“Be The Boss”

Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, outdoor and waterHave you ever heard someone tell you “be the boss” or “show him who’s boss” when it comes to working with your horse? There’s a lot of methods and techniques out there that instruct you to be the boss, be the alpha, don’t let him get away with ______, etc. Tag lines like “teach your horse to respect you” and don’t allow your horse to be disrespectful, stuff like that.

Now imagine you have a job, and you probably do… what’s your boss like? Is your boss a “boss” or is he/she a more of a leader? If you’re self employed, how do you feel about you, yourself as a boss? The difference between a job you love and a job you hate, isn’t actually about the job you do… but rather who you do if for. A work environment that is productive, positive and rewarding, will yield more employees who enjoy the work they do regardless of the task they get paid for. On the other hand, you may love the work you do, but hate your job simply because the people you work with are dragging you down. In an unhappy workplace, often the worst part is the mentality that because you are being paid, means you should do your job, with the highest quality regardless of how the environment treats you. In my training business, all it takes is a client who demands the most for their money and they wanted it done yesterday. It takes a passion I love and quickly throws it in the category of I’d rather go work fast food or retail or something.

The deeper I go down my horsemanship path, the more I realize the power in working with the horse and for the horse rather than having the horse work for me. I used to have to get pretty tough on horses to establish that “respect”. Basically when the horse showed resistance to the work, I took it as an insult and therefore the horse needed to be shown that I was calling the shots and he needed to follow suit. I basically focused more on having the horse be obedient over anything else. That pattern caused me to have to work really hard, especially when dealing with the tougher cases. I used to be in pretty good physical shape as a result, I had the arms of a body builder. lol

When dealing with a horse labeled as “disrespectful”, lazy, stubborn, etc. we tend to want to fix the attitude they have. I used to be big on fixing the attitude… I’d get after them for pinning their ears, kicking at me, running away when I wanted to catch them, rearing, bucking, etc. Not to say I don’t anymore, but it’s very few and far between and its usually a light bulb for me to change my approach. When a horse acts disrespectful, pushy, mouthy, etc., we tend to look at that as a problem to fix rather than a symptom leading to valuable information. Often times, a horse is trying their very best to do what you ask as long as its the path of least resistance. When our expectations are high and we micromanage the horse while ignoring their concerns, you start to get the negative behavior. In all honesty, I don’t know how to fix a lot of the problems I get, but I do find the problems take care of themselves when I follow a process. Bad behavior is usually a horse trying to communicate that he’s unhappy, fearful, anxious, frustrated, etc. about the life he’s living.

The fun part about horses is they lack a developed frontal cortex in the brain. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for rationalizing behavior, long term planning, premeditated actions, and “doing the right thing, even when it’s the harder thing to do” along with a other things. So in people we can achieve these things, but horses can’t… they can’t premeditate their behavior and they do NOT have the capacity to do the harder thing even when it’s the right thing to do. Often times the need to “be the boss” comes in when we are asking the horse to perform a task that we see as the right thing, but the horse sees as the harder thing. Often times you hear people say “don’t let him get away with that!” You can make a horse do the harder thing, by making not doing the harder thing a lot harder. This creates a spiral of needing to be a step ahead of the horse to keep him from ducking out of the task. The down side is when you pass the horse to someone else and that person isn’t on top of everything, the horse will start unraveling and behaving badly.

So when it comes to working with my horses, more and more I learn to seek to be a partner rather than a boss. I want to be the partner they can count on and not one that dominates and tells them how life works. Not to say I never say “hey! Pay attention” but when I do, I’ve given them plenty of opportunities to connect. The more mindful I am with recognizing when they see my task as too hard, I figure out how to break that task down in pieces for the horse. Once they learn the pieces, you can glue the whole picture together… and in the horses eyes, it’s the easy thing. A task is easy to a horse, when they know it and can execute it without much, if any discomfort. The trick is to treat your training program like learning the ABC’s. Everyday, you start at A, get A better, more rehearsed and get the horse confident in A and he’ll start performing A willingly without resistance. Follow that pattern with everything you do and you soon get a horse that is happy to perform without needing to cut him off from evading.

The down side… is working on taking our ego out of the picture. The stronger our ego, the more we want to show the horse who’s boss when he becomes resistant. Resistance is greater when the human upholds the ego. Start peeling back your ego, and your horse will begin to try harder and harder for you because now you are acting like a partner and not a dictator. 🙂

Empathy

Image may contain: sky, horse, outdoor and natureHave you ever had someone imply that you have issues and you need to change your behaviors, habits, etc.? We see it on TV all the time where talk show hosts have guests that have issues and their family/friends brought them to the show so someone could help them. Most times you see arguments, fights, and strong emotions when the people are confronted about their bad habits. If you’ve ever had that happen on some level, how does it make you feel? Let me guess… excited, thrilled, and overly enthusiastic that someone wants to see you change your ways for the better? Ha ha, kidding! When it comes to this topic, whether referring to horses/animals or people, the response when someone comes in insisting on changing us, we tend to get defensive on some level and so do animals.

