10 minutes makes a difference
10 minutes a day. Makes a difference. You may think that having only a short amount of time means that it is a waste of time starting something, and you may be right to a degree. I wouldn’t head out in the paddock on a limited time frame and try to start something new. But spending 10 minutes bonding, training, working, playing – whatever you want to call it, gives you 70 minutes per week of connection with your horse.
Try it – spend 10 minutes a day doing something with your horse, and do it for a week, see how much of a difference it can make to your relationship.
Stepping out of your comfort zone
Over the weekend Phil and I headed down to Mt White to spend some time with Heath and Krissy Harris of Harris Entertainment, to see their methods of training horses for the movies and live shows. While we were there one of their trick riding students had a lesson, and I was intrigued. Just watching I could see that trick riding would be physically demanding, but exciting as well. I asked if I could have a lesson on one of their school horses. As my lesson time got closer, I swung between excitement and nervousness, Would I be strong enough? Could I physically cope with the requirements ? I really didn’t know what to expect in my lesson and I didn’t know how far I would get – as in I didn’t know if I would complete a trick during my lesson, or just practice at a stand still etc.
The lesson itself was awesome – I find myself completely addicted to trick riding and I cant wait for the next lesson! Thinking about it afterwards though I realise that aside from a new pursuit to keep me active with my horses, stepping out of my comfort zone is something that has contributed positively to my horsemanship. Just trying a new discipline has given me another new perspective on horses, horsemanship and training. As it happened in the past as I grew in my horsemanship and went from sporting to hacking to dressage to western to training to coaching, I now use something from all of those pursuits in my training today. Of course I intend on competing on my upcoming horses in both the dressage and western fields, but as far as my training and horsemanship goes my lesson in trick riding has contributed to my growth substantially.
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone in your horsemanship? Maybe its time to try something new!
Progress, Time and Money
Sometimes it seems that we are getting nowhere, or progress is slow. Take the time to look back on your journey with your horse so far, and see how much progress you have made. Even though there may be a lot of days when you don’t get to spend as much time with your horse as you would like – each day counts. In good ways and bad, the time you spend with your horse is making a difference to the way he is.
Hopefully, you can think back to when you first started your relationship with your horse and compare it to now, and know that you have made a positive difference.
Sometimes when I’m working with horses, especially with sessions broken up over a period of time – for example 1 lesson per week, Sometimes after a few weeks I start to get worried about our progress, and I have to stop and think about how far we have come in just 4 hours. Sometimes the owners will do some work in between, and sometimes they don’t, but you need to celebrate all of the progress you achieve.
By the same token – what is your attitude? If you only have 20 minutes do you ‘get cracking’ and do some kind of training with your horse? Or do you think ‘I’ve only got 20 minutes, I’ll leave it until tomorrow’. Today I was in just that situation – and I decided to saddle up and ride – and it was the BEST 10 minutes I could have spent! I decided to ride in a halter and one rein, and Cooper was following my feel, giving me sideways, forwards, backwards and all in a nice frame – If I hadn’t have ridden him, I would never have been able to get this great feeling, and, I’ve rewarded my horse by getting on, getting some great stuff – and leaving it there. He may just be thinking ‘gee that was easy’ – what a great deal for my horse!
Time is more valuable than money – spend it wisely.
New Years, New Goals
What do you want to look back and reflect on?
Your first competition ?
Your first trail ?
Your first blue ribbon ?
Simply a year that you have enjoyed with your equine partner ?
More respect / manners / performance ?
No matter what your goal is, there are a few things you MUST do if you are going to achieve them.
Step 1 – Figure out what it is that you want – that means looking at you, and what suits you – not what your instructor, mother, friends, sister, father – whoever says – what do you want?
Step 2 – Write it down. Sounds pretty simple – but most of us don’t actually write our goals down every year.
Step 3 – put it somewhere you can see it. Everyday.
Step 4 – Break your goal (or goals) down into mini steps and set a timeline so you can check to see if you are on schedule – see my example below.
Step 5 – Start working on it. Today. Find that first mini step and get going!
What language do you use with your horse ?
