And here's a quick video of Johnny and I in our first ride in the Zilco flower hack. Don't mind how out of shape we are, we're working on it!
Much love!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Problem with Performance VS Pet

      It comes up all the time, whether you are a performance athlete with your working horses, or if you are a loving gooshy pet owner. Here's the problem, anyone who wants to have a performance athlete should be both.

      Because horses are not meant to just be serious, in the moment, always focused working athletes. We do not expect this of our human athletes, ever. And there's good reason. Being focused, having to work, and not being able to "play" will burn you out pretty fast. Stress is useful when used in the right manner, but being a performance athlete has a lot of extra stress with it. And everyone, yes even our horses, need a chance to burn out that steam!

      Imagine if human athletes had to purge their entire social, entertainment and pleasure filled lives to only live, eat and breathe their sport? Yes, we expect a lot of these athletes, but they do not live in their homes at all times unless they are working out at the gym. They are not segregated from all human contact except that of their teammates. They still go for beers with their team mates, they still go out and relax outside of working out and training.

Did I mention this is where ground games come in?
      Teammates go out and burn off steam together away from being totally focused on their sport. And horses need the same. And so do you! Taking time off from "working out" and playing with your horse is not only a great act for your training, but it's a great way to bond with your TEAMMATE. Yes, your horse is not a piece of sports equipment! It's a living, breathing soul who needs many of the same enrichments that you do. Beyond the obvious need for food and water, they also need companionship, socialization with their fellow herdmates and down time (and I don't mean standing in a stall all day). While they can get many of these things from being out in the herd, companionship with you can be worth a lot towards your performance goals.
      Team mentality is a proven performance builder (corporate companies pay big bucks to send their workers to "Team Building" workshops because it's been proven to boost morale and performance!) Playing games together allows you to build synchronization with your horse, as well as understanding who they are under all that handsome fur. Knowing who your horse is, is just as important as knowing how to move your horse around a jump course. Knowing what makes them tick, how to motivate them and how to ask for that last bit of umph are all great assets to your show career.

      So why do we allow this stigmatism and condescending attitude prevail? With something so useful to us all, we should be embracing the idea of caring about our mental partner.. Not just the physical one.

      Seek balance with your equine partner and push a bit of empathy towards how they live when you aren't around. Spending a bit more time with them outside the saddle can make a world of difference for their quality of life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Three Years Post Concussion; Why I Need Natural Horsemanship

      On September 26, 2011; I had an epic fall off my heart horse and injured myself worse than I have ever before. I hit my head so hard I went unconscious and caused a cyst to develop in my left temporal lobe. I was up and down between being bed ridden and trying to be a real person for 6-8 months after this day. And it has changed me forever.

      It made me work through a lot of my own being. I worked through my fear of horses, my fear of riding again... But it also proved to me where my heart is. I learned how it was my own fault, and it put me on a perfect path to Natural Horsemanship. A path that will forever have my feet trudging along it in search of more feel and better connection. I learned so much about myself, and about how to start working more effectively with my horse.

      Natural Horsemanship is what brought me back to the light, it set my stage to become a trainer and to continue what will be my life's work as an ambassador for NH training, and Natural Horsekeeping. I have more tools in my tool box from the past 3 years of NH education than I have from my 15 years of English riding instruction before that. With the aid of a successful mentor, clinics and self education, partnered with certifications from schooling; I am all the better Jesse today than I was as I stepped up into the saddle that day 3 years ago.
      I often wonder where I would be now if I had started my entire horse journey with NH. What would I be capable of now if I had started a feel when I was 6 years old... I have always been looking for a connection, my entire life with horses I have been begging for that knowledge, for that spiritual sense of connection. But there wasn't anyone teaching it at that time.. It wasn't available to me. So now I will be available to all the little equestrians looking for that feel, that connection. And not just because it makes them better in the show ring, because their souls call for it.. because they know it is what horses are here for. To help us grow.
      I am thankful for my concussion, if that can make any sense whatsoever to anyone.

      Without it I wouldn't have struggled through so much in my life, my relationships, my heart and my soul. I wouldn't have been driven to buy my horse, go to school, start training to be an NH trainer, and I wouldn't have the man of my dreams next to me either. Without that literal fall to rock bottom, I wouldn't have been able to rebuild myself into someone I quite admire today. I am so proud of myself for taking the big hint and getting a clue. Where would I be now if I hadn't been forced down this path? Would I have my own facility? Would I have a herd of horses out back? Would I have my family close and motivated with me?