I had a new trainer start to help me a while back. Great guy, very nice but I always felt uneasy, insecure and slightly depressed as well as anxious, when he’d help me. I couldn’t really figure out what it was until after I stopped working with him. I realize now that the feelings I had were because he was always saying he’d help me fix all the things I was doing wrong with the horses. Initially, I felt like an idiot that I must be so inept at working with horses that he needed to fix all this stuff about me and my training program. I felt like maybe I had no business training horses if I was that off base and needed that much help. lol. That insecurity just nagged at me because I felt like I wasn’t accepted and recognized for the way I was but rather I should have been someone better than I was. Well, long story short, once I saw the results he created, as well as the way he behaved in life, I wasn’t convinced that I was needing so much help after all. lol. I accepted that I was doing just fine where I was and that my current circle of mentors accepted me for who I was and always pushed me to dream bigger and do better but not in a belittling or criticizing sort of way.

When it comes to working with horses, I find the same responses in horses when the owners want to change them. Most people want to change a horse who is lazy, spooky, hard to catch, won’t load in the trailer, herd bound, ect. Often, in the beginning for sure, the horses get defensive about all the new rules the owner learns. The owners get discouraged by this and often get tougher on the horse or quit trying all together. I used to be in the business of “fixing” problem horses until I realized this phenomenon. It’s not about fixing anything in all honesty… its about having empathy and understanding for the behavior or actions of the horse and then self reflecting and acting in a way that is going to change how horses respond. Basically, when we change our approach, the horses change their responses. When we get firm or hard, horses get braced and tense. When we slow down and soften our approach, or adjust our cues and use of pressure, the horses soften and respond smoother.

The big 3 problems people want to fix in my practice are bucking, rearing or bolting. All three of these are flight/fight responses in the horse. The problem with trying to fix any of the 3, is you miss so many little things that caused the big things to happen. Without looking at all the little signs, and addressing those, you can’t fix the big problems. I have seen people punish horses for bucking, rearing or bolting, by going to extremes but usually that just causes a horse to shut down and not respond, we then assume we fixed it. The interesting thing with this is what happens when someone new and less experienced comes into the picture… when a horse is truly confident and understands the work being asked, they don’t behave badly…

Understanding that these 3 things are the result of a horse going into self preservation mode helps the overall approach. Once an animal is in this zone, they don’t rationally think or learn anything positive, and typically it just further adds to the trauma and damage to their confidence as well as ingraining more learned behaviors. By getting after a horse that bucks, rears or bolts, you only add more pressure to an already overly pressurized situation. Seeing the big 3 as valuable information rather than a problem to fix, will allow you to investigate the reasons why the horse feels threatened enough to self preserve for their safety.

The most common mistake I see and hear people make is saying the horses does the actions on purpose. They may call the horse stubborn, bad minded, counterfeit, etc. because they seem to behave so irrationally and at times its programmed for them to behave badly. Instead I look at how a horse acts as valuable information. Learning to read/feel body language and facial expressions really puts a damper on all the things we label horses being. When we miss the signs from the actions, body language and facial expressions, we only see the most obvious things which we label as the “problem”. But when you learn to read the subtle cues the horses give, you can slow down and help fill in the gaps. Same goes with people who struggle with major issues, look at all the little things that lead to the big thing. The nice thing about horses, is they are very honest. People only show you the stuff they want you to see and they can hide the rest inside. People are great at hiding how they really feel in order to be politically correct. Horses don’t fear judgement, therefore, when you slow down and listen, they’ll lay it on the table for you to see.

The more I learn to read horses, the more I see just how gentle they are even with all the baggage they carry. When we learn how to slow down and learn to understand what they are saying, the better we will get along. You don’t have to use harsh or forceful tactics to make a horse behave when you slow down, listen and understand what the horse is trying to convey. The more you slow down, listen to the horse, the horse will soften because he now knows, that you know, he’s struggling to cope with something. My goal is work with horses the way I would want someone working with me. Accept me for who I am, teach me new things, allow me to learn and process, encourage me to try even if I get it wrong and don’t punish me for struggling.

The difference between a job you love and a job you hate, isn’t about the job you do, but its who you do it for. Great leaders, encourage, accept and reward actions of willingly trying to do your best and as a result they bring everyone with them because they want to be there, they want to be in a positive and rewarding enviroment. 🙂

 

 

Spooking and Desensitizing

Image may contain: horse, sky and outdoorA very common problem I’m faced with is owners wanting to fix their horses spooking issues. I can’t blame them because spooking can be one of the most annoying habits a horse develops. In this blog I hope to shed some light on why horses spook.

A few years ago I took a lesson with one of my favorite horseman. I took my horse who developed an aversion to both the big ball and the mechanical cow little stuffed cow. When he’d see either of these 2 things he’d panic, become shaky, jumpy and would often feel on the verge of exploding if I pressed him on. As I went for my lesson, ball and cow in hand, my favorite horseman asked me what I’d like help with. I said “my horse has an aversion to these two things and I want him to get over it.” He looked at me and said “ok but we don’t need the ball or the cow.” I was baffled, confused and honestly a little upset that he wasn’t taking my concern seriously. I don’t think he understood just how bad my horse was about these 2 things!!! In hindsight, now I know why…

Horses, first and foremost are prey animals. They are wired to be sensitive to danger and in a fraction of a moments notice, can be seen in fight or flight, fleeing from perceived danger. It’s the very reason they have survived as long as they have and have developed the quickest reaction time of any prey animal. I think we often forget how gentle horses really are given the world we ask them to live in…

The most common fix I hear for horses that are spooky is lots of “desensitization”. You have methods like tying the object they spook at to the fence or having them eat off a tarp or tying things to their bodies or using tools, sounds or objects during training. I’m not saying its wrong, but it’s not the whole fix and often times, desensitizing can do more harm than good. When we flood the horse with stimulus, we can overwhelm his senses and cause them to be chronically explosive or the opposite, which is shut down. Both states actually leave a horse in a state of self preservation and over time it changes their natural way of being. Tying things to a horse or to their pen or having it be part of their environment can be damaging if the horse also lives in a constant state of anxiety and tension which again is self preservation. Finally, using desensitizing in training can damage the confidence of a horse when they basically either learn to stand still and tolerate something or the person will continue to use the tool. I did this method for a long time and usually would hit a road block with almost every horse at a certain point because once in motion or doing a task that object would cause the worry and possibly, the meltdown.

