"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.

Honestly assessing the modern day Instructor/Student Relationship


Today I was catching up with a student who I hadn’t seen in a few years, we wound up having a conversation that was all too familiar.  Irrelevant of the discipline, level of “competition” or desired end goals, I believe the human student is often “failed” by their equine instructor. 

The focus of today’s blog, which honestly I really was going to write as just a quick FB quip, but I couldn’t bear “to leave so much out,” is to address the modern day student- teacher relationship.  Through my experience as a student in various disciplines under the guidance of instructors ranging from Pony Club students to Olympic Gold Medalist, to international superstar trainers to the “dying” breed of quality horsemen roaming ranches throughout the west, I have experienced ALL kinds of “treatment” from my trainers/instructors. 

I’ve encountered positive and supportive to almost noncommittal/aloof, from vulgar and abusive to aggressive and belittling, from patient and kind to tolerant teachers.  Some instructors I believe cared about my well-being, but with others, I was just another “hopeful” student with big dreams/ideas and they were just waiting for their paycheck.  Some really wanted me to understand what they were teaching, but could not communicate verbally in a way for me (and other) students to understand and resorted to bullying or aggressive tactics.  Others at times were frustrating to work with because of the LACK of direct communication, but who forced me to search for answers within my current understanding; often the "aha" moments would come at a later time triggered by something they had said in the past...

All in all it has been quite the journey, and still is an ongoing one.  I suggest to my students in reference to all of the opinionated horse folks they’ll encounter, “take what you like, and leave what you don’t.”  I had to do the same with my own experiences as a student, in order to hopefully become a quality instructor for my students.

I know in today’s western society, we are very “goal” orientated. Somehow people have been led to believe that if we achieve something by a certain point in time that it will translate into us being “successful.”  These time pressures are then felt by trainers and instructors to help hurry up and “get the job done” with a seemingly at-all-cost mentality, towards both the student and their horse, which in the long run can cause frustration and major consequences.

As I’ve written in other blogs, humans tend to put enormous mental pressure upon ourselves.   The negative impact it has on everything we do therein after, actually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of what we originally DIDN’T want to happen, rather than having the self-inflicted time pressure be a tool to help motivate/ improve performances with our horses.  This isn’t to say I don’t believe in mental discipline, I do and most folks have to work incredibly hard to achieve this, but I want healthy mental discipline based on rational clarity rather than emotional chaos.

Over and over among all competitive athletes, not just in the horse world, it seems to “come down” to mental clarity and focus.  So I always wonder what a negative, critical, aggressive, personally-attacking coach adds to a student’s ability to ride in the show arena or at any give point in time? 

Literally so many students come away totally stressed out, emotionally worn out and overwhelmed, from something that was supposed to be fun.  Can a rider have FUN and be competitive?  Of course.

My approach towards humans is similar as to when I’m working with a new horse, if I don’t establish trust and boundaries near the beginning of our relationship, the horse and my students will be lacking focus and unable to “hear” what I’m saying and unable to get the most out of our sessions together.  They are very few other activities that require such an honest and “real time” approach where every single minute matters.

If someone, anyone, at any level/experience is willing to “show up” mentally, physically and emotionally, and is willingly to try, then I’m happy to teach.  But that isn’t always the case.

Just like my “lectures” in regards to riding with intention, I remind folks the more accurate they ride the less “fast” they have to ride and can still have a competitive time, the same goes for mental clarity.  The more mental clarity a person has, the more specific, direct and effective their communication is with their horse.  This in turn makes them “believable” which allows their horse to both “know the plan ahead of time” and trust that their rider is “taking them” rather than just sitting in the saddle reacting after the fact.

I think the teacher/student relationship in the horse world needs to become a respected and treasured partnership, rather than the often “holier than thou” mentality some instructors seem to evolve into. 

I want instructors to be held accountable to be mentally present, supportive, clear and sensitive to what their student is experiencing.  Often I hear “coaching” from “successful” (which in most people’s minds means they’ve placed well in the competitive world) top level professionals, who would make even the most seasoned sailors cringe at their language and insinuations.

Just as you can earn a horse’s trust and lose it in a heartbeat, so can you too with a human student.

I believe most folks whether professional or amateur initially have the best of intentions when they are first involved with the sport, but somehow time and “experience” seem to cloud a lot of people’s perspectives, standards, self-respect, tolerance and goals.

As the “unguaranteed lifestyle of a horse trainer/instructor” takes its toll, many instructors after a while get burned out and are teaching for the dollar, and are so distracted and overwhelmed by the work/financial strains/etc. that often they lose the love for doing it.  Those that do so, also tend to bring a lot of “personal baggage” to their student’s sessions which can have ongoing negative effects.

So how does an instructor’s personal “issues” affect their student?  110% in either positive or negative ways.  Whether or not they realize/recognize/are intentional in how they present themselves, from  how they dress, how they speak, how they approach teaching, etc. completely affects the human student.

I wish more professionals recognized that what works, is healthy, appropriate and suitable for one student may not be for another, of course the same can certainly can be said for a horse’s training program too.  Even at a competitive barn, there does not need to be an instructor creating chaos or turbulence among students by setting an unhealthy undertone.

Students can often suffer from staying with the same trainer out of “guilt” that often has nothing to do with a rational assessment of what the instructor is really offering the student.

So whether you’re an instructor, or in a position of “influence,” or a student, perhaps take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions:

When I take/offer a lesson what is my more-often-than-not feeling I have afterward?

Is any part of what I’m doing allowing me to laugh, smile and enjoy?

Am I feeling a sense of overwhelming emotions every time I teach/learn?

Is my horse happy when I take a lesson?

What have I learned in the recent short term (three months) and the relative long term (year)?

When I think of taking/teaching a lesson what do I feel?

Do I feel the lessons help me and my horse be successful even when the instructor isn’t around?

Do I treat my trainer/student with respect?

What are my goals for working with this trainer?  Are they rational or emotional? Are they reasonable to be asking of both myself and my horse?

Of course the list could go on and on.  But what it comes down to is often people get “comfortable” in their relationships, including those with their horse trainers.  It really isn’t ever a “convenient” time to take some time to honestly assess the quality of relationship/information/instruction you are receiving as a student.

Because of “big names” students can feel paralyzed or worried about judgments from others within the equine community who would be critical of a “lowly student” leaving/questioning an “established trainer.” 

But as I tell most folks, it is okay to take care of you and your horse.  YOU are his only voice.  No matter your experience level, if that little voice in your head is questioning a scenario, trust your gut instinct, and DO something about it.  It is OKAY to say “no,” to not “do” what everyone else is doing/saying, etc.  You are supposed to be having fun; yes it can be “serious and intense” but if you’re not having fun, your horse certainly won’t enjoy the session either, which only sets the tone for the next time you go to take a lesson.

Be proactive as a student, take time and explore, audit lessons/clinics, DON’T get distracted by someone’s credentials, and remember just because someone can ride well does not mean they can teach well.   Feel that your communication with your instructor is a two way, respectful relationship.  If you have concerns, fears, and issues or questions, your instructor should be a “safe” person to consult with.  If you feel intimidated, overwhelmed or stressed at the thought of “discussing” anything with your trainer, I’d suggest stepping back and re-evaluating.

Here’s to seeking quality teacher/student relationships and fun learning!

Sam

The honesty in horses...

For me personally one of the things that keep me “motivated” in working with horses is their honesty.  Even if I don’t like “what they are telling me,” they are keeping things very real.  If they are having a problem, behavioral issues, insecurity, fear or are feeling “quiet” it is real. 

I was talking with an older farrier and a vet over the last several days and a common theme of owners not wanting to admit what has been going on with their horses came up in our discussions.  Whether it is an obvious physical issue or an emotional one, if you are willing to listen, the horse will often tell you his story.

The question I pose to most clients, and yes most wait until it has “gone wrong” before they seek out someone like me to help, is “what is your underlining goal with having/riding horses?”  The initial response is usually a self-centered based thought, i.e. I want to relax and trail ride, I want to compete, etc.  And often it is not until owners find themselves with a horse that is not able to “tolerate” what humans are asking/presenting to him, that they realize, the relationship between human and horse cannot be a one way interaction and reach a rewarding and successful partnership.

So what is considered “successful”? Depends on who you ask.  For some it is the ribbon won in the competition for others it can be as simple as “surviving the ride.” (You may laugh at the later, but I cannot tell you how many people are riding in constant fear due to the “survival” approach.)

Successful to me means a mentally, emotionally and physically happy/comfortable horse.  What is “done” with the horse (trail riding, working cattle, competing) I believe should be an after affect, rather than the sole focus.

If you took a vehicle that had mechanical problems, or even something as simple as a flat tire, and used it to “perform” (drive, haul a trailer, etc.) you may be able to cover some ground or get to some destination.  But without addressing the problems the vehicle has, you’d always carry some worry, stress and concern about whether you’d make it without breaking down, having an accident, etc.

And yet so often with our horses, we get easily distracted by our goals and wants, that our vision becomes clouded as to “what is really going on” with the horse.  Sometimes we “see” but don’t want or know how to deal with what our horse is experiencing.

I believe it all comes down to time.  I know in past blogs I’ve mentioned time and not rushing interaction with your horse, but I cannot stress enough the mental “urgency” we as humans tend to carry with us when we don’t even realize it.  Why are we really “rushing” and not addressing what the horse is doing?  Is whatever we had planned so important that we cannot take an extra few minutes to address the horse, or perhaps even “change” what we’d planned on doing with our horse that day?  For most riders, there are lots of “old wives tales” that seemed to have misdirected and influenced their intentions.

Often I believe the biggest “gift” I can give to students and their horses is allowing them the opportunity to slow down.  Literally explaining that they don’t “have” to do anything, letting them experiment with searching for how to help create a change in their horse’s mental and emotionally state.  With the removed self-inflicted mental “urgency” so many people get so much more “done” with their horse. 

The irony is often in the rushing chaos, little is accomplished, and as soon as a student’s mental chaos is slowed down, they immediately see changes in their horse, and are usually shocked at how quickly they can influence a change.  But most folks don’t know how or even recognize to pursue helping their horse until the horse reaches that point of change for the better.  Often they accidentally leave the horse in an uncomfortable state, only setting up the horse to be more defensive/worried/anticipative during their next encounter.

So whether anyone else around you is doing it or not, even if you’ve owned your horse for years, please recognize any excessive movement, chaos, busy-ness, distraction, anticipation, or other behaviors are not an accident.  The horse is being honest in what he is showing, so please be proactive and see if you can mentally and physically slow down to start to address your horse, in the end what you’ll “accomplish” will be rewarding to BOTH you and your horse’s well-being!
Sam

Believing the horse

Thought for the day... "Believing the horse." 

I cannot explain why or when in society us humans learned to "ignore" nature, quit paying attention, and don't believe what we were seeing, but it certainly becomes apparent when working with our horses.  So often the horse is doing everything he can to show he is in need, is having a problem, is stuck, etc...  I wish more folks to the time to PAY ATTENTION to their horses. 

The odd behavior, the uncommon whinny, the slightly amped up energy or worried look in his eye.  These things are real.  They only have so many ways of asking for help- whether trying to show the water trough is tipped over, not loading because of the bee's nest in the trailer, not going down the trail because of the unseen wildlife, attempting to prevent saddling/being mounted because of painful, ill fitting tack.

Perhaps take a few minutes and assess how much do YOU believe what your horse is telling you, or do you tend to "blow off" unwanted, unexpected or resistant behavior?

The more you become available to hear your horse, the more you'll be amazed at what he shares with you!

Sam

July 25-27 Full Immersion Clinic

Full Immersion Clinic Reminder: Come spend three fun filled, mentally stimulating days with me at the July 25-27 clinic here at The Equestrian Center in Sandpoint, ID.  Learn how to clearly and effectively communicate with your horse, decrease fear issues, improve your confidence and much more.  Both individual and group time, this is a safe and supportive setting for you and your horse to learn in.  Limited to eight participants and auditors are always encouraged.  Please click HERE for details and registration.

DeCluttering and simplifying our Horsemanship

I believe there are various ways to approach teaching people and horses; my personal theory is to keep things as simple and straight forward as possible.  By offering a clear, intentional thought process in how, what and why we “do” something with our horses, a student can learn to “think through” scenarios to help their horse while eliminating a reliance upon an instructor. The less complicated the communication offered the easier it is for the horse to trust, believe and try. 
I remind people that a horse’s skin twitches when a fly lands on it.  So why does a horse tend to “lose” that level of sensitivity the more he is handled by humans?  People frequently send unintentional or mixed signals and accidentally desensitize their horses when not meaning to do so.  As time progresses it sometimes seems to take increased effort and energy from a person while getting less participation from their horse.   If it is taking a “lot” of energy from you to get a response from your horse, something isn’t clear.
A horse arriving for an assessment I approach having no assumptions irrelevant of his age, experience or past training.  People are surprised at how many “finished” horses still have some major holes in their basic education.
My goal is to see a horse think BEFORE he moves.   I want to see his eyes and ears focus towards where I direct them, to see a relaxed emotional and physical state and consistent breathing.   Once he offers these things, a horse is usually mentally available to “hear” what I am asking of him physically.
I suggest folks evaluate the clarity and effectiveness of their communication with their horse through both spatial and/or physical pressure using something practical to communicate with, such as a lead rope.  
The initial “conversation” with the horse should include (not necessarily in this order) yielding to light pressure, a willingness to following pressure, the ability to think (without moving) towards the left, right, forward and backward.  Assess if the horse offers to softly step on or towards something and shift his weight when asked?  Is he respectful of “personal space?” Does the horse’s curiosity increase when something new is presented?  (Sadly sometimes the more education/experience a horse has the less curious and interested in “life” he becomes.)  Does the horse happily “search” for what is being asked, or does he try one or two options and then mentally check out and physically shut down if he didn’t figure out what was being presented?
Excessive/unwanted movement from the horse usually develops from too much chaos created by a person who may be doing things such as “driving” with the lead rope, micromanaging, endless repetition, patternized routines, etc.  I’d like for a student to move less casually and more intentionally. This will help their horse’s brain to focus on something specific, and then offer how much “energy” they want their horse to move with through increasing their own energy.
Whether lining up with the mounting block, crossing water, standing on a tarp or loading into a horse trailer, the focus should not be on accomplishing the final “task” at hand, but rather for the horse to be mentally present and available, offering a “What would you like?” mentality as oppose to the more typical and defensive “Why should I?”
A new client recently attempted to load her horse into her trailer the “old” way by pressuring the horse’s hindquarters.  She never noticed that her horse was not looking at the horse trailer. I suggested through using the now effective “tool” the lead rope had become, she could narrow the horse’s thoughts from looking at everything EXCEPT the trailer to directing them to thinking solely into the trailer.  Once the horse finally acknowledged the trailer, the horse quietly and reasonably offered to place one foot in the trailer, paused, then offered the second front foot.   He stood half way in the trailer and took a deep breath. 
They stood, they breathed and they relaxed.  He backed out when asked.  She asked him to “think in the trailer” and again he gently loaded his front end and paused.  When she asked him to think “further” into the trailer, he loaded all four feet, quietly waited for her to ask him to move up to the front and stood nicely while tied. 
The owner was shocked by how little effort it took when compared to past experiences.  I explained adding “gas” or “driving” the horse with pressure to get him to load, without having a “steering wheel” was going to add chaos to the horse’s already distracted brain and add to his insecurity.  Instead slow down his thoughts until he focused on one simple, attainable task, such as “Think straight.”  Then add, “Think straight, take one step.”  We just happen to be thinking “into” the horse trailer.
Mental and physical “baby steps” can decrease overwhelming feelings that stress humans and horses in new or unfamiliar scenarios.  Slowing down allows the opportunity to mentally digest what is happening and it gives the person time to offer their horse specific and clear direction.  Learning to help SUPPORT the horse will increase his confidence every time he tries something new.
I smile as I remember various scenarios where I’ve casually taken away numerous quick-fix training gadgets that people truly believed would help improve their horsemanship and help their horse “overcome” a problem but really were Band-Aid “solutions” for a short while.
Teaching people and horses to think first, then physically act, and by using simple tools to communicate effectively and clearly, will allow both to achieve a calmer, safer and satisfying partnership.
Here is to keeping it simple…
Sam

Spring is here, now what?

Here in the Pacific Northwest many horse owners are lucky enough to keep their horses at home and have the opportunity to “just ride” whenever they would like; though the ease of accessibility is awesome, it can often become an “isolated” experience without other equine enthusiasts to share ideas, thoughts or experiences with.
For horse folks that are not competition motivated, or are not focused on basic education with a young horse, I find that sometimes those who ride for pleasure experience a “gray area” in regards to the direction they are taking with their equine partner.   
A person’s lack of direction can create patternized routines and rides, which is when a horse learns what to expect with each human interaction.  This can lead to resistance from the horse the day the person decides to “suddenly” change the routine.   The routine can also lead to boredom for horse and human; how many times would you be interested in doing something over and over again?   Without intention and clarity in a person, it is difficult to create a quality partnership with their horse.  A person’s lack of mental presence also conveys to the horse that he is “own his own” as far as leadership goes.  This can lead to problems and unwanted behaviors in the future.
At the other end of the spectrum sometimes “overly” participating in large group gatherings can be overwhelming for a rider and their equine mount.  In trying to expand their equine associated acquaintances sometimes busy social activities may not be appropriate depending on a horse and rider’s experience and abilities.
So what can you do?  Here are a few ideas…
1.)          Every two weeks “add” one small new concept, idea or thought to YOUR knowledge base regarding anything equine related.  This can be read, watched, and/or heard.  You don’t have to “totally get it, understand it or want to use it.”  But it will be something new for YOU to think about.  It can take a long time of “mulling something over” before you can have an opinion about it.
In this day and age media allows us the opportunity to see, hear and read things we would never have had access to in the past.  Take advantage of it.  It could be as simple as watching random amateur horse videos on YouTube, auditing a local competition or volunteering at a horse related gathering.
2.)          Take a lesson (whether focusing on ground work or riding,) or better yet if you can, first audit a lesson with a QUALITY instructor.  Remember just because someone can ride well, does not mean they can teach well; take your time in finding a suitable instructor.
Lessons sometimes have the stigma among pleasure riders that they are only needed if the person/horse is “having a problem.”   Instead they should be thought of as a great opportunity to get an equine professional’s assessment.  The instructor may offer appropriate and specific ideas and suggestions for future improvement in you and your horse. 
To get the “most” for your money, find someone to video you (have them practice filming moving horses ahead of time.  The video should be recorded in close proximity to the instructor so that when you watch the video later you can hear what the teacher is saying in relation to how you see yourself riding.  Being able to review the video multiple times may help you better recognize problems, and continue to improve upon them in the future.
3.)          Find a riding buddy.  I don’t mean someone you will brainlessly gossip with when you ride out on the trail, but rather someone with similar horse related interests, approaches and goals who you will ENJOY  spending time with. 
I cannot begin to tell you how many times when a client is explaining a past scary or dangerous riding incident, in hindsight folks realized that the manner in which they “handled” (or didn’t) the unexpected scenario was partially or completely based on feeling “pressured” from direction and instruction by good intentioned but not experienced enough fellow riders.
Find a pal to who shares your equine related approach, enthusiasm and goals to help you both stay motivated and safe.  There are always notice boards at the local feed store, Co-Op and online are plenty of websites (horse and non horse related) where people can search for others with similar interests. 
It might take a little time and effort, you may have some “misses” in searching for potential riding partners, but eventually you’ll find at least one person who will share your enthusiasm. 
4.)          Sometimes especially with younger horses and older riders, owners tend to send their horse away for a spring tune-up, which can definitely be helpful.  BUT I also try and explain to folks that if you are not on the same page in understanding how your horse is being worked and how the trainer uses their aids to communicate, even if the horse returns home “tuned up,” you as the owner often are not. 
Sadly every year owners invest a lot of money into their horse’s training thinking they will have a “finished product,” not realizing that they too must learn what their horse is learning.  Otherwise within a few days often there is miscommunication, frustration and deterioration in the relationship between human and horse.
Hopefully these ideas can offer you realistic, attainable and affordable options to help jump start to your riding season and improve the partnership between you and your horse over the long term.
Have fun,
Sam

FINAL April Group Conference Call


April 26th 10am-10:45am PST

"Clarifying communication between Humans and Horses"

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

 The first week's call, "Raising mental availability in Humans and Horses," and last week's "Humans having Intention," was a great success and I had lots of positive feedback from both sessions. If you missed out, you can still register and hear the recorded versions.

Remember, you must REGISTER in order to participate and/or have access to the calls and/0r the recorded playback of them.

For details and to REGISTER 

Spot available in horse trailer

Private trailer leaving sw AZ in early May heading to n. ID. This is the 11th year I'm doing the semi annual trip. Private layover facilities at either end available. Please email me with pick up/drop off locations for a reasonable quote. Available for equine, mule, donkey, goats, dogs or cats!