I like this picture of myself and Aundy heading back to the stables after a breed class. She placed very well if I recall correctly. What appeals to me is how in sync with each other we appear to be. Moving together in harmony if you will.
While this isn’t a picture of us at liberty, I feel as though it shows connectedness and I can vividly recall the sence of satisfaction of a job well done and a feeling of unity as we migrated back to our herd. Our footfalls and breathing aligned as we made our way in a very relaxed manner.
Aundy was one of my biggest challenges as a youngster, with deeply held opinions and firm convictions, she and I didn’t often have such moments. I like to think she is one of my biggest influences in looking for quieter, better ways to influence my horsemanship. Not every technique is a good fit for everybody, Aundy was very clear about that. I had to concede that certain natural horsemanship programs were just not a great fit for me with her, and others like her. I like to think my horses all breathed a sigh of relief when the round pen and orange sticks faded away. Not that I don’t use those tools when I feel as though they would be helpful. I do think a solid foundation of communication and fairness towards the horse suits us all. Good skills and timing can be learned, trust is earned.
How you get to your place of trusted leadership in your herd of 2 or 200 is really not for me to dictate. I’ll just leave you with this thought, when you go from point A to point B with your horse do you flow together as if you were herd mates on your way somewhere? Or is something else entirely…?
Ok, so this blog is a bit tardy, however in my defense…this is a blog following my horsemanship journey into a too deeper connection and understanding of horses. No small subject, and I am a bit of a percolator. Yup, like the coffee maker.. in go the ingredients and over time, dependent on a few factors I don’t feel the need to detail for you intelligent folks.. a fine brew is the result. Mostly. Sometimes I need to revisit the proportions and take time to sit and savor the results. Other times.. toss the bitter brew, or weak disappointment, read the instructions and try again. Each result gives me more insight into what I like in a particular roast, more grounds, less time, lower temp.. you get the idea, I’m also a ponderer. Percolate, and ponder. That takes time folks. So if you’re still with me… congrats, and hang in there I like to think it may get more interesting. Back to playing with ponies.
I have the good fortune to be able to work with a few horses I haven’t introduced you to, and in the next few posts, I think I’ll do just that. Each brings something to the exercises I’m exploring. Hence the state of perpetual ponder as I assimilate the information. It is nice to have one horse you know well and trust (who also trusts you.) to work with, but much like learning a new skill in a controlled environment it’s another thing to take out in the real world. I find myself lately looking back through my notes from weeks ago and the more recent. I must confess, the notes from early on would read quite differently now after practice and study with multiple horses and revisiting the lesson material. I am happy to say I’m much less likely to have a bitter brew to swallow. Metaphorically speaking.
This weeks lesson~ Taking territory, or as I like to call it the real estate game.
We have been sharing territory, as well as practicing stillness for a while. What’s next? When do I get to tell my horse what to do? Good news, here’s a good exercise for you to establish a bit of leadership without making a big deal over being the boss-man-big. Taking or claiming territory is a great way to assert yourself and cultivate a willing attitude. Start out in your paddock or pasture, just a hanging with the herd as you’ve perfected, perhaps there are a few hay piles scattered about if no grass available. Begin to advance from a comfortable distance well outside your horse’s bubble of personal space, within eyesight, have a firm intention set on moving horse away from that particular spot. As you advance closer, increase or decrease energy as warranted. Moving the air with gesturing hands or a wand if justified. The idea being a higher ranking herd member can and will move another horse off resources they would like to claim for themselves. No need for drama, a timid horse will require a mere suggestion from a greater distance than a dominant horse. Use your best judgment and as always practice safety. Once they have gone, leave them be to find another pile of hay or yummy spot for there own. I personally am enjoying alternating claiming and sharing territory while taking notes along the way, to go through over a future fresh cup of morning coffee.
I think Redmann has claimed this big bale successfully from his paddock mate.
Do you remember starting a new job and meeting the group of peers for the first time? The very scenario happens to cross my mind quite a bit lately.