      Who knows! As much pain as I went through in that time, I am reaping every benefit of it now. The only downside I face now is my innate fear that pops up from time to time. But with the right support team, the help of sports psychology and my NH mentors; I am working through it every day to better myself.

To finish off, here is a post I wrote about conquering my fear and my first step back into the saddle after my fall.

Trust is something you work for. In yourself and in your horse. You have to take care of it daily, sometimes hourly and moment by moment. But it is the most important trait you will ever come to know in life. Cherish it. And keep it burning.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Emotional Fitness Clinic has Given Me Endless Inspiration!

      Last weekend I attended one day of a two day Emotional Fitness clinic put on by our local Parelli instructors; Todd and Maureen Owens who hosted the incredible Dr Jenny. She is a sports psychologist with the most amazing views on self help, healing and understanding ourselves so we can better understand our horses. She talked about a lot of amazing ideals, character traits and day to day actions we can do to help ourselves become more emotionally fit. But one thing she talked about which struck a major chord for me; is how little people are really in tune with their horses.

      I am just as guilty, as I went home and thought about everything she had said. How we need to take breaks in our training sessions so our horses can digest what we've been telling them, and working them through. How we need to stop and really observe our horses so we can look for tell tale signs of tension, fear and confusion. This pushes past just the ability to ask a horse to do something and having them react, we're talking about having a calm and collected horse who understands, digests and then responds to your cues. Tension and stress free.

      It was so interesting to see her working with different riders and trainers to pin point their issues and to work through them together. There was one lady who had her horse doing wonderful patterns and who was obviously very obedient... but after a few patterns we all came to realize what she did not. Her horse was actually very tense. This mare was reacting to very small, easy cues; and doing all of the patterns with ease. But she never relaxed into anything. She was always very tight necked, her tail was clamped, her legs were choppy.. And those were just the really noticeable traits from afar; there were more tell tale signs close up that Dr Jenny gave advice on.
      How do we know when our horse has really relaxed into work? When are they 100% on and ready for work; cool, calm and collected. Responsive and ready for action. This is where Dr Jenny stressed our need for better observation of our horses. Here was a seemingly wonderfully trained horse, who was living with stress 90% of the time during work. And to no fault of her owner, she just didn't know! She thought, well if my horse is answering my questions and working through what I ask of her, she must be ok with it. But she wasn't.

      It's not hard to take the time to recognize stress in our horses, or to even take a break and bring them back down. Passed that it's not very difficult to work them out of that state, and into a relaxed mode in both their body and mind. This is where we want them to be anyways!

      This lady took advice from Dr Jenny, and from Todd; and worked on how to be in tune with her horse. She learned to wait for her to lick and chew after every movement; which in the beginning took upwards of 10-15minutes. She learned to embrace her calm self, and how to ask for that calm self. And she also learned about her own walls that had been blocking her from seeing her horse's stress in the first place. She learned she was very much an LBI and needed to stop worrying about the big picture check list (circle game, check. yoyo game, check.) and instead focus on her horse's attitude and mannerisms. Is she relaxed? How do I know? Is she tense? High headed? Is her tail loose and swinging? Is her back tense and choppy? Are her eyes blinking and thinking or stuck open in shock?
      These are all things we need to start doing on a regular basis with our horses in everything we do. Because the more we tune into these qualities, the more quality we will start to see in our horse's work. Who works out and studies better when they are relaxed and comfortable? *raises hand* It's the same for our horses.

      I want you to look at your own training and riding; think back to times when you've maybe pushed your horse passed their relaxed threshold and into a stressed environment. Don't get me wrong, as Dr Jenny has said, stress isn't a bad thing; it's a biological imperative. But we need to be aware of when we're asking for emotional fitness, or when we're ignoring our horse's signs of being uncomfortable. Just because your horse allows you to climb up on their back, doesn't mean they are entirely relaxed in the process. Just because your horse allows you to stand up on their bum, doesn't mean they are comfortable with the idea. Are they standing cool, calm and collected because they are relaxed? Or are they frozen in shock or fear?

