"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2014. Information posted on this site may NOT be reproduced without written permission.

Group Conference Call April 19th- Don't miss out!

Reminder: Group Conference Call Saturday April 19th 10-10:45am PST "Humans having intention."

Even if you cannot participate for the entire duration, you can still register and enjoy replaying the recorded call at a later time.

Last week's call, "Raising mental availability in Humans and Horses," was a great success and I had lots of positive feedback.  If you missed out, you can register and hear the recorded version.

Remember, you must REGISTER in order to participate and/or have access to the calls and the recorded playback of them.

For details http://www.learnhorses.com/Conference%20Call/conference_call_to_register.htm

Timing & Energy

A lot of my teaching you'll hear the repetitive theme of using appropriate timing and just enough "energy" to influence a change. A client shared this video at a clinic this weekend and it was a fantastic example ... http://youtu.be/8SEP_GJKlL0

April Group Conference Call Reminder

Group Conference Call REMINDER: bit.ly/1shkPoO Sat Aril 12, 19, 26 10-10:45am. Don't miss out! All calls recorded so even if you can participate you can always replay call at a later date.

April Group Conference Call Series

Please join me for my new group conference call series! 
Date & Topic:
Saturday April 12th 10-10:45am PST         
Mental Availability in both Horses and Humans
Saturday April 19th 10-10:45am PST          
Humans Having Intention
Saturday April 26th10-10:45am PST           
Clarifying communication between Humans and Horses
How long is each call? 
Each call will be 45 minutes and each one will be recorded so that if you are unable to participate during the entire call or if you’d like to replay it at a later date you can.
How does it work? 
After registering (see below) you will be provided detailed instructions for calling and participating.  It will be a relaxed discussion based on the designated topic followed by Q & A from participants time permitting.
Does the call cost anything?
I am charging $5 via PayPal.  The conference call is long distance so call charges are according to your telephone carrier.   
How do I register?
Once your payment is made via PayPal you will receive a confirmation number.  Email me the confirmation number from your payment, and I’ll email you the conference call information.  That’s it!
Can I register for all three calls at the same time?
Yes, click the PayPal link below and you will can pick your payment option for one, two or all three calls.
Reminder notices
I will send out reminder notices to participants the Monday and Friday before each call.
Thank you for your participation.  I look forward to speaking with you soon!

Experiemental Interaction with your horse...

I am the first to admit that I’m quite resistant to most “step by step” methods of training.  I find that although what/how you ask something of your horse may “seem initially clear” with a one, two, three type of instruction, due to the focus of the end goal, it also limits a person’s perspective in seeing what is ACTUALLY happening in what I call “real time.”  Often the horse doesn’t act/react as shown or explained in the article or TV show, and the person is at a loss as to what to do next with their horse.  If there is a lack of understanding as to the how, whats and whys someone is doing something with their horse, it leaves a lot of room for miscommunication.

So as I hear, read, or witness the ever popular “desensitizing for the general public” strategies offered, my stomach literally knots up as I imagine the novice, inexperienced or under-educated horse owner heading out with the best of intentions in attempting to help their horse with a “spooking” or “scary” issue. In trying to imitate the article’s instruction or the DVD’s “how to” series, instead of a successful outcome, all too often there tends to be a massive amount of chaos, insecurity and fear instilled in the horse (and often owner), whether or not it is immediately apparent is another issue.

As an owner realizes the predicament they and their horse are now in, often they turn to trainers like me, who must then “undo” (in both human and horse) what had been previously taught, and re-educate to build confidence and trust between the human and horse.

As much of the modern day “work with your horse” or strive to create a “partnership” using gentler techniques than those methods taught in decades past,  the reality is, if you aren’t handling, watching, and experimenting with numerous horses on a regular basis, the chances are your timing, understanding and communication will be lacking.  If you are “brainlessly” following a step by step instruction guide on how to work with your horse there usually isn’t much thought given to any of those three crucial pieces in your relationship with your horse.

Of course it is much easier to appeal to the mass of horse owners by offering specific step by step generalized instruction, but it leaves so much unsaid.  There are those folks who think their horse is “ready” for ____________ and so may follow a guide referring how to _____________.  What they may not realize is they are missing the initial tools or clear communication that must be established before they attempt ____________ with their horse.