What did that feel like? Where you coming into the space as a peer or higher up the chain of command? What energy did you bring into the new dynamic? Did the dynamic change as time and experiences went along?
I’m pleased to introduce Rio. A well-trained, 13 yr old Paint, Andalusian cross gelding. He is bold and confident in both in the indoor, and out on the trails. Ridden dressage by a confident, competent owner. All of his training has been under her with excellent instructors over the years. They have a good sound foundation in dressage and have explored Natural Horsemanship as well as clicker training and other positive methods of training together. He lives with his owner, along with the horses occupying the two stalls in his barn. He has been the constant over the past decade or so, having moved in as a 2.5 year old. The barn CEO. Observing Rio in the herd leads me to believe him to be a dominant horse that asserts himself sometimes forcefully around resources and will boldly come up to investigate any new comers, of any species. He has a delightfully high play drive enjoying all sorts of props, puzzles, and playing with herd mates out in the paddock.
Rio’s owner has generously allowed me to explore the exercises in the FDhorsemanship liberty module and post our journey here. Rio has very strong opinions, and while he can be considered safe to ride and work with he can be difficult to engage with at liberty up close, becoming very pushy and mouthy. Occasionally he will simply balk, and not move forward, choosing to face and hold his ground. He is a quick learner, with he and his owner able to do quite a lot under saddle and in ground work. New persons, looking to connect, and request. Not so much.
I feel like a new manager walking into an office with established hierarchy and set routines, where my ideas are not always met with enthusiasm.
Where to start? At the beginning of course. We’ve done a bit of sharing territory and companionship during which I found he was either very pushy with me around me, my pockets, notebook, anything I had with me. When I set the code of conduct rules in place, he would not move off or away easily and carrying a dressage whip right now is necessary to avoid a bite or grab to my hands or jacket sleeves. He moved easily, with haste when a tool was present, however not without a negative energy feel to it. Afterwards leaving to stand away from me appearing disinterested, or rebuked.
If you feel the need to use a whip, carrot stick, or rope, please remember the following guidelines~ The tool is an extention of you, not for punishment. It should be used in a firm but none threat weilding way to assert your territory or boundries. Use in a thoughtful way starting low and rythmic, moving the air around you or between you and your horse. Sending away should feel a bit like sending ripples of water not big splashes but perhaps waves that increase in size or energy if needed and decreasing or ceasing as horse respondes correctly through movement or softening. Using your hands and tool in a raised “stop” or “halt” gesture if your beastie is coming in hot or lording over and above you can be helpful. ONLY contacting when absolutly nessesary and with out malice. You may want to consider hiring a proffesional to work with you if it feels unsafe.
For now I will concentrate on keeping my energy un-demanding with kind firm conviction when reminding him the code of conduct. Keeping my sessions short in a “nothing personal just good manners” tone.
When opportunities arise to practice mutual approach, I’ll do so, being mindful to observe his body language for any and all “no thank you” messages backing off before they become a “buzz off” command. Furthermore, I will endevor to convey to him that I am fair and consistent in my expectations that he approach and engage with me in a more soft and gentle way. My hope is in the up coming opportunities he and I reach an understanding that he will be listened to long before a big NO is needed, and that his play drive can have an outlet with me that does not involve his teeth and any part of me.
So, why the selfie photo of myself and these 2 lovelies?
I want to talk about companionship, and just being with horses. Yup, hanging with them as just another member of the herd.
What on earth does this have to do with any kind of training with my horse? A lot.
To be honest, I’m fighting a nasty bout of bronchitis leaving me with not much of a voice to record any video of myself and my horse practicing companionship exercises, so when I came across this one I felt it applicable. This selfie was taken after my 3rd attempt at a guided meditation last spring, For me it depicts a very special occurrence and turning point in our relationship. I don’t know what you see here, but it was an amazing experience for me as I turned to see the boys dozing so closely to each other and to my back. Every time I look at this picture I am immediately transported back to the moment before I took it. The sublime feeling of warm rhythmic breath at my back, each of us breathing in time with the other in deep solidarity. Warm and fuzzy isn’t even close to what I was feeling, but it will have to do for now as a description.