I’m not talking about your body language – that is vital, yes, but a different article entirely. I’m talking about the actual words that you use when you are describing sessions or experiences with your horse. I have been noticing lately the differences in relationships with people and their horses – and the way they describe them.
Let me try and offer some examples;
When you are describing a habit or ‘fault’ that your horse has do you say;
“he always does this to me”
“sometimes he does this”
the point being – are you using language of “him doing it to me” ? as in your horse is doing something to you – or just doing something. Using the term ‘to me’ indicates that you are taking the action as a personal action towards you – not just a habit that he has.
What about ‘get him’ – “I have to get him to do this” – this language indicates you feel you need to coerce or force your horse into an exercise.
What about “he’s just an idiot / crazy” – this is dismissive of certain behavior – rest assured he is not an idiot or crazy – he is doing something he feels he needs to do.
“He makes me” – no one – not even your horse – can “make you”
The list can go on – are you using ‘Me VS Him’ language when you talk about your horse ?
Food for thought as our words impact our actions – if you constantly use ‘me VS him’ language when talking about your horse, you will probably handle and ride him the same way – as a battle, instead of a team.
Food For thought
Training for the trail
Often when we head out on the trail, we consider it a relaxing ride for us, and the horse and tend to ‘switch off’ our ‘normal’ riding behavior and get into ‘ Sunday Drive’ mode.
Unfortunately, out on a trail might be where our horse needs our guidance and support the most, and we turn into ‘passengers’ which causes him to feel insecure, lack confidence and then ‘misbehave’.
This doesn’t mean we need to avoid trails, and it doesn’t mean we need to ‘ride every stride’ out on the trail either. What it does mean is that we need to look for a happy medium, that the horse and rider are both comfortable with. It also means that the first part of the ride, as the horse is warming up both physically and mentally, we may need to do a number of exercises to get him ‘in the office’. Even though we are out on the trail, we still want our horse following the ‘rules’ – listen to me, follow my direction and be confident. But we have to follow the same rules for him!
Adopting a set of exercises (say 4 or 5), both mounted and on the ground, that you can master and then repeat wherever you go (trail, shows, home) will go a long way in building your horses confidence in you. For example – you head out on the trail, which your horse may be a little uncomfortable with and you start asking him to do exercises that he has mastered – quarters in, leg yield etc. Soon enough your horse thinks ‘hang on a minute, I know this stuff, I’m alright. He gets confidence in knowing what is expected of him. Have you seen a toddler watch the same cartoon over and over again ? Do you know why ? Because he loves knowing whats going to happen! He gets confidence from that. Horses are no different! Find something he can take confidence from and do that when he is nervous.
Trust is a two way street. Part 1
Having an issue trusting their horse is one of the things that comes up when I am talking to clients. Either the horse has done something in the past that justifies the mistrust (bucked, bolted, bit) or it is a fear of the unknown due to the horse being a new addition, or the owner is simply not sure what the horse is capable of.
I will cover it from the ‘human’ point of view, but in this first part I wanted to have a look at it from the horses point of view, since we tend to forget about that sometimes.
Our horses pick up on our energy or how we feel every time we interact with them, and sometimes our moods can change so rapidly that even we don’t notice.
For example – here are 2 different days in any given week from our horses point of view.
7am Weekday – Arrive at paddock for a quick ride on the way to work, we are on a tight schedule so we hurry along in our movements – catching our horse, we might not brush him due to time constraints, then we tie him up to get ready to saddle – right now he (and we) feel – Rushed, maybe a little anxious (because he has no idea why we are rushing, right?).
7.20 – go to get the saddle, trip over a bucket on the way, and then drop the saddle on the way back to the horse – oh o! Its one of those days. We get back to the horse and continue saddling. Now the feelings are – rushed and agitated.
7.30 – we head out to lunge quickly before getting on. He doesn’t respond as well as he could (perhaps because he is trying to figure out why we are rushed and agitated). So now we begin to add frustration to the mix. (why can’t he just do what he is supposed to ?)
7.35 – we grab the bridle / hackamore and go to put it on, he bumps into us / treads on our toes, invades our space a little. So we give him a slap in anger. Right before we hop on this horse we are rushed, agitated, frustrated and now angry.
7.40 – we hop on, pick up a collection because we don’t have time to do a loose rein warm up, and start working on what we need to practice for the show or dressage (or event) this weekend. None of it works because our horse is trying to figure out how to keep himself safe from the rushed, agitated, frustrated and angry owner that he now has.
8.30 – after 50 minutes of nothing to great and everything not working, we realise we are now late, have no time for a cool down, jump off, pull everything off as quick as we can, chuck a rug on him and go to work.
At 6pm that evening, you arrive at the paddock from work, and either rug him and throw him his feed and leave, or perhaps you will sit with him a while, but now you are a bit weary from the day, a bit quieter, a bit softer. As he looks at you he is apprehensive that the person that was here this morning is going to arrive.
The same week;
10am Day off – You arrive at the paddock with a fresh coffee, having slept in, it being your day off. You are looking forward to the day as you have arranged to head on a trail ride with friends. As you hop out of the car, you call out to him with joy and friendliness in your voice. You take your time getting your saddle and gear out of the car and popping it on the fence. By the time you get into the paddock he has wandered up to meet you, and you stroke his face, chatting to him softly, breathe him in and spend a minute just enjoying him. Shortly you put the halter on, and lead him up to the gate at a meandering pace.
Once you tie him up, you take your time taking his rugs off, sipping your coffee, chatting to him, brushing him and picking out his feet. Then you make your way to saddling him, lunging him, and finally you hop on, once you’ve watched for the signs of him being right.
You head out on the trail, laughing and joking with friends and have a great ride, and arrive back at the paddock happy and relaxed – and so is he.
Have a think about the 2 days – does this type of thing happen between you and your horse ?
There are many variations – perhaps you go to school, not work. Perhaps you get angry after a phone call fight with someone you love. Maybe trail riding makes you nervous and so you may have put that in your horse ? Maybe you get excited when you ride, and he picks up on that ? Lots of different things we do can affect our mood – and in turn who our horse gets to see.
Do you think it might be hard for your horse to trust you, when he doesn’t even know who is coming to the paddock each day ? Or even each minute or hour ?
Next time you are with your horse, try to be aware of your feelings – and keep a count of how many different ones you have during your time with him.
Let me know your experiences with this,
This article has been published in The Horse Report.
Trust is a 2 way street Part 2
In part one, we took a look at the inconsistencies in our behavior when we are around our horses, and how it can lead to our horses having a lack of trust in us. On one hand we can be the kind and consistent leader that they need us to be, and on the other we can be a mess of frustration, worry and anger (maybe none of which is a result of the horse, but perhaps external influences).
This time around we are going to look at it from a human perspective. We all want, and really need a horse that we can trust. We have all experienced at one time or another that inconsistent horse that is one day cool as a cucumber, and the next a red hot chilli pepper. Lets take a look at some of the things that can contribute to this, and some of the ways we can begin to bring our horses into a reasonably consistent state. I will mention here that our horses do not want to be emotional wrecks – so helping them mentally and emotionally will give you the happy and confident horse we are all looking for.
Firstly – Mares vs Geldings. Geldings traditionally are fairly consistent – you get the same horse everyday. Mares however are subject to hormones – as they cycle their priorities change – nature tells your mare she needs to have a baby! At times she will be more sensitive to touch, more dominant towards other horses, and more attracted to a potential mate.
No 2. Feeding. This can be a touchy subject for many and I will only touch briefly on it here – I have an article on my website that goes in depth on feeding. Our feeding regime should be adjusted to conditions – work load, weather conditions, pasture availability. This could sometimes mean a daily change (in quantity). Horses fed a high sugar, high fat diet and not worked accordingly become agitated, stressed and start to perform negative actions. I don’t plan my diet according to what Usain Bolt eats because I’m not an elite level athlete – don’t do the same thing to your horse – if he isn’t an elite level athlete – stop feeding him like one.