And what most folks aren’t either seeing or understanding, is evening if a trainer is doing a step by step “live” demo, the trainer’s timing and feel are going to be very different than that of an amateur’s.  Rarely do I come across a horseman who can communicate with humans as well as they can with a horse. 

So this leaves gaps between what a student thinks they are seeing, and a lot of “stuff” that may be happening that the student doesn’t even realize is occurring, has been addressed/shut down/prevented, and then the trainer has moved on.  And with horses, the difference in the final outcome in relation to communication offered at ten seconds versus a minute later can be huge.  But people don’t realize that.

In society we are taught to look for results.  The bad news is this mentality seems to blend into our horsemanship.  Did my horse CROSS the (tarp, bridge, water)?  Rather than evaluate, how did my horse FEEL about the (tarp, bride, water)?  Even if the horse physically crossed, jumped into/onto, loaded, etc. does not mean he felt good about it.  And each time he complies with something the person wants, but feels worse afterwards, the human is unknowingly teaching the horse to become defensive and resistant. 

So six months down the road when the horse “suddenly” decides to quit complying, often the moment he chooses to quit tolerating what the human is asking, isn’t the moment of the “issue” but is rather the moment the issue has come to a head.  The real “issue” started six months earlier and each scenario after that just reinforced the increasing fear in the horse along with his worry and defensiveness, even if he may have initially seemed “fine” because he had physically accomplished the task presented.

Perhaps I am being an idealist when I believe that folks can actually DO a lot more with their horses than they realize.  I truly believe if we took society’s expectations of “accomplishment” away from our thinking when approaching and working with our horses, we’d actually get a lot more done with an increased amount of quality and trust between horse and human. 

I think according to the last statistics I read, out of the entire riding community, about 85% are amateur or pleasure riders.  If that is the case, then why can’t we mentally and physically slow down and REALLY start to learn about ourselves and our horses?  What “end result” is so important that we choose to sacrifice the quality of our partnership with our horse for it? 

From teaching small children to enthusiastic equestrians in their 80s, I am always amazed, at the almost immediate visible sign of PHYSICAL relief in a human student, when I suggest the idea of “removing” any level of society inflicted “must accomplish” myths in regards to their horsemanship and riding. 

It is like a weight has been lifted, that person can suddenly just focus on BEING with their animal, and now, without the self-inflicted “rush-y feel” within themselves, can start to see clearly what exactly is happening with their horse.  I know that sounds a bit odd.  But the more “stuff” people try to do, the less they literally see. 

I always refer to the novice or inexperienced horse person as being able to be the most “clear” about what they see in their horse.  This is because the person has a clean slate, and hasn’t had years of unknowingly being desensitized to ignore horse behaviors whether it be by good intentioned “horse folks,” through lessons or just friendly opinions. 

I’ll give you an example:

If a horse is tied and swinging back and forth on the lead rope, an inexperienced horse person might pause and be a little wary about the horse’s hind end moving all over the place.  I’ve heard many folks in this scenario voice, “I wonder why he is doing that?” as they try to stay a safe distance from the moving hindquarters.

The “experienced” horse person on the other hand all too often seems to “blow off” behavior such as this with either a justification, “Oh, he just does that,” or a physical reaction such as slapping the horse on the hindquarters until he quits moving.  And the horse may respond and stand still, but was the real problem the movement and was it fixed?  No.  The movement is a result behavior, or symptom, due to some unrecognized/addressed issue.  Often anticipation to what is about to happen can cause “busy horses” beforehand.

This whole blog came about in my mind today as I worked a 10 year old 17H half Arab/Warmblood gelding.  He’s big, he’s super athletic and he has a lot of baggage.  A majority of all his human experiences as a youngster were about “submission” both towards the human and physically towards foreign aids such as draw reins.  His “method of survival” was to either ball up physically to avoid reprimand, or to get really, really, really big and dramatic.

As a result, he had so much mental stress, he had physical issues.  Once the physical wear and tear on his body was decreased and addressed, taking on his patternized (see past blogs for more on that subject) responses as a way to get through something was the next priority.

He has boarded on and off at the same property for several years; in some parts (where he has the opportunity to graze five to six hours a day) he looks as quiet and calm and happy as can be, yet there are other areas he will explore only if other horses are around, and still other places irrelevant of other horses present or not, he will not travel of his own free will.

He is such a great example of a horse that you could manhandle (to a point) into submission for the sake of accomplishing a task (i.e. we must ride next to the scary orange trees with the noisy birds in them.)  But I believe his current behavior, fear, insecurity, worry, defensiveness, spookiness, etc. is the continuing result of his initial training as a youngster.  Too much asked, too soon, too harshly, too many human goals.  And here he is YEARS later (without much riding or handling in between) and he still carries a very strong defensive “survival” mentality.  I believe his “restrictive” initial education handicapped his willingness to try.

My goal is that he can slow down mentally (which will in turn slow him physically) and not just in a scenario but rather to THINK through each scenario I present.  To teach him how to learn to try, and help him realize his efforts will be recognized (giving him a break to mentally to process every time he addresses things in a reasonable manner) and to help him to learn to let “it” (the stress, worry, concern) go rather quickly. 

My goal on this windy, blustery day was to help the horse feel better.  It didn’t matter if it was for him to feel better in the open, by the trees, moving slowly or picking up the pace.  Feel better both near and away from the other horses.  I was very, very proud of his efforts today.  You could see his brain thinking, his eyes blinking, him experience an emotional roller coaster as he explored brainlessly reacting vs. thinking through what I was asking of him.  For the most part things were quiet and slow.  Other times as he was exploring his options, there was big and dramatic movement.   Each time he got big and mentally checked out, he succinctly shortened the time of being “lost” through his own decision to quit brainlessly fleeing the scene if he was unsure.

Each time he’d fall apart he’d literally grunt (due to inconsistent breathing,) he’d jump with legs going in four different directions; he’d appear on the edge of I-just-want-to-explode physically.  It was like he had to peer over the imaginary “ledge” and then chose to step back.  By allowing him to TIME try, to think, and not critique him, the more he kept letting down.  Then he’d offer to stay mentally present longer and could focus, causing the feeling to flee to decrease, until finally it evaporated. 

Through all of his dramatic, “light switch” changes in his emotions and physical behavior, I was imagining how many folks could seemingly “steal” a ground work session with a horse like this.  He had been taught in steps, and if you presented things in that manner, he’d resort to his old mentally shut down self but would appear physically “quiet” and compliant.

So rather than address any real problems, you could very easily gloss over his “issues” if you stayed within the imaginary safe boundaries he felt existed.  But if you decided to one day present a new, random goal, he is a horse that could very easily hurt you in a heartbeat.  Not out of aggression, but out of resorting to survival mode.

So irrelevant of your experience, history with your horse or other equines, take a few minutes and evaluate what it is that you’d like to get out of riding or working with your horse.  Then you might ask yourself if what you want is an ego or emotionally driven desire?  You may also present yourself with investigating if you’ve noticed any fear(s), insecurities, gray-area moments, etc. as you work with your horse.  Start to recognize if you’ve created/presented any patterns or routines in either you and/or your horse’s interaction.  Notice if there is anything you “always do” and then ask yourself why? 

Experiment with slowing down your own brain, ideas, and goals to become more present.  I joke that horses have A.D.D. but humans are even worse when it comes to lack of mental presence in general, and certainly when it comes to their horsemanship.  Start to search for quality in the most basic things, such as catching your horse, leading your horse, grooming your horse, tying your horse.  Remember that everything is connected. 

Another example I’ll use:

The draggy horse (thinking backwards, heavy or slow in movement) on the lead, is already telling you his lack of mental availability for the upcoming ride.  Why not address the unavailability and resistance on the ground BEFORE you ride? 

An extra five minutes on the ground could change the overall feel of the ride.

So the next time you head out to “work” your horse, perhaps change the semantics to “play, have fun, explore” with your horse.  If you find yourself starting to say, “My horse…” Try and change it to “I can help my horse…” 

The next time someone rushes you, or offers an unasked for opinion while you’re exploring how you work with your horse, kindly reply, “I appreciate your suggestions but I’d like to experiment on my own for a few minutes.”  Most folks will be taken back; nobody uses the words “experiment” and “horse” in the same sentence.  People have been taught to fear change, to quit thinking and to quit asking questions.  I’m not sure why people give in to those mannerisms (or lack thereof) but it has damaged many relationships between horse and humans.

Give yourself one week of experimental interaction and see what happens…

So go have some fun with your horse!


Spending time with my horse…

 Some of you may recall, I have a horse "Pico" who I unintentionally acquired (don’t we all) as an orphaned three month old colt. I’m not a "pretty horse" or "specific type" of person, but he was scraggly, gangly result of an unintentional breeding, and his tiny QH body was not much to look at. I kept him close to my athletic, graceful thoroughbreds and Warmblood horses hoping that their coordination, height and athletic ability would somehow rub off on him through equine osmosis. It did not!