That peaceful easy feeling as the song goes.
Indulge me as I tell you how I got there and what came of it.
All those years of learning training methods and techniques was wearing me out. No one system was the perfect fit for me, and I was feeling like something was truly missing. My cup runneth over with information and years of experience. But as a professional I no longer cared care to offer what I had gathered over the years for strategy’s to sort out the many common problems that people asked me for help with. Most of them seemed to create more problems or shut down horses who became just compliant, without much interest in sticking around or interacting.
I had decided quite firmly to start exploring a deeper connection with my horses. No more just telling them what to do all the time and struggling with some of my inner feelings of “unfairness” and lack of clarity toward my horses when pressure or “corrections” were applied. Around that same time meditation was suggested to me after the sudden loss of a friend as a way to help with the grief. I happened across a Facebook link to an equine centric guided meditation. Great way to start right? Use a topic near and dear to me. Two birds, one stone, and all that. Being still was not my strong suit. But hanging out with horses, THIS I can get behind. I was thrilled to discover that my two horses were game and sought me out during the guided meditations, cementing my resolve to delve deeper. Come dive with me.
Stillness and Companionship.
Horses as most of us know, live in the moment. Most of the time is spent just being with each other as a herd. Grazing along side or near trusted companions within the herd dynamic. Perhaps napping or standing watch over others as they doze. Spending time just “being” with your horse in undemanding time is a rich and powerful way to lay a foundation of acceptance and trust. Do it. You won’t be sorry.
Stillness is just that. Quiet, calm, grounded and peaceful. Be still, be aware, but have no thoughts or judgements about what you see. This can be done inside the paddock or just outside. I’ve spent time just sitting along side the paddock of a very concerned horse on high alert with great results. For that particular horse I felt it may be too much to have me inside a relatively small enclosed area where she might feel trapped and guarded. Sitting in a comfortable chair just listening to the sounds all around us, no particular thoughts other than how nice a day it was and how the light breeze felt nice on my face. No agenda, not waiting with anticipation to see if she could come over… I just sat feeling groovy. Did she come closer? You bet. It wasn’t very close, the first time, but she regarded me with less scepticism each session and more trust with the daily handling going forward.It wasnt long before we could comfortably share space in companionship.
Companionship is good right? We can all get behind that. Ask yourself what you bring to the herd as a companion? Inside your horse herd, do you represent a calm and grounded presence with no need to interact? Try it. Ground yourself, clear your mind of expectations and desires then step into the paddock. Hang with the herd, move along with them as they graze, perhaps sit nearby and just enjoy the company. I personally love to just hear the sounds they make while chewing the grass or hay, and the serene feeling of a content herd doing what they do naturally. It’s a bonus to know it’s also money in the bank when training time comes along! The only “rule” here is for you not to initiate contact. If your horse initiates a bit of mutual grooming go ahead and join in, remembering the rules of the road and disengage for anything not gentle and thoughtful in your personal space.
Back to my selfie moment, for a moment. When I first started the exercise it felt awkward. Each session got easier and more comfortable. As I followed the guided meditations each morning, my two geldings would align themselves at my “flanks’ each time. Each would take the same position in the same spot they had previously. It was an amazing thing to breathe along with them and let my mind float into a peaceful state. They seemed to enjoy it as well. Without my initiating it, coming over and just taking up their post each time, showing me what real stillness is. Turns out it can be contagious, that feeling of quiet peacefulness. How cool is that?.
After that experience I felt the need to explore as much as I could about what it is and how to develop it. So now I’m on a quest, studying, practicing, and sharing it with you.
More on herd dynamics in my next post.
‘Till then, just breathe……and hang out with the herd.
A good start of any interaction usually involves politeness, or good manners. Things can go awry if two different cultures and or languages are attempting communication with out awareness of one and others intention or tone. Requests can be misconstrued, and offenses can be taken. Conversely, instant attraction or comfort can be felt with enthusiasm for further interaction.