      My biggest advice is to look at those ears, paired with those eyes. They will tell you about a world of emotional thought in your horse. So next time you go to work with your horse, make sure you are waiting for those licks and chews, make sure you are giving them a few breaks here and there, and most of all make sure you are tuned into their comfort levels and wait for that relaxed demeanour before moving forward.

      I took this advice and had an incredible break through with a client's horse this past week. It was one of the most inspiring moments of my training career, and I've only just begun!

As always, keep on keepin' on!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pasture Love

      It's been about 7 weeks now, and we are well under way with all forms of maintenance, repairs and building new things on the farm. But my day to day operations always include some form of pasture maintenance. It's hard work, long hours.. pretty stinky too. But I prioritize it as one of the most important things to be kept up with on the farm.

      Ever see over crowded paddocks with horses standing in a foot of mud? Sick of it?

      Yeah, me too. Because at this point, with all of the information we have on the topic; there is really no excuse for it. Keeping a pasture full of green grass, shrubs and the right mix of sand, gravel and dirt is so important for the health of our horses.

Why is it so important?

1) Parasite Control
      Your worming program is only as good as your poop maintenance plan. You can deworm your horses all you want, but if you aren't actively removing that poop from their dinner plates; you are just proliferating the issue. Most dewormers don't actually "kill" parasites/worms when you deworm your horse; they most often than not are used to cause the worms to leave your horse's system instead. That means when they poop out those worms, they are still alive. And some are still very capable of laying more eggs, or infecting your horse all over again. These worms need to be exposed to the heat of the sun, or removed from the pasture altogether and left to bake in a compost pile.

What do we do at NRE?
      We pick and clean the paddocks from manure on a weekly basis. We are lucky enough to have a gator vehicle with a self dumping bucket on the back. So we drive into the paddocks, scoop up the poops with pitch forks (yes, labour intensive but soooo worth it) and then go dump everything in our manure pile/compost pile.

2) Horses don't eat poop covered grass
      Ever notice that if you leave your horses out in a pasture long enough for them to eat all of the grass up, that some spots get left over grown? They avoid those areas like the plague. And for good reason. That's their washroom! They urinate and leave their poops there. They have their own natural instincts built in to avoid those areas because that's where parasites live; waiting for a hungry mouth to nom them up and give them a new warm home. This is another important reason to remove manure from your paddocks, so that all of the grass has a chance to be rid of parasites, and so the horses can rotate their "washroom" areas and have full access to all of the yummy grass in the field.
      Another great idea after removing the poops from these areas is to give them a good weed whack or mow. Not too short, but enough that anything lingering in the moist tall grass has a chance to dry out. This is a great area for mold to form, and if horses are left to their own devices without another source of food. They will turn to eat these areas if the other areas have been eaten down to roots. Forcing a horse to eat molding grass and parasites isn't the best way to create a healthy environment.

What do we do at NRE?
      Depending on the time of year, the grass grows at different rates. But just about every other week we'll go out after removing poop piles and run the mower over the long parts in the pastures. Especially effective to do this on a hot dry day.

3) Mud.
      Poop build up creates mud. It kills grass... that mixed with the ground moving hooves of your horses; creates perfect areas for mud to set up camp. This happens especially fast to those who have too many horses in their paddocks, or who setup their paddocks so everything the horse needs is in on tiny little area.
      Remember that not ALL mud is bad either, some mud is good. Horses love to roll in mud to help cool off, and to keep the bugs off. It's a natural part of their grooming behaviour, so leave a good rolling spot for them.

What do we do at NRE?
      Keep herd numbers smaller, and have the option to rotate paddocks to give each pasture time to heal and regrow. It's important to keep an eye on the grazing fields so as to not allow the horses to kill the grass by eating too much of the blades. When the grass is short enough that it starts to burn, you need to give it some time off.
      Put your water trough far away from your shelter, and your salt blocks far away from those too. Your horses should be moving around a lot, every day. If you put everything close together, they are going to congregate there and too much movement in the one area will kick up the ground and become mud.
      Get some sand and gravel in your paddocks. Not only is this great for your horses bare feet, but it's also great to keep water from pooling into muddy areas. Gravel is best placed along fence lines that show a lot of wear from horse paths, around water troughs, feeding troughs and around your shelters. Sand is also a great spot for rolling off those itchy spots. I like to leave one big spot with just clean sand for the horses to play in. They love it!

4) Weeds
      Not all weeds are bad, and not all weeds are good. Make sure you do your research so you can recognize a bad weed from a good one. Horses like and need variety in their diet; and weeds and shrubs are a great way to allow them this freedom of choice to eat. Bad weeds need to be removed by the root, and left to dry in the sun out of the paddocks and then burnt in a safe manner. Good weeds can be kept under control by regular mowing and weed whacking; or with the use of other paddock companions like donkeys and goats.

     So what can I say? These are just a few of our happy horses, in their happy pastures!

Anyone have some pictures of their own happy pasture buddies to share?

Keep on keepin' on!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nature's Run Equestrian: 1st Month of Adventures

Welcome to Nature's Run Equestrian!
We officially open for business on October 1st!

      Our first month here has been eventful to say the least so I haven't had much time to write anything about our adventures. So I thought I would give a quick update to the goings on! And show off some nice pictures as we go.
      We got our full load of hay in, 1500 small squares and stacked into the barn during our first weekend here. My poor family got their first taste of hay work, we started the first day with 5 of us, and were down to 3 of us after 6-7 loads. We managed 1000 bales in the first day, with 5 left on the second. But we all survived!

      Our second week here I woke up to a flooded barn from a burst water line for the automatic waterers in the stalls. Luckily we didn't have any horses in, but the bottom layer of some of my hay stalls got soaked!

     We swept all the water out, and dried up everything as best we could.. what a work out!

      We've been working away at all of the paddocks and taking out all the weeds, planning new shelters, and putting up the new tack room!

This is one of the paddocks for indoor boarders, finally all cleared and mowed.

This is the big hill paddock by the road where my 4 geldings reside in utter bliss.

This is Johnny and Spirit helping with the paddock clean up!

Q enjoying his new digs.

My two newest OTTBs Floyd and Zeppelin on quarantine as new arrivals.

Our freshly mowed grass ring leading to the sand ring (which is still being weeded out!)

And at the end of the day I get to look out on this....

It's pure bliss here!

Keep on keepin' on,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

An OTTB Rehab Story: Q

      Last fall I was given a 3yo OTTB gelding, Q. He had lived the usual OTTB lifestyle up until this point; life in a stall, only leaving for training or racing, little to no contact with other horses, and "racing fit". I had made the decision to take him to a friend's boarding barn and "rehab" him back into being a horse over the winter, fatten him up and restart him in the spring. Oh the plans I had....

      Here's what really happened. And everything I have learned along the way. This is what Q looked like a month or so before I moved him. Shiney, healthy looking on the outside... But as we learned through the next few months, he had ulcers and absolutely no immune system from being cooped up for so long.

      He had little energy and was pretty easy going, but he was sound and sane. With the small issues of cribbing, a contracted heel and some kind of interesting skin rash. But nothing I couldn't handle!
      So without any thought to the matter, we blanketed him up and sent him into a paddock with a small herd of well socialized horses and he became an outdoor horse again. He was going to be so happy to be out of his stall, I couldn't wait to see him nicker at the other horses, play and frolick. But he didn't do any of those things. He didn't perk up, he didn't seem very happy; infact he didn't even know how to interact with the other horses. He was completely lost at what to do 90% of the time. He didn't know to go and eat from the hay bale, he didn't know where to go to find water, he didn't know what the other horses were doing to him or how to stop it... He shut down. Fast. He resorted to cribbing all hours of the day and night, and hiding in his shelter. Eventually it got to the point where we didn't think he was actually going to come around, so we took him back inside and tried to keep him healthy. But the damage done from his past life and now new stressful week was too much, too fast. And thus begins my 8 month battle trying to put him back together again.