Why doesn’t this sort of work, work? Short answer… Confidence. Some horses are just born confident, quiet and agreeable with horses and people. These horses are the 1 in a million because they don’t seem to have much reason to protect themselves and therefore are very safe to be around. They rarely get bothered and when they do, there is usually good reason. This has always baffled me until I started to learn why my desensitizing efforts weren’t as effective as I thought they’d be.

When a horse is in a state where he is nervous, anxious and on the verge of fight, flight or freeze (self preservation) they will associate the stimulus as being negative and a threat to their safety. I was taught to keep applying the stimulus until my horse stood still and relaxed. What I see now, is the horse was seeking the easiest answer. Initially you’d get fight or flight, then the horse would come to a stop because fleeing wasn’t the answer. When they stopped, we took the thing away. But were they actually good with it or were they just seeking the easy way out which was standing still? Again, horses lack the part of the brain responsible for premeditated action, higher reasoning and doing the harder thing even if its the right thing to do. So waiting for a horse to stop moving his feet before removing an object is the teaching of a fact, if you don’t like something, freeze… its not a bad thing to teach at all but its also not the fix to the reason they spook to begin with.

At first when you put the tarp in the stall with food on it, they may be very suspicious about the threat. Depending on the sensitivity of the horse, eventually they figure out that the tarp is not a threat and it only comes to offer food. Now you want to ride your horse and when you come upon tarp in the arena, your horse is very likely to go back to his original behavior  of possibly being very suspicious or fearful about the tarp. At this point we usually say “stupid horse, its just a tarp, you’ve been eating off one!” There are exceptions to this of course and some will say their horse will play with anything whether its in their stall or not and that he’s just spooky about x, y or z. lol. I’m not referring to horses that don’t have obstacle issues.

Spooking in a nutshell is anxiety that has built up in the horse. Experiences build in a horse. If they have positive experiences, they become calm, responsive and sane horses. If the experiences have been negative, they become spooky, fearful, and may be obedient and light to your requests but when s*** hits the fan, they choose their survival over yours. Has your horse ever spooked and run off? Have you come off and your horse heads home? Does your horse need another horse for comfort? Examples like this lie in the lack of connection between horse and rider. Your horse doesn’t seek you for his safety and comfort.

Working with horses that have anxiety means we need to lower our energy, lower our expectations and soften our mindset. When you see a spooking horse as a horse in need of help, you’ll be able to help your horse because you come from an empathetic state. If you see it as a problem needing to be fixed, you’ll often do too much with too high of exceptions which tend to cause more trouble. I learned this the hard way when I tried to “fix” my horse of his spooking about the ball and stuffed cow. After all, the stupid objects lived in his pen and he played with them when I wasn’t around!!!

Since that lesson a few years ago, I’ve learned more about the reason why horses spook and why they continue to spook given our efforts with so much desensitization. It really hit me when I went to go work my horse on the mechanical cow after about 2 years away from it. He was no longer afraid of it and we hadn’t even practiced anything related to it or desensitizing! But what I had practiced is the underlying issue… the anxiety, tension and insecurity my horse felt with me.

My final thought on this and how to address it is in ourselves. I have noticed that anxious, busy, and fearful riders tend to have anxious, busy and fearful horses. Riders who are soft, confident and attentive to the horses emotions, have horses who are quiet and level headed. The secret is in our minds and when we manage our emotions, thoughts and expectations, our horses change their behavior. There’s an exercise I try and teach people who are willing to work on this. Often times they try it when I’m not looking because its a bit of an awkward thing to try. The first time they try it, they get a surprise and ask was that a coincidence that I did this and my horse just did that? Nope!

The ability to practice this awkward exercise leads to the results you are after without a bunch of extra work or training. It teaches you how to be methodical in the development of your horses confidence while you also work on the vision you wish to achieve with your horse. It really amazed me that when I changed my pattern and became more mindful of my horses emotions, the hard stuff became easy. 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about how to help your horse with spooking issues you can join my Face Book groups. There is 2 groups, one that specializes in groundwork and the other specializes in riding. There is exercises as well as application of exercises to maximize the relationship with your horse regardless of the discipline you choose to do.

 

 

Bullying

At some point or another, we’ve all been the victim of someone else’s hate, criticisms and bullying of us. Old timers will say that kids and even adults these days are becoming too sensitive and easily offended by everything. People are offended by the things that are said to them, about them or about things they believe in. While I tend to see it as well and agree, I also disagree.

The last 10-15 years there has been a dramatic shift in our social world with the likes of social media. You can instantly connect with millions of people from all over the world without leaving your house. News spreads like a heavily fueled wild fire in a wind storm. When I was in school, I’d get picked on for being the horsey kid. I’d wear my horse riding clothes to school now and then in anticipation of my after school activities. Kids would pick on me and I slowly quit dressing like a horsey girl to avoid the unkind and uncomfortable comments. The nice thing looking back, was you didn’t have camera phones and social media where your bullies would share how stupid you looked for the world to laugh at. Basically the bullying stayed within your class or group of people you were around.

