Horsemanship Foundation Needs Revisiting

I first started studying natural horsemanship in 2012. At that time, I thought I had a good foundation in my knowledge and skills. My relationship with my horses seemed solid. Once I started learning about the principals and practices of natural horsemanship, I realized that I had little understanding of what it is to be a good partner to my horse. My knowledge, my practice, and my “feel”, needed improvement.

I had basic handling skills, decent riding skills, and I did fairly well at competition. To many, that would be enough—and there is nothing wrong with that. But, I wanted more. Seeing the holes in my knowledge, my understanding, and my foundation was startling, humbling, and even a little dispiriting. Yet, recognizing my weaknesses only made me want to turn them into strengths. I had found a challenge.

And, nothing excites me more than a challenge!

As Karen Rohlf says in her book, Dressage Naturally … Results in Harmony, “to find holes in your foundation, it is a gift.” She further explains that we must continue to work on our foundation, and constantly nurture it.

One of the things I have learned in my own  journey is that to excel at anything in life, we must always go back to the basics. We must revisit our weaknesses, work on them, and challenge them. Having patience with the process and with ourselves is never easy, but it can be well worth the time it takes to go back.

While surfing the internet, I stumbled across the video below that was shot in 2016. One of the Parelli Natural Horsemanship instructors asked me to say a few words about the Parelli program and what I valued most about it. What I saw then, is the value of going back to the basics.

Now, while taking an online “healthy biomechanics course” with Karen Rolhf, I am again reminded how important it is to revisit and refine that foundation. (See my previous post https://equusplus.com/creating-clear-communication-with-biomechanics/)

The biomechanics course starts with basic communication with our body language, energy, and intent. These are always things we must be aware of when playing with or working with our horses—they are so sensitive to our physical and emotional cues. (For more information on healthy biomechanics visit http://dressagenaturally.net )

Like with anything in life, if we want to learn and move forward, we often must take a few steps back. It never hurts to go back to the beginning—especially with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I like to think of it like adding on to a beautiful quilt. Sometimes we have to go back and repair some of the stitches that have worn over time, but it only makes the new patches we sew on all the more beautiful and bright.

 

 

 

Can’t Ride Your Horse? 10 Non-Riding Activities

Ever have one of those weeks where no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to work in a ride? Sometimes the weather is bad, or the arena is out of commission, or the trails are too “buggy.” It’s too hot, it’s too cold, too windy, or you just can’t fit riding your horse in your schedule.

Sometimes life just gets in the way of your riding fun.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some quality time with your horse, or do other “horse-related things.”

Here is a list of things to do “out of the saddle” when you can’t get that ride in, for whatever reason.

#1. Spend undemanding time with your horse. Take 15 minutes to go out and sit with your horse. Turn over a bucket in the stall, pen, or even the field, and just “be” with your horse. Take some cookies or carrots. Share an apple. Often we get in a rush to “do something” with our horses. Take the time to just enjoy his or her company.

#2. Watch instructional videos or work on your online courses. Rainy days are great for this kind of activity. Get out your favorite notebook, pop some popcorn, and settle in for some good horsie education. I watch Parelli Natural Horsemanship videos or Karen Rolhf Dressage Naturally videos. If you aren’t a member of these communities, YouTube has a plethora of other fun videos to watch that will help you learn new skills.

#3. Clip and bathe. Give your pony a beauty treatment. This is especially nice in hot weather. Use a conditioning shampoo and ultra-hydrating conditioner.  Summer weather can wreak havoc on manes and tails. Clipping the hair around your horse’s fetlocks can help thwart scratches. Set up a hay bag for your buddy to much away while you clip and scrub, and then later when he or she dries. They’ll thank you for it! Don’t forget to use fly spray afterward!

#4. Work on your communication on-line. See if you can get your horse to move his/her hindquarters and forequarters with the lightest possible signal. Can you get them to back up without pulling or pushing? See if you can accomplish these tasks with just your mental intent and energy. It’s amazing how little it often takes for us to communicate with our horse partners.

#5. Organize the tack room. Make “keep”, “donate”, and “sell” piles of things you don’t plan to use any more. It might be a great way to help a horse rescue or make a little extra cash.

#6. Clean your tack. Don’t wait for the next horse show or clinic. It’s good to keep your leather clean and supple. Take a tooth brush and scrub the grime off your horse’s bit. Polish the silver on your western saddle or the stirrups of your English saddle. You’ll feel spiffy the next time you get to ride.

#7. Wash winter blankets and fly sheets. There is nothing worse than having to use a crusty, stinky fly sheet or blanket. Don’t wait until it’s time to use it. Most laundromats have large, industrial-sized washers that can handle the load of a horse blanket or sheet. Air dry in the sun for less shrinkage and freshness.

#8.  Wash brushes and grooming tools. Soak brushes in a bucket full of sudsy water. Let them air dry in the sun. Pull hair out of mane and tail brushes—use that trusty toothbrush to get the crud from between the tines. Clean out your grooming bucket and reorganize your newly shined and clean grooming tools. There is nothing like the instant gratification of seeing what was once dirty, clean again.