No 3. Training. Sometimes we forget that we need to actually train our horses. We sometimes consider ‘training’ to be reserved for particular actions like fly changes or extended trot, but we need to train our horses in all aspects of riding and ground work. He doesn’t know how to behave on the trail, he doesn’t automatically have the knowledge to think ‘ok I’m just heading out on the trail, this will be a nice quiet ride’. We have to put that in there. So next time we head out to the arena or on the trail – don’t just ride along having a yack with your mates – put some training into your horse.
No 4. Build the relationship. If you horse doesn’t trust you, then he may find it difficult to ‘behave’ when faced with an uncertain situation. This comes under the heading of ‘training’. You need to train your horse to look to you when he becomes uncertain, and when he does look to you – make sure you provide the leadership that he seeks. If your horse spooks at something and gets a whip for his trouble – all you have done is justify his fear, the same thing goes for patting him and telling him ‘its all right’ – this won’t build his trust either. Practice ground skills to develop a partnership with your horse, and then step it up to the saddle.
In closing, trust is built over time by being a consistent, calm and kind leader for your horse. Practice this each time you interact with him, and soon enough you will be taking him everywhere without a care. It is a good idea to have a coach or mentor that you consult as part of your training program – whether through lessons or clinics, it will give you a program to follow – a horse is like a child – is he in kindergarten or high school ? Its up to you to help get him through the grades.
Training or Tormenting ?
I get to see a lot of different horses and their people – at clinics, shows, events. I get to see different training methods, and different disciplines. People contact me for advice, to share their successes and to update me with their progress.
I see a lot of great things. I see relationships reach a level of mutual respect, understanding and communicating. I also see torment.
For Example. I see and hear a lot of is variations of “I kept doing X, and X is still happening, and I did X over and over and over again”. One of the fundamentals in horsemanship (the kind of horsemanship that is for the horse), is the ability of the human to realise that he is not communicating effectively, take a look at himself, his actions and be prepared to change if necessary.
Timing in this is crucial.
Horsemanship isn’t about ‘Do this, and this will happen’ you cannot put horses in boxes, not all horses will respond the same way to the same thing. Horses are not born with a manual, or a set of cues that they are meant to understand – we teach them the responses we want from the cues we use.
I had an advancing clinic for my students who have been to multiple clinics, and I mentioned at the start – This clinic will be the ‘clinic of contradictions’, because what we are told at an entry level – that information changes with each day that we improve. We are constantly looking to refine and improve our skills, and those of our horses.
One thing that came up over the weekend was the humorous but sometimes frustrating observation that the answer to a lot of training questions is – Yes / No.
“Should I do this when he does this ? Yes – if you want this, but no if you are planning this in the future.”
Does that make sense ?
Horsemanship is a moving, breathing, growing entity. It is wonderfully simple, yet it is beautifully complicated, it is straightforward, yet we find contradictions at each junction.
Horsemanship is mental, physical and spiritual.
I don’t even like the word ‘training’. It conjures up images of a circus animal, taught to perform at a humans will. In order to truly communicate with our horses, in order to be in a true partnership – we must listen as much as we speak.
So ask yourself – if you were in a foreign country, and a local walked up to you and started talking in their native tongue and you didn’t understand – would it help if they kept repeating it ? No. Would it help if they got louder ? Probably not. It would help if they realised that you didn’t understand and began to try and communicate in a way that you understood. This is what we should be doing with our horses.
And here come the contradictions – if it is a simple respect issue, then you wouldn’t change – BUT this is where true horsemanship comes into play – you must have the skills to read the horse, to decide if he is lacking respect, or lacking understanding, because your next move is going be communication or torment.
You can keep hounding a horse until he does what it is you are asking him to do – but to what end ? If you simply wanted to dominate, you could use any method of training, perhaps to a better effect. I see plenty of horses trained in ‘mainstream’ methods that do exactly what their owners would like them to do – but do they want to ? I also see plenty of ‘horsemanship’ horses with a high level of resentment.
Horsemanship is timing, knowledge, reading the horse and knowing how to support him.
Horsemanship is not about ‘Do this and wait for this to happen’, and Im sure that the masters of horsemanship never intended it to be.
Putting the horse first,
Are you ruining your relationship ?
Picture this. We head out for a weekend with our horse – might be to a show, clinic or just to spend time with our friends (four legged and two). We have a great weekend – everything with our horse just seems to click – he knows what you are asking of him, you know how he is feeling, you are both just on the same page – it is great. Then its home time, you head over to the float and he hesitates, and you start. Now you begin to pull everything out of your bag of tricks to try and get him on the float – you lunge him, out come the sticks or whips, people wanting to help come out of the woodwork, you pull, push, yell, scream, cry, you drive him in circles, drive him backwards – you name it, you try it – to what end ?
I see this often, and what I see is a horse and its person, who have just spent a weekend building their relationship, learning to trust each other, learning to understand each other – and then I see it being undone in the blink of an eye.
What it gets me to thinking – we spend time building the relationship with our horse – training, lessons, clinics, simply spending time with them – how much of this are we undoing in the little things ?
Float loading is just one example – are we undoing our hard work in other ways ? When you think about it we probably are – and do you know when it is that we undo our work ? When we have our own agenda. When we have our own agenda – “I need to (insert your requirement here – get you on the float to go home / get your shoes put on / get you wormed / change your rugs / change your paddocks), our horsemanship and relationship seems to go out the window. We get into our ‘human got to get something done mode’ and we get singular focus – we focus on the job, and the horses needs go out the window.
How do we fix it ?
Step 1 is simply to recognize that it is happening, and step 2 is to assess what we are doing with our horse, and ensure that the horsemanship is staying in what we are doing. As horseman and women it is our job to ensure that we are ‘putting the horse first’ in everything that we do.
Are you playing the blame game ?
I get to meet a lot of people, and their horses and a common similarity that appears is people who are playing ‘the blame game’.
It fits into a few categories – blaming the horse, blaming their lack of time, blaming the trainer, or blaming their coach.
This blame comes from different places, generally it is not wanting to take responsibility for your own choices (or as I like to say ‘standing in your own shit’) – this is generally the ‘excuses’ area – I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, etc etc. The impact that this blame has on your training is that you need to take responsibility for yourself, before anything will change. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not sitting here typing this from a ‘holier than though’ place of being perfect – I make excuses too! The fact is though, that we all get the same 24 hours in the day, we all have obligations to take care of in that 24 hours, it is simply a matter of prioritizing. Once we ‘own it’ we can change it.
The more damaging blame is the one where we get to blame something, or someone else. When we blame the horse, the trainer or the coach, then we have completely relinquished any responsibility of our own (as we have above), but then we put the blame somewhere else, so then its ‘not my fault’. Then the horse needs fixing, or the trainer did something wrong to the horse and now the horse needs fixing, or the trainer told me the wrong thing, and thats not my fault.
I meet a lot of people who blame the horse or the trainer, and on occasion, I will get calls from people who tell me that there is someone going around saying things about my training or coaching. Most of the time this blame comes from a place of either ignorance, or inexperience, or both. You see the horse that ‘wont do it’ will do it – for someone with more experience and skills, or the trainer that ‘hasn’t trained the horse’ can get on the horse and cue it to perform – but the owner doesn’t have the skills to do the same thing, and the coach that ‘didn’t teach me this’ most of the time did teach that and the student was too inexperienced to take it in at the time, or ‘taught me this’ most of the time didn’t actually teach that but it was the students misinterpretation of what was being taught.
I see it all the time at clinics – either one that I am teaching, one that I am hosting, or one that I am participating in – a certain skill will be taught, and out of the 15 students in the class there will be 6 different interpretations of what was said. I often have a student ride up to me and say ‘you told me to do this’ and Ill say ‘hmmm I wouldn’t say that, it doesn’t make sense’ and we will go a little deeper and the student will say ‘you didn’t use those words but you said x,y,z’ – and x,y,z to them meant something completely different from what I was saying, so I reword it in a different way. I will also have people who have been to 4 or 5 clinics watch me teach a skill and say ‘I don’t remember this one’, yet it has been taught at all the clinics – but now they are ready to hear it!
I always say at clinics ‘you will only take home what resonates with you this clinic, which will be completely different from what someone else who has been to say 3 clinics will take home – AND THATS OK!’. You will only ever learn what you are ready to take in – if you are learning to ride, you are going to remember things like how to stop, how to turn, where to sit in the saddle, and those that have been riding for years who can do those things unconsciously will remember things like balance, collection, maneuvers.
The trouble with playing the blame game is that it has a ripple affect – firstly the damage to yourself – when you play the blame game, you remove any of your own responsibility, and this prevents you from growing and learning – instead of thinking ‘the trainer broke my horse’ try thinking ‘what is the trainer doing, that Im not’. Instead of thinking ‘the coach didn’t teach me that’ try thinking ‘I missed something, maybe I wasn’t ready to hear it, but I am now’.
The other damage that is being caused by playing the blame game, is of course to the trainer or the coach. It is so common to hear people ‘having a bitch’ about a trainer or coach, and most people who are hearing it will probably dismiss it – because they recognize the person as being ignorant or inexperienced (not to mention lacking in integrity), but what about the 1 person that does listen ? What about the 1 person who may miss out on training with a great trainer or coach, because you were having a rant – you may cause them to miss out on the greatest clinic they will ever do, because of your own misconceptions. Finally what about the trainer / coach who has dedicated their life to helping people and horses, who misses out on future clients because of your ignorance or inexperience (can anyone say defamation) ?
So playing the blame game hurts you, your horse and your growth, potentially another person, and the trainer / coach who took the time to teach you, when they could have been teaching someone who would really appreciate it.
Take a moment to look back over the last couple of months – when you have been talking about you and your horses progress – are you playing the blame game ? Are you blaming time, your family, your husband, your horse, your trainer, your coach ?
Change your thoughts and language patterns and watch your development skyrocket!
Say no to Negative Nancy! (or Downer Dave)
Can you hear them ? Sure you can – you know, when you are working with your horse
I’m not good at this.
I Give up
This is too hard
I can’t make this any better
He’s not getting it
I keep making mistakes
I just don’t get it
Im just confusing him
I’ll never be able to do this.
You know who I’m talking about now right ? Let me tell you a little secret about that voice. We all hear it. Its a pretty common ‘human condition’. Let me tell you something else about that voice – the more you listen, the more it talks! And the more it talks – the more those words become a reality! Those words can get so real, and so true that they can change you. I feel like writing each of these sentences on a new line because they are so important.
Your words can change you.
Negative Nancy and Downer Dave can take over your life.
Guess what happens when you add a horse into the mix ?
You have something to blame!
He scares me.
He hurt me.
He ignores me.
He is stupid.
He is doing it to annoy me.
Soon enough you have become a heat seeking missile for – the SHIT! All you notice is all the ‘bad’ stuff – so what do you see ? All the ‘bad’ stuff! You may spend an hour with your horse, and during that time he was his normal self – but for 5 minutes he was distracted and scatty. So what do you do ? You go home and say to your partner – “that horse was an idiot today”. And thats where it sits in your mind/ You’ve forgotten about the 55 minutes of good that happened – your focus is on the 5 minutes of undesirable behaviour.
Soon it spreads into other areas of your life;
‘I always run late’
‘I never get a good car park’
How do we fix it ? Firstly we become aware of the language we are using – are we focussed on the negatives ? Are we using ‘absolutes’ like ‘cant, never, always’ ? Once we are aware of our language, we can start to ‘correct’ our thoughts. For example;
Instead of saying or thinking
‘I give up’ try saying / thinking ‘I’m going to try some of the skills Ive learned to work through this’ or ‘Im going to learn some skills to work through this’
Instead of saying / thinking
‘I just don’t get it’ try saying / thinking ‘ Im finding this challenging at the moment, but I will get it soon.
Instead of saying / thinking
‘He just doesn’t get it’ try ‘ I’m going to help him understand me’.
The beauty of listening to ‘Positive Penny & Brightside Ben’ is – the more you listen to them – the more they talk! And the more they talk – the more you become a heat seeking missile for the good things – and the more you see the good things the more you start to reward your horse for trying – and the more you reward him, the more motivated he is to try harder!
And it spreads into your life.
And you become a heat seeking missile for the JOY
And you enjoy spending time with him
And he enjoys spending time with you
And you live happily ever after.