      After putting him in a stall for awhile and trying to keep weight on him, we decided to try him out on his own with one pony. So at least he would have full access to hay, shelter and water; and could learn from the pony on how to be a horse again. While this came at great cost, it worked. He learned how to go to the water trough, where to find shelter, where to eat; and the pony even guided him around to make sure he went to his shelter to sleep. It was a great miracle that he so badly needed; but it still wasn't enough. He had lost so much weight in that first week, he was borderline emaciated and was not putting anything new back on. And he was still cribbing all the time.
      As difficult as it was at the time, he wasn't going to get better in this situation and desperately needed more attention and care. So we moved him closer to home to a facility with my other horses so we could start filling him up and treating him more severely. By this time his skin rash had gotten worse even with medications, and he started cribbing to the point of not eating. I finally caved and got him a cribbing collar; which helped a lot for the next few months. It pushed him away from the fence and towards the hay bale. It forced him to interact with the other horses, and learn how to be one again. His skin rash was getting concerning by this point, and he wasn't shedding his winter coat by any means so I had the vet up to check him, and she suspected a serious case of ulcers. So we put him on ulcer medications for the next month to try and bring him around. All the while feeding extra rich and proper grain full of fats and goodness!

      It was after a few weeks of the ulcer medications that we finally started to see a change in him. Even our barn manager said he had finally sparked on. He was happier, you could tell by his entire demeanour. He perked his ears and came trotting over to visit you. He would follow you around happily, and he would even go running out with the other horses to play in the fields. 

      He even started getting a bit of a belly! He had lost all of his racing fit muscle in that first horrid week and was down to such skin and bones... I feared I had ruined him. I was certain I would never be able to forgive myself for what had become of him. But now when I go visit him and care for him, and see his glimmer and his spunk.. I know that he was destined for this path; either with me or someone else at some point. And I'm glad it was with me and my family, knowing that we would do absolutely anything to make sure he would recover ok.

      Now we have just gotten over a bacterial skin infection of some kind, fought off mud fever and a bit of rain rot.. but he is finally healthy again! We've started some work on the lunge and will soon be starting some work with the surcincle to rebuild some back muscle. I am confident when I say that in the next month or so he will be better than ever. It took so much loss to be able to rehab back into a horse again; but he now knows how to be a horse, how to be happy, how to play and frolick... His eyes light up. All we need to do is make that body shine on the outside, the same way it does on the inside.

This is Q today, still very much a work in progress. I can't wait to show him off to you in a few weeks...

Much love! We can accomplish anything if we put our minds and hard work towards it.
We just got to keep on keepin' on!

This is Q as of yesterday (a few weeks after this original post was written), he's full of muscle and the happiest guy I know!

Did I mention he eats like a king now? And, no cribbing collar needed! As long as he has forage available, a salt lick and his daily grain; he cribs very rarely if at all.

He's just about ready to start under saddle again, another week or so of back building exercises and we'll be set!

Another update! This is Q as of Sept 21st.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Horsenalities in the Show Industry: Right Brain Introverts

      Second edition of my "Horsenalities in the Show Industry" goes to the Right Brain Introverts (RBI). They have a hard time in the show world, and are most often the "give away" and "auctioned off" horses. They do not handle stress very well, and when rushed, forced and pushed tend to explode in very dangerous ways. They more often than not end up being labeled as unpredictable and dangerous.

      I have only encountered one true RBI in a show world setting, and he ended up being sent away after hurting two trainers in two different situations. It's difficult for me to understand how so many people can turn their backs on these guys, because their personalities can be so warming and their partnership connections are so strong when properly woven. Gaining their trust can be very difficult, and proving your competence even more so... but the biggest cause of wastage for these guys is because they need time. A lot of it. Time and patience.
      They need time to think through each situation, especially in the beginning, without being pushed or stressed out. When they hit a wall in their comfort level, they hit it hard. And it causes them to recoil in anxiety. As a trainer, it is our responsibility to recognize this recoil and step back and wait for them to relax again. As long as they are pent up, nothing we can do will make them move forward faster than doing nothing at all. They need to break down their own wall slowly, calmly and without persuasion; before they can move on to anything new. And if you do push them, they will get more and more tense.. and build up more and more energy until one little last straw and BOOM. This is when someone is likely to get hurt. A seemingly quiet and ignorant horse turns into a cascade of flying hooves and bucks. Many label this as behaviour associated with the latest action, but it's the build up of the entire session from that first moment of anxiety. They have effectively hidden it within them and suppressed that anxiety until a few seconds ago, when it finally boiled over and exploded.