Pico was on the slow track in his physical maturity to the point that up until he was seven years old I still found myself calling him "my colt." His face didn’t make him look much other than three years old.

After years of finally learning to "just say no" I have managed to dwindle down my herd to just one horse and one pony, and low and behold, Pico is the last I have.

As the old saying goes, "the cobbler’s children have no shoes," sadly (though not to Pico’s dismay) I honestly never put the "time" into my own horse. (For more of his backstory you can visit a previous blog "Confessions of a horse trainer."

But fast forward to present day and this winter is the first time I have consistently been riding Pico. I’m sure 90% of it was mental, but somehow I felt the time had come to put some quality time into my horse. A client who had leased Pico last winter had inquired about him recently and I was surprised at my genuinely enthusiastic response about riding him.

It seemed that though his lack of natural ability would never allow him to be one of the dreamy rides of my equines past, he was fun. Turn on a dime, halt to "sort-of-gallop" speed (I joke he is my "standing horse") in just a few steps.

I can pick oranges from his back and I can navigate him through the obstacle course of baling twine "gates." I can swing a rope off him or ask him to move laterally across poles, I ride him into/onto anything (porch, bridge, trailer, etc.)

Out of the herd of nine horses grazing in the pasture at any given time, I can call his name and he picks up his head, whinnies and comes trotting over. I do haunches in, to a spin to jumping over a log without batting an eye. I find myself finding a bit of the "teenager feel" with him that matches is personality.

A young child can climb up on the wheel well of the trailer and Pico will patiently swing around and sidle up as close as he can and waits patiently as the youngster scrambles aboard. I can tap his leg and he’ll bow quietly or I can sit on him and open my trailer tack room door, lean inside and grab my rope bag and pull out one, build a loop and swing a few times.

As much as he is stiff and naturally awkward thanks to bad conformation and a slight club foot, he makes me smile. His scrawny frame leaves much to be desired when riding bareback and those who are interested in the "swirls theory" would have a heyday inspecting his goofy coat. His mane and tail were why they invented false hair for horses, and his quirky moments make those who meet him smile.

He is the horse I’d ride straight off a cliff, or straight up through chest deep snow when unexpectedly encountering a summer "patch" high up in the Rocky Mountains. I can trail blaze and clear trail on him and jump him over anything I see even though he is not naturally the bravest of creatures.

The horses who arrive for training are most enthusiastically greeting by Pico whose second main goal in life is pretending to be the herd boss. He picks on the Shetland pony (literally dragging him around) when he can, and yet will stand quiet and patient next to an ailing horse. He is happy to be led by a pint size human, always respectful spatially and careful not to knock them over.

This past fall as I made the trek south, I overnighted in Pocatello, ID. I pulled into their fair grounds after dark and as I removed his halter I realized it was the first time he’d ever been in a stall, in his entire life!

He’s the horse you have to make sure the trailer door (on anything, anywhere) is closed; otherwise he’ll load himself up always ready to go, whether alone or with company.

He’ll push cows or round up horses; he’ll pony or be ponied off of towing three or four youngsters behind him.

He still has plenty of areas I could fine tune and improve, and certain things I know he tolerates but would rather not do or partake in.

Mostly at this point, I am realizing that for all of my "talking down" about him, in the end he makes me smile and I find myself truly having fun when I ride him. He is bringing me back to a time I’d experienced long ago when all the horses with human problems didn’t exist, where anything was possible with my horse and "playing" with/on my horse was the norm.

We’ve reached a point in our partnership where I feel free to experiment and he feels free to try, without a defensiveness or worry. I feel and can "hear" the conversation between us during each ride.

He’ll never be great at anything, but he has developed into the horse that I can do anything with. For those who remember the children’s story, "The little train that could," I feel like for me, it should be like, "The little horse that could."

He is a great example of finding pleasure from an "unexpected horse." For all of you who may or may not have experienced a "Pico" in your life, I wish you get the opportunity to do so at some point!



Winter 2013/2014 Hoofprints & Happenings Newseltter

Please enjoy my latest Hoofprints &Happenings Newsletter filled with LOTS of info! http://www.learnhorses.com/newsletter/H%20&H%20Winter%202013_14.pdf