#9. Journal about your last ride and what you hope to do the next time you are playing with your equine friend. What could you do differently? What could you refine? Been on the trail lately? If not, maybe hand-walk your horse pal on the trail for you to get some exercise and to help desensitize your buddy to the monsters that lurk outside the pen or arena.

#10 Set up some play-dates or trail rides with friends. Being with your horse is fun, but being with your horse, your horse friends, and their horses is even more fun! Come up with some games to play or obstacles to work with. Plan a picnic lunch for that morning trail ride. What about an evening or night ride? If going out after dark, don’t forget to plan for adequate lighting and bug spray—for you and your horse!

Biomechanics – The Key to Communication with Your Horse

Since I’ve been studying natural horsemanship, I’ve come to realize the importance of understanding good biomechanics.

Last week I started an online course called “The Sweet Spot of Healthy Biomechanics” in Karen Rohlf’s Dressage Naturally “Virtual Arena.”

You might be wondering what in the heck is healthy biomechanics? Here in the dictionary definition:

Noun: biomechanics; 1. The study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms.

Fascinating, I know. But, really, it is.

To me and to many of my fellow natural horsemanship enthusiasts, the art of good riding is to become one with the horse—emotionally, mentally, and physically. Since horses do not have the luxury of verbal language, it is up to us to hear and read their body language and to communicate clearly with ours. It only makes sense that if we want better communication with our horses, we must understand our own biomechanics when we ride or work with them on the ground so that we cal allow and also influence the horse’s biomechanics to work properly.

In the first module of the course, we are focusing on foundation—assessing our own foundation with our horse and then working to build an even better one. In the first lesson, we worked on yields—using our own intention, energy, and body to influence the horse to move certain “zones” or parts of their body, both on the ground and in the saddle.

I worked with three of my horses on this lesson and received some interesting feedback.

Handsome (photo by Kim Mathewson)

Handsome, my lovely Half-Arab palomino gelding, mostly a right-brained introvert, became quickly confused and overwhelmed. I realized that in trying to be super subtle, I was only mucking things up for him. I had to turn up my focus to be clear with my energy and my body isolation, all the while moving slowly and taking lots of breaks.

Stormy, my sassy, right-brained extrovert (she’s so Type-A! Ok, I know I am anthrophomorsis-ing, but it takes one to know one) caught on right away. She is the horse who always calls me out when I am not communicating clearly. Fortunately for her, I did all of my experimenting on Handsome. Next time, she goes first!

Stormy

Chaco, my gregarious left-brained extrovert needed a bit more convincing, but he actually comes to life and decides to “join the party” when we have good, clear, communication. He forgets about trying to resist and gets into the flow. He is so much fun to ride. We ended up having an engaging and focused session.

Chaco – I used an app called Waterlogue for this pic. Cool, right?

The next step in the process of creating a good foundation is to practice these yields until they are solid (not perfect) and then move on. I can’t wait to start the next lesson and share it with you. Please feel free to comment or ask questions. I’d love to hear about your journey with your four-legged equine fur babies.

 

 

The Eight Principals of Horsemanship

One of the many things I like about Parelli Natural Horsemanship, is the philosophy they espouse of keeping things simple – like horses do. Humans make things so complicated and confusing. Here are the PNH Eight Principals of Horsemanship that keep things simple:

1. Horsemanship is natural.

2. Make and teach no assumptions.

3. Communication is two or more individuals sharing the same idea.

4. Horses and humans have mutual responsibilities.

Responsibilities for Humans:
a. Act like a partner, not a predator
b. Have an independent seat (in saddle) independent feet (on line)
c. Think like a horseman (horses point of view)
d. Know and understand the power of focus

Responsibilities for Horse:
a. Act like a partner, not prey animal
b. Maintain gait
c. Maintain direction
d. Watch where you are going

5.The attitude of justice is effective.

6.Body language is the universal language.

7.Horses teach humans, humans teach horses.

8.Principles, purpose, and time are the tools of teaching.

Enlightened!

10543071_10203570582044255_6793993256284853259_nChaco and I just completed the first week of our Journey to Level Four at the beautiful Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs. I will highlight the first two days with this post and then try to catch up as the week goes on. We have been so incredibly busy, the days just fly by. But what fun we are having!!

The first day we got the horses settled and then had an orientation meeting. We met our wonderful instructors, Nita Jo Rush, Margit Deerman , Erin McKee Fowle, Karen Kartchner and Ashley Dudas. We played a game of tag the water bottle (there is a name for it, but I forgot what it is!) with our carrot sticks and savvy strings, had lunch, had an on-line demo and then were asked to go get our horses to play 10557386_10152650478418588_4654991411950029125_non-line. The goal of the first day’s lesson was executing Level One With Excellence. Chaco was multi-tasking – by that I mean he was doing what I asked, but looking everywhere but at me. When I asked for advice, Nita Jo suggested I be more progressive and more provocative, meaning I needed to change things up on him, think ahead, have a plan, ask for more (speed, distance, subtler phases) basically challenging his brain to become calm, connected and focused.

Day Two started with rope handling skills. We were all asked to get our 45′ lines and practice throwing our ropes and coiling them back in evenly and in order. This is much harder than it sounds, but it was really fun! Erin taught us how to use our rope to get into a power position to prevent a run-away or out-of-control situation and we did simulations with one another. Some “horses” were naughtier than others, but we managed to keep it under control! We also discussed patterns that we have developed that need to change, such as letting our horse get ahead of us and working on getting a good circling game. The circling game is the only game of the 7 where the horse learns to take responsibility (maintaining gait, looking where he is going, etc.) because it is the only game where the human is not moving their feet (or shouldn’t be :P) Nita Jo then gave a wonderful demonstration of Driving From Zones 4 and 5. We were soon rained out and had to head indoors where we did a simulation called IMG_2636Conga Horse. This is a great simulation to see and feel what a horse sees and feels when we are communicating with him. For instance, did you know that when you are standing directly in front of a horse at one to three feet distance, they cannot see you at all??? That is one of the reasons that communicating with your energy is so important. The horse needs to “feel” what you are asking.

Stay tuned for more adventures in the days ahead!

Arrived!

IMG_2568

Saturday we arrived in Pagosa Springs and are now lodging at the beautiful Mountain View Horsemanship Ranch. After unloading Chaco and getting him settled, we got the motorhome set up and ready for the next day and a half before we head over to the Parelli Ranch today.

Chaco had a big day yesterday with adjusting to his new surroundings without the companionship of his herd. He’s making new friends and after some energetic play sessions with me, he finally settled — just in time to move to a new home for the next few weeks. Today will also be a big day for the boy, but I have hopes that we can make the adjustments together and continue to work on our partnership. I am so looking forward to this journey!

Adventure Awaits!

IMG_0404Two days and counting before I head off to Pagosa Springs, Colorado for a four week natural horsemanship course at the beautiful Parelli Ranch! I can’t believe it’s almost here.

Preparations and packing have been interesting. Not only am I packing for myself for an entire month, I’ve had to pack required equipment and general necessities for my horse.

For horse shows I have the packing down to a science. I keep all of my show stuff; grooming supplies, shelving, tools, buckets, racks, saddle pads, creature comforts – chairs, outdoor carpeting, clothing rack, etc., in the tack room of my horse trailer, so everything is ready to go. All items have their place and it’s really quite organized. I bring my own grain and horse supplements, and my trainer provides the hay. So what is left is my tack, my show clothes and any other items I want to keep with me for the weekend. I am prepared for three to seven days of showing, give or take.

But to pack for a month? First, all the show stuff had to be removed from the trailer tack room. I needed the space for the bags of grain, feed and supplements that Chaco requires (did I mention it’s for a month?) Then I had to compile said items and load them up. I am prepared for every kind of weather or situation! We’ve got fly masks, fly sheets, fly spray, mosquito repellent, a horse sheet (for weather in the 50’s at night) a blanket (for weather below the 50’s at night), rain gear for riding, tack, saddle pads, a halter, a hackamore, ropes of all lengths, etc. Am I over prepared? Maybe, but I hate to be under prepared.

IMG_0403Packing for myself has been even more daunting. This beautiful motor coach will be my home for the next four weeks (did I mention it’s for a month?) The problem with packing a motorhome is the temptation to fill it up because you do not have the confines of a suitcase or even the back of a car. I have almost filled the closet and all of the drawers. Will I need all these clothes? I don’t know, but I have the room, so I’m taking them. I have meds, a first aid kid, outerwear for any weather imaginable, (even very spiffy Ralph Lauren rain boots) hats, shoes, boots and all the toiletries possible (did I mention it’s for a month!)

Saturday morning, I leave Albuquerque, escorted by my husband, with motorhome, truck, horse trailer, and a Jeep for good measure. We will make our way to  beautiful Pagosa Springs where we will overnight for two nights at the Mountain View Horsemanship Center before we check in at the Parelli property on Monday morning!

Stay tuned for future adventures!

Chaco Chronicles – The Art of Horse Showing

Me and Chaco at work

Me and Chaco at work

You know that feeling when you are practicing at home and it all comes together? You and your horse are almost mastering that never-ending, elusive, perfect ride of suppleness, connection and communication. Then you go to a show. What happened to all that training, all that hard work, all that self-affirming success you’ve had in your home arena?

Well, it’s still there. You’re just being judged on that four to seven minutes you are in the pristine and tastefully decorated dressage court. The judge has no idea that finally getting that smooth upward transition has been the bane of your existence for the past month, or that you’ve finally been able to get your horse relaxed in the poll, or that you’ve, at last, got your horse to understand that it’s okay to canter on the wrong lead in some circumstances. What the judge sees is what you do in that short period of time and they are scrutinizing your every move.

Chaco and I have just finished competing at a show in Arizona. During practice sessions I hit upon a few problems. He was above the bit and leaning on the left rein. I wasn’t activating the outside rein, or using enough right leg, so then I ended up trying to muscle through. Ugh! Frustration! So, my trainer took me back to the basics. I needed to work from back to