Today’s bullying has gone to such extremes! Its no longer the small scale like I remember, but now you have social media and keyboard warriors with nothing better to do than say mean and hurtful things about other people whether they know them or not. Now, you have bullies that have a much larger world stage in some cases and they’ll rant and rave as long as they have supporters of their opinions. They can single handedly ruin someones reputation with a few clicks of a mouse whether the information is factual or not. Not to mention the spreading of “fake news” or only sharing bad news or news that fits their motivation in order to gain that power they seek.

Social media is a very powerful platform for most people to share the good in the world. Family love, vacation pictures, competition successes are easily shared to people you don’t see often but can be with, by simply having social media. For me personally, its my way of connecting and helping people all over the world. I’ll post my most proud accomplishments for all my “friends” to see and now and then I’ll post my sad moments, failures or struggles to gain emotional support. This really opens you up and makes you vulnerable as a person because now you are opening yourself up to judgment and criticism from people and a lot of times from people who don’t even know you. People will openly hate on you without a legitimate reason why simply because they can.

Its important to remember that he who is the bully, is the one with the issue. Our true substance is how we treat others. When we bully, mistreat and intentionally hurt others, we are not telling the world who “they” are, but we are actually expressing who we are on the inside. Bullies typically do the most damage when they are protected behind a keyboard because when confronted, most bullies are truly insecure cowards. When you take their barrier away and confront them face to face, often times they are all talk, no action and no real source for true information.

When we are faced with someone bullying us, our own weaknesses will surface and drag us down. Shame becomes a factor where we let the bully’s words validate who we think we are, they validate our feelings of not being good enough. How do we know that… how many times have you been hung up on 1 negative comment about something rather than celebrating the 100 good comments? We become insecure when the chain of community support is broken. Humans are afraid of failure, they are afraid of being alone, and we are afraid of not being good “enough”. Bullying is such a damaging thing, not because of the words, but because those words cause us to doubt ourselves. As a kid I was convinced that I was a dork and an outcast because I dressed in my riding outfit. I felt like an outsider and as a result I changed my clothes to fit in with the rest of the herd. We feel safer in numbers especially when we follow the crowd to avoid being exposed for being different. Now a days, I understand more about shame, as a kid I was very sensitive to what others thought of me. Now, I can go to the grocery store in my dirty jeans, messy hair, probably smelling of cow manure and I don’t care!

I don’t claim to be immune to criticism and bullying one bit, and the more time I spend online, the more I feel insecure about my ability, self worth, etc simply because people make comments that I take personally. I just keep reminding myself to practice skills for navigating my emotions and feelings. I focus on reminding myself that non positive or uplifting comments, are not actually comments aren’t about me, they are about the person spewing their hateful heart and their perspective based on their experience or lack of. When I feel shame, its usually an insecurity and weakness within myself that I need to work on that’ll relive me of my sad thoughts. And when I feel the need to shrink and hide from the peanut gallery to avoid criticism and confrontation, I remind myself that my path, my journey are mine and mine alone. As long as I feel I am doing the very best I can do for myself, that’s all I can do. No one walks in my shoes, no one has my same vision or goals and no 2 people will EVER share the same perspectives or experiences in life, therefore there is nothing I need to change about myself just because someone else has an issue with how I live my life.

Lastly, a great quote I saw the other day was “If I am to be insulted, I must first value your opinion.” I love that because its so easy to take personally what other people say. And with social media, we start to feel insulted by comments from people we don’t know and they don’t know us! How silly is that? So, I remind myself, “do I value this person’s opinion because they wish to see me grow, or am I hurt by the comments because on some level I think they are right?”

 

HAVING A CONFIDENT TRAIL HORSE

Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, outdoor, nature and water

So many people who own horses, love to trail ride. Most people who describe a horse they just trail ride on will say “he’s just a trail horse”. They make it sound as if a good trail horse lacks value for some reason! To me, a good trail horse is one of the hardest things to find. There is so much a trail horse has to endure that other disciples just don’t achieve all at once. I think that statement really discredits the value of a solid trail horse.

As a trainer, I get a lot of customers that want their horses to be better on the trail. Often times the trouble is the horses will spook, shy, bolt, refuse obstacles, jig, buddy sour, panic if they get separated, etc. While these problems are usually symptoms of other issues, they are achievable in fixing by creating a more well rounded training and maintenance program.

Most problems on the trail stem from anxiety. Anxiety is an emotion that stems from not feeling like you have control over what happens to you. You are basically living in the future and thinking and reacting to things that may happen but haven’t happened yet, therefore triggers are everywhere. With horses, when they feel insecure, the react in fight, flight or freeze. The more we can help them understand and practice what bothers them, the more their confidence builds. The important part though, in my opinion, is to have a good starting point where you and the horse have a good relationship and line of communication through solid basics.

Something that changed my program is learning to watch the whole horse, especially the eye. Often times, when a horse spooks or is getting ready to leave during a training exercise, they are looking the other way before their body every shifts. Every horse has a weak spot somewhere. It may be things lying or dragging on the ground, things above them, things behind them or things approaching them from the front. Once I started to take note of the eyes, I realized that the horses weren’t able to look at the thing they were afraid of and at some point they’d escape as the pressure built up. A change to my program was to diversify the exercises I do and incorporating things that teach a horse how to look at the object rather than look away. To my surprise, I found that the things that once bothered a horse, became less and less of an issue if I gave them time look at the thing and check it out. The secret was in the eyes… the eyes said it all!

