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,