      So the best way to work with a RBI? Prepare yourself to avoid the beginning phases of anxiety in the first place. Go slow. Be patient, and as always, be supportive. These guys get scared easy, tense up fast and get lost in their own fear world unless you hold their hand and keep them safe. The first signs of anxiety need to be taken as seriously as the big bucking fit you might experience in 20 minutes if you were to ignore those anxiety signs. You need to address them immediately. Step back, relax and wait for them to relax too. Don't ask anything more of them until they breathe a sigh of relief, lick and chew and tag up.

      They take the longest in the beginning, and for awhile it seems like maybe you aren't getting anywhere with them. But as long as you make a little progress every day, and end somewhere better than where you started, you are on a good track. Somedays you start and it feels like you went back in training a few steps from the day before, but that doesn't matter as long as you end on a good note. Make everything possible as positive as you can. And if you can't handle the frustration that you might hit, it is imperative that you step away as soon as you notice it. These guys do not handle negative emotions well. They retreat very quickly and will start to act out in ways that will make you even more frustrated. So nip that vicious cycle in the butt and call it quits before it escalates.

      When handled and treated right, a RBI will give you the world. They will try, go slow and be safe. As long as they feel safe. So work towards your partnership as hard as you can with these guys in the beginning, and once you can break down those walls and start with a trusting friendship from the gate; you'll be set to take on any new challenge together with ease!

      Anyone think they have a RBI at home? What was your first impression of them?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

That Moment...

      Today I experienced a serious break through in myself, one that I have held very safe for a very long time. A little under 3 years ago I had a very debilitating injury to my left temporal lobe. It left me unconscious at the time of the incident, forced me into months of recovery, pushed me to a breaking point with the people I love and also created a wall around my ability to trust myself and my horse in the saddle again. It took me months to get back to the barn in the beginning, more months after that to get back into the saddle... And even though I went "back to normal" after some time; there was a big part of my confidence that never came back. I was always very cautious getting into the saddle of any horse, which tends to be very difficult to explain to people when you are being paid to train their horses, but even more so I was convinced I would never feel myself again. I would never feel safe, never feel courageous to try something new, something fun.

      But today I felt that again. It sparked out of my chest and engulfed my entire being. I felt as though I could fly anywhere, and I didn't worry about getting hurt, I didn't fear, I didn't fret. I just felt those powerful legs beneath me and let go.

      I owe this feeling to two very important horses in my life. My forever love and first horse Johnny, and my Mum's rescue horse Spirit. My fall was off of Johnny, before I had even decided to buy him. And at 16.3hh he has made me very nervous to mount since then, until today. Though my fall was entirely my fault and I never blamed any of my pains on him; the memory was always so real and the sharp pain in my left forehead was nauseating. But through it all he has never let me down for a second. He has always gotten back up and faced the world with me. For his endless patience and deepest soul; I am so grateful.
      Spirit was the last piece of the puzzle for my breaking through, for my courage to meet up with me again in understanding. Spirit scared the living daylights out of me the first time I worked with him, he charged, kicked and reared and made me feel so insignificant as a horse trainer.. I thought I would fail from that point on. But with some guidance from my mentor, and then being left to my own thoughts with him. He helped me prove to myself that I am capable. And beyond capable, I achieved something I never thought I would. I got on him, without any fear. I have put off his starting under saddle for months and months because every time I knew he was ready; my stomach would turn and I would make myself sick thinking of the battle we may have. I didn't want to get on him and scare him and then not know what to do. I needed to be everything I could for him, so he would have the best experience possible.
      He helped me find that courage because he trusts me. After a year in our care, in our love, in our embrace; he stepped away from his aggression and came to me. He burst through the cage of his own fear, and taught me how to do the same. So today when I stepped into the saddle, I didn't feel fear. I felt connection. We became a team. If he was going to trust me so heavily, I was going to return that favour. I promised to keep him safe if he promised to keep me safe. And that's how we went. Safe. Together.

      With this feeling in my bones, that break through all around me. I decided to try my first attempt at a bridleless lesson with Johnny. And in that moment, that break through.. When I let go of my reins and asked Johnny to keep me safe... He did. He lifted up and sat back and away we went.

I promised to keep him safe, I promised to keep this feeling alive again.. to feel like myself again. And to never second guess him again. I would always let go and enjoy the ride.

      With everything coming our way in the very near future, I can say with no word of a doubt.. That I am back. And I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for us!

Much love with your own break throughs, take every moment you can get, and as always.. keep on keepin' on!