A common practice is desensitizing a horse to “spooky” objects. I did that for a long time but still found the same weaknesses in the horses as well as dullness to to aids. What I do now, is go back and use some of the same objects but instead of teaching the horse to stand and tolerate them, I work on having the horse connect to the object. When a horse connects to an object with their eyes, the next thing that happens is their body will start to soften. Teach the horse to interact with something spooky rather than just ignore it. When a horse understands how to look at something that bothers them, basically you teach them to rationally approach a situation, they build confidence in the task at hand.

A common issues is working with a horse on water obstacles. Depending on the horse, some have trouble with large bodies of water and some struggle with little creeks. Same goes with tarp work… The key is understanding how that horse looks at the obstacles. Horses don’t have very good depth perception and often they need to look at an obstacle one eye at a time as well as being able to move their head up or down to get a good look at the obstacle. Most riders see a horse moving their head and neck away from the obstacle as a sign of resistance and urge the horse forward. It’s kind of like standing at the edge of a cliff, looking over the side carefully to see what’s below and then having someone come push you closer… it causes you to push back to stay out of danger. Horses are no different.

When working on weaknesses of the horse, I really try and stay patient. If the horse has previous history of being urged off the cliff so to speak, the horse is likely to automatically defend himself in anticipation that you’ll push him. This is a habit that needs to be replaced with another habit of teaching the horse to look and to have him feel that we will allow him to look and investigate the object or situation. If you slow down and allow a horse to do his own investigation, the chances of getting in a fight with your horse will be slim. On the other side of that, there needs to be an effective line of communication. Most horses seek the easiest possible option, not because they are stubborn but because their brains aren’t wired for higher moral thought of doing the right thing even if its the harder thing to do. Having tools on your horse where you can work on obstacles and the horse thinks the obstacle is the easiest option, that is a tool that is your best friend.

Another common problem is horses not wanting to go towards something. They tend to not want to leave the barn, or go towards something they perceive dangerous and we urge them on in an attempt to get them to go. This is very much the same pushing them off the cliff mentality. When you pressure your horse to go forward in a direction they don’t want to go, you are making the right thing hard. Again, horses lack the capacity to understand to do the right thing if they perceive it as the harder thing to do. The resistance you deal with, usually causes us to think of the animal as being stubborn or willful when in reality he’s just seeking doing the easy thing. The trouble with barn sourness, buddy sourness, approaching tough situations, is because the horse already has a level of anxiety about the task because you are taking them out of their comfort zone. When we push them, we double the anxiety they feel as well as push them much further out of their comfort zone. Pretty soon it becomes a learned habit to resist harder and harder because they feel more and more uncomfortable. Hopefully that makes sense… basically to fix  a horse that has issues like this, you do the opposite. Instead of pushing them where you want to go, you allow them to go where they feel comfortable and reestablish a place where they feel at peace and can regain their confidence that they have control over what happens to them. The more a horse feels like they have control of their environment, the more confident they get. BUT… as humans we seem to resist the idea that a horse should control anything… When you change that mindset, everything gets easier!

Building a more confident trail horse is all based around preparation and execution of good psychology practices. The more you prepare with the tools and communication, the more productive lessons you’ll be able to work through with your horse. An attitude where we assume the horse is being stubborn, is often the source of a lot of learned resistance from the horse. Understanding that horses are only wired to do what they feel is easy, allows us to teach them so much without all the turmoil. The old saying of make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult isn’t just a fad statement in the horsemanship world but rather a statement that science backs up. Horses are wired to do what they feel is the easiest thing because energy preservation is the key to survival. Figuring out how to make the right thing easy is the secret to having a confident and fun horse to ride. Happy Trails!

Life Law #7

katybirdLife Law #7: Life is managed; it is not cured.
Your Strategy: Learn to take charge of your life and hold on. This is a long ride, and you are the driver every single day. -Dr. Phil
I love this quote from Dr. Phil. Some love him and some hate him but it’s not the topic here. The topic is “life IS managed; NOT cured”.
Most of my living is made rehabilitating problem horses. The dangerous ones who buck, rear, bolt, bite, kick, strike, spook, etc. A lot of the horses I’ve worked with have severely injured people to the point of near death, broken bones and missing limbs, I know that sounds dramatic, but its true. To most people, they’d say that I have a tough and dangerous job working with animals like this, I must be brave or talented… HA! But when people see what I do day to day to fix their horse, they wonder why they pay me so much because its all pretty simple stuff. You don’t pay me for what I do, you pay me for what I know how to do.
I didn’t create the horse issues brought to me but I continue to learn how to help the animal find a better option. The majority of cases I get are the result of poor handling/training, on top of lots of experience behaving a certain way, combined with physical issues which further exacerbate the problems.
Horses thrive in herds where they get the opportunity to be with other horses, graze as much as they want, move around as much as they want and genuinely find peace in nature. Horses thrive on structure, discipline and compassion they receive within the herd environment. A lack of stability creates uproar and chaos until it is sorted out. If you don’t believe me, put a new horse in an existing herd and watch what happens… Its not all roses and butterflies. The horses are held to a standard where everyone has a place in the herd, they learn rules and boundaries to create a peaceful environment. But it is not cured, it is managed. There are lots of moments where order is reestablished and someone gets in trouble for pushing the boundaries. Some herds settle quickly, while others take much longer depending on the members of the herd and their knowledge of how to behave. I know when I add a troubled horse to my herd, it may take weeks if not months for that troubled horse to learn to find peace in the herd. The herd doesn’t feel sorry for the troubled horse, but rather they give it the same rules and boundaries that everyone else follows.
So its not shock that horses become imbalanced to the point of dangerous behaviors because we tend to confine them, feed them on our schedules, train/exercise on our schedule, lack boundaries/structure and have expectations way above our horses pay grade. Horsemanship is about the human learning how to work with the horse in a way that creates that balance and stability that horses crave. Not too many people have access to land and lots of horses to fulfill the needs of their horse, I know I don’t! So its our job to educate ourselves in how we can manage our horses with the balance our horses crave.
Horses are not vehicles that can be bought fully assembled with all the safety features and come with a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty. Horses are not fixed or cured, they are managed with good handling, structure, discipline and most of all compassion that, after all, they are still horses. We cannot expect our horses to perform higher, behave better or simply hold them to a higher standard than we hold for ourselves.
When helping people rehabilitate their horses, there is no guarantee that my work will translate back to the owner. It is not guaranteed that if you pay me to “fix” your horse, that your horse will be “fixed” in the time frame you proposed and the budget you set. I wish I could do that, but I just can’t make it a guarantee.
Respect, trust and the relationship I build with an animal is not guaranteed to transfer to the owner. It is up to the owner to do the work with their horse in a way that maintains the behavior and balance that I have worked to create. Sometimes that means the owner has more work to do than the horse. If you go back to doing what you did before, you’ll get what you got before. If you change the approach, you’ll change the outcome. Success with horses is learning to change who you need to become in order to have the relationship you want with your horse. The horse simply helps us navigate our journey. They tell us the truth if we are willing to listen and change ourselves.