Have you ever found a person’s tone or “vibe” just rubbed you the wrong way? Or, how about that really interesting person you are simply drawn to and just seem to “get” them or vice versa?
Here is where I get to make to direct correlation to our interactions with horses. (you knew this is where it’s all gonna lead, right?)
What if we could completely change (if needed), or simply improve upon our interactions with our horses in such a way it clears up many common training or behavior issues?
Let’s look at how we approach our horses right from the get-go. First off, before we step for into our paddocks, stalls or pasture there are some basic rules of the road we must follow. Safety is paramount and non negotiable. The two main tenets are thus…
When inviting a horse into our personal space they must be polite, gentle and thoughtful. The same rules apply to us when in our horse’s personal space with the added responsibility to be mindful of whether or not they even want us to approach or to touch them. Always ask permission, make no assumptions, observing our horse’s communications to us.
If horse is pushy, rude or feels unsafe in any way, they must move away from you easily without objection when directed to do so. This is not personal and establishes good manners.
Remember this is a 2-way conversation, you may be surprised with what your horse has to say, don’t take it personal if you receive a fair amount of “no” in the beginning, or a whole bunch of pushing into or through you. If you get all green lights and good vibes, good for you! This work will still be of great value as you deepen your bond using the horses intrinsic language. Go slow, set your intentions and be observant, without judgement. Listen, and respond accordingly.
Be the Vibe that says I’m cool to hang out with.
Set your intention prior to entering into your horses paddock. As you enter, start from where your horse can see you. Move in a slow deliberate way with purpose and with out intensity, in an arc toward the shoulder area. Be mindful, observing any responses from your horse. Their body langauge will communicate to you if they would like to engage with you. If they look disinterested, slow down or stop. Check in with your energy, lower your intensity if needed or simply wait where you are for any indication to proceed. Respect any “no thanks” or “not interested right now” responses. Perhaps you have more of a bold horse who strides right up to greet you. How is their energy? Do they respect your “not so fast” or “that’s close enough”. Often it’s enough to put your hand or hands up in a “stop right there!” traffic cop position, remember~ firm body language and intention in your communication. Once your horse has stopped his feet and has a better, quieter regard for you, then soften you body posture to invite the enthusiastic greeter to approach you more gently. Sending away anything that doesn’t feel gentle or safe to you with “waves of energy” send toward the horse’s neck and or point of shoulders. A firm “shooing away” if you will. With some horses you may need to have a bigger personal space bubble, and carrying a wand or whip to increase your space, NOT for punishment, but to assert yourself at a greater distance. There will be more about the use of tools in a later discussion. It’s enough to say for now, If you have any doubt or concerns about your safety in with a loose horse that shows signs of aggression or dominance please start these conversations outside the pen, go slowly and/or seek professional guidance.
I’m off to converse with my Quarter horse Redmann,
Hello there, thanks for joining me! The quote on this first post is the default example that came with the blog, I found it fitting so here it will stay.
I’d like to start with a brief introduction of myself.
My name Is Sam Stanley. I’m a woman just entering her 50’s, that has been involved with horses her entire life. So much so that it was my whole life.
Starting with growing up in a 4-H leader’s house with our own ponies and horses, I’ve never known anything different. When I grew up I found myself teaching others and their children the joys and rewards of a life with equines. This became my occupation and lifestyle. Building a small breeding farm with Fjords, miniature horses, a few boarders, chickens, and few companion goats, there was hardly a dull moment. Through the years I was teaching beginner and therapeutic riding lessons, along with natural horsemanship sprinkled in all the while broadening my own education. I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have had many lovely horses in my care, and I feel I’ve learned much with and from each of them. Some were more challenging than others, each was a gift.
Reflecting on all that, I find myself searching for connections with horses that go deeper and are richer with a slower more gentle approach. I still teach, just at a very different pace with an emphasis on the connection and relationship aspect of horsemanship.
I’ll continue to explore the deep well that is all things Equine.
Please feel free to join me as I share my experiences along the way. Some of this will be tips and lessons, some will be my observations and musings.
Thanks for dropping by!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton