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."