Lessons learned through horses #4: Patience

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The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That Einstein was a genius with that definition. 

Doing the same thing over and over again can be the difference between making progress and not making progress with just about anything, particularly with horses. Doing the same thing over and over again creates patterns and behavior chains. This is a good thing when the thing done over and over is going to create good patterns and its a bad thing when its used incorrectly.

An example of doing the same thing over and over again that is productive, would be something like achieving a good stop on your horse. In order for a horse to have a great whoa, he needs to have several things working really well first. 1) He needs good, relaxed forward motion 2) he needs to softly yield to the left rein and the right rein independently 3) He needs to yield to your left and right leg independently 4) He needs to give vertically when both reins are picked up on and 5) he needs a good responsive backup without leg pressure. These 5 things when done perfectly with very little pressure from your hands and legs, create a soft, responsive stop. The more systematic you are about perfecting each of the 5 things, the better results you will get, and the quicker you will achieve it. If you get in a hurry, and don’t do the same steps again and again, your stop will be as good as your preparation, poor.

An example of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result would be something like horses that spook. I have learned this lesson hard and well. My gelding, Super Horse was the king of spooking at the same stuff every day in the arena at home. He sees the same objects day after day, and would still jump sideways going past them. Day after day I’d make him go up to the spooky objects to show him that “its just the same stupid barrel” or whatever he spooked at. I did this for a several years before I realized that I was living that definition of insanity.

I began my quest of breaking down why my horse spooked day after day after day at the same crap. Long story short…. it was stress. He was very obedient when ridden or on the ground, but he was never truly comfortable with what he was doing or where we were, so he was always worried under the surface about everything until he was back in his pen with his friends. When I went back and started him over like a young colt, I found so many holes in what I thought was my broke horse, pretty humbling to say the least.

Day after day from there, I changed my routine and I began a new process where I worked on getting him good with his groundwork and good with his basics undersaddle. All the things I struggled on with the riding previously like lead changes, stops, turnarounds, etc were all right there, with hole after hole shining through. My forward wasn’t good, he’d either bolt off and be nervous or he’d be a lazy cow. He was resistant to slight rein pressure because for so long, I MADE him give. He gapped his mouth constantly to avoid the pulling. His back up, flat out sucked because for so long I pulled and kicked to make him do it. Needless to say I apologized to him every day for my ignorance and belligerance towards him and every day he forgave me and tried his best.

The last 2 years of starting over with him have been incredible. I’m nowhere near where I want to be with him, but I am so much further from where I was. He no longer spooks at the stuff in the arena and magically I fixed that not by working on his spookieness but by working on his basics which built his knowledge of what I wanted and ultimately his confidence. The lessons I’ve learned the most out of it was patience. Not patience to put up with the same behavior for years and years like I did, but the patience to work on the same things over and over until you get them right. Basics are boring but they are essential to a happy, well adjusted horse that you can do anything with. Just 2 weeks ago Super Horse started his roping career without a hitch, such a rewarding thing in my book. And it was an easy transition because all the hard work is done!

“Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
— Joyce Meyer

Lessons learned through horses #3:

 

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I remember watching a Dr. Phil show one day when he talked about this very thing. This thing about having conversations that seemingly don’t matter, that way when it comes time, you can have conversations that do matter. You don’t just build trust by jumping into the big issues.

This has really been a big part of my journey with horses. Most horses I own and train have come with baggage. The baggage where they have big issues, dangerous issues, and quite frankly, most of them belong on Dr. Phil if they were human. I think the common denominator with all these troubled horses as well as the troubled people on his show, is communication. The ability to listen as well as the ability to communicate to keep these big problems from coming to life.

Lately, really in the last 6-8 months, I’ve become more aware of subtle body language that horses give. The subtle signals that indicate stress, fear, anxiety, confusion, etc. All of these subtle signs are the start to the problematic behaviors such as spooking, bucking, rearing, bolting etc.

Most people and trainers want to jump into fixing the problem by going after the problem itself, essentially they are going for the hard questions first. Some horses will surrender and hide their emotions to avoid the pressure. For example, a horse that bucks, some people would just hire a good bronc rider to “buck the horse out”. They are directly going after the buck rather than going back to why does the horse buck to begin with. “bucking a horse out” will work on some horses for a while, but on the ones that can’t hide their fear or worries any longer, “bucking them out” will only make their issues worse. Another one is spooking. A horse that is spooky, most people want to desensitize them to everything because they think that will cure their spooking. The real issue isn’t the spooking…

So, how do you have small, meaningless conversations with a horse? I have been starting by reading the subtle things. Things like a horse avoiding to be caught, a horse avoiding interactions with you, a horse freezing or tensing up when he’s around you, etc. When a horse shows these signs, I do nothing, I just hangout. Its a very hard thing for me to do on a patience level but also on a time level. A person paying for training may not like the idea that I am just hanging out with their horse. My own personal horses, I don’t care how long it takes, it is what it is.

I am finding however that the time I spend hanging out with them, is like having conversations that don’t matter. Its like talking about the weather, or what you did over the weekend or something like that, its sounds like nothing, but to the horse it means something, it means that not everything we do is going to require action from them.

This is also where ground work comes in. To most, ground work isn’t essential because they want to trail ride, show or have a working horse, they don’t have time to do ground work and most people don’t “need” groundwork because their horse isn’t dangerous. But groundwork is again another avenue that allows for small talk. With groundwork, you chip away at the small things like direction and speed which creates a level of communication. The more you communicate, the bigger and more important talks you can have later on.

So this weekend, is the last obstacle clinic of the year. In the past I have found that the obstacle clinics are the quickest to fill up. People want to bring their horse that spooks or hates obstacles or is generally unruly because of his “issues”… My goal during the obstacle clinics is to help people better communicate with their horses so its not a fight. Most horses that resist obstacles are horses that have been pushed to do the obstacle or horses that have built up negative emotions in the way they have been trained or handled. But when we break our training down to address the emotional aspect as well as the physical teaching of things, our horses will be better balanced. A better balanced horse will allow us to help him through the hard stuff. When the situations get hard, that’s when you know how good your relationship is with your horse. Does the horse look to you for help or does he take care of himself. Ultimately we want our horses to look to us to help him. We need to not let our horse down….

Lessons learned through horses #1:

As a kid, I got my first horse when I was 8, Gypsy. Gypsy was a 12 year old Polo Pony from Argentina. Needless to say, she probably wasn’t an ideal first horse for a timid, beginner kid. Gypsy is 36 this year and is happily retiring right outside my window ❤️. Things with Gypsy were tough looking back. I remember not being able to ride down to the arena because we’d get to a certain spot and she’d spin around and go home. No matter how quick I thought I was going to be, Gypsy was always quicker, so I basically just rode her in her paddock to avoid the drama. When it came to obstacles, forget it! She was excellent at locking up and refusing to go anywhere near anything that bothered her. I hate jumping to this day because of Gypsy! I can’t tell you how many jumps she ran out on or stopped at that I went over it and she didn’t. But I’m thankful for everything that horse did for me….

The whole I wish I would have known then what I know now, is so true. To know why Gypsy did what she did, to understand her point of view and to have the tools to help her through that would have been so much less frustrating.

My revelations lately have been a game changer for me. I have come to realize that being good with horses (I’m not claiming to be good with horses), isn’t about the horse, it isn’t about the trainer, and it isn’t about the sport you ride, but its about the person/horse relationship. There’s a saying “the horse is a mirror to your soul” is such a true thing to me and it has helped change how I look at working with horses. Our true selves come out in our horses and in order to improve the horse, we must work on improving ourselves first.

The majority of my day is spent rehabilitating problem cases that have been dangerous to people in the past. And its funny because I am not a dare devil, I hate when a horse spooks, bucks, rears and bolts undersaddle, it gives me a knot it my stomach knowing that I have to ride these dangerous creatures. But its not like that. The problem horses are lost, they are confused, they are scared and they need help navigating the world again. Every horse I work with, I develop a relationship with it, not intentionally, but it something that happens when you put yourself in the animals shoes and try to understand where they come from.

People that have gotten help from me KNOW I’m all about groundwork. Ground work, groundwork, groundwork and guess what, more groundwork. To be perfectly honest, groundwork is boring, groundwork is not very fulfilling given how much work it is but groundwork has saved my ass more times than I can say in this little blog. I’ve tracked my steps when doing ground work… there was one day that I walked 8 miles just doing groundwork with the horses in training. That’s insane!!!

Groundwork is vital in my program to stay safe. The horses I get, are usually at the end of the road for the owner. The owners are scared, frustrated and at the end of their patience with their horse. Groundwork safely works out the majority of issues with horses, problem cases or not. Once I started to understand the power of groundwork, every horse has and education in groundwork whether they “need” it or not. I won’t go into all the benefits, but groundwork saved a horses life a few years ago when she got her leg wedged in a fence, the vet was shocked that she didn’t pull her foot off. But the 2 year old mare was educated in the groundwork and did exactly as she was taught and stayed out of trouble until she could be cut out.

Groundwork is the learning of a language as well as the beginning to life’s important lessons. The handler learns how to communicate with a horse in the way that is the easiest for the horse. Its not the horse’s responsibility to get along with us, it is our job to get along with them. Body language, principles, timing, feel and discipline are paramount skills to learn with horses. The most important of those 5 things is discipline. Discipline is our ability to be consistent and thorough every time we work with a horse. The most common mistake I see with people, is they get bored with groundwork and they choose to go do what they want to do instead. Good training is boring, good training lasts a lifetime and good training makes the journey with your horse a lot more fulfilling.

My epiphany recently has been that life is a journey. The journey is the destination. There is only 1 end point and that is when we are no longer living on Earth. There is no endpoint to anything else, you can always do more, learn more, try harder, and dig deeper no matter what you set out to do. My path is my path, and my path is not everyone’s path. But my path is my journey, its my passion and its what helps me be the best version of myself everyday. And groundwork is just a small piece of my journey with horses, I’ll share more soon for those who want to read about it 

Lessons learned through horses #2: Opening doors

 

Several years back I was given a piece of advice that I’ll never forget. I can’t recall exact wording but it went something like, “you have to do the things you really don’t want to do, to get to where you want to go, and sometimes you have to do it for free.” This does not mean doing illegal things or busting your ass for someone else for free just because. This advice for me has opened a lot of doors both mentally and professionally.

Mentally, this advice impacted me greatly because it changed how I view certain work to be done. Some of that work to be done was uncomfortable, mainly because it pushed my boundaries of what was comfortable for me. Whether it was working with a tough horse, putting myself in the spotlight, or taking a risk and expanding my business. No one wants to feel uncomfortable, but those who strive for it, know that there is reward on the other side if you just keep going. Being uncomfortable doesn’t last forever.

I have a fear of getting hurt, duh, not too many people can say they don’t… I have a fear of mainly getting hurt horseback, when it is “out of the blue”. Out of the blue accidents are happening less and less it seems but now and then I learn a new sign that occurs before the “out of the blue” things happens. Humbling moments so to speak, lol. Make sense? I am always dreading the first rides on a new horse, whether a green colt, older horse, or problem case. Especially when I have to ride a horse that I’ve never seen anyone else ride. I have been bucked off enough times to know how much it freaks me out and how it really hurts when you land. Its that innate fear that still pops up every time. But…. and I say but…. because “I need to learn to trust my training” as my good friend Warwick Schiller reminds me quite often. The preparation is the key to success. Having a methodical process you go through to prepare both you and the horse for they journey.

Most people I tend to interact with when it comes to training, lessons and clinics, are people with fear/insecurity when working with their horse. Their fear comes from that same fear I experience, the fear of the unknown or the fear of the known doom awaiting them. I am not trained to help people with fear, but I am trained in helping horses through their fears. So… I teach people how to help their horses through fear. The magic happens during that process more with the people than the horse. Its not about the horse, its about the person sticking to the process, expanding comfort zones and reaching their lifelong goals. You can take a hold of your fears by having creating a step by step safety check list for preparing your horse for the thing you want to do. The person benefits because they get to learn the patterns of their horse. And the horse benefits because he learns the patterns of the person. Patterns are predictable. Predictable behavior creates trust.

Now from a business stand point, you also have to open your own doors, do the work you don’t want to do and sometimes take it as a loss. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a job for free or even lost money because I know it opens the next door. To most people that would seem crazy, I’ve had people tell me to charge more, don’t give things away, blah blah blah. And yes, I get that, but at the same time, you have to give to get. Taking the extra time with someone and not charging extra means the world to that person and they’ll keep coming back. Spending the extra time on a horse in need helps that horse when he goes on to the next chapter.

A couple events have really sparked the opening of doors. Ive taken a ton of opportunities, these two have created the most impact. The first was the Extreme Mustang Makeover Competition back in 2009. Looking back, that was the biggest job I’ve ever done. I had 100 days to take a wild horse, gentle it, train it, then show it in front of thousands of people. I worked with that horses every day, several hours a day. As a result, I won the event, and I won about $2500, a great pay day right?. Now you stretch that $2500 out between time, feed, fuel, hotels, etc. I made about $2/hr. to train the horse. That’s crazy from a business stand point! But the doors that opened were huge!

My most recent big door opening was working with Bundy. Warwick is crazy busy with his clinic schedule and he needed someone to help him out while he was gone. He felt confident in my ability and trusts me enough to let me work with his funny little horse. But Warwick didn’t have time to bring him to me. Most of the time when someone doesn’t have time to bring me their horse, I figure they won’t have time to follow up with the work I do, so I just leave it be. To me when someone wants something bad enough, they make it work. But with this case, I knew that wasn’t the case. I got up at 3am to drive 5 hours down to the Pamona Horse Expo to pick up Bundy on the last day of the Expo, hang out all day, then drive another 5 hours home making it almost a 24 hour day. That was the best decision I’ve made! That day, we met Mary Kitzmiller, a clicker training genius. That day, so many doors opened and that day is the day the world also changed for me. The clicker work with Bundy was so much fun, but it also catapulted my knowledge and understanding with different training principles. I learned a much deeper understanding of how to break down complex tasks. Had I not gotten up at 3am, driven 10 hours, I’d still be where I was 2 years ago!

So when it comes to achieving goals and dreams, you have to do what you don’t want to do, you have to do what is uncomfortable, and you have to be willing to invest your heart and soul. Those who are out there living the dream, they are successful and HAPPY, do all these things. Don’t let discomfort stop you, don’t let the ticking clock stop you, you will get there and it’ll be better than you ever thought. Keep opening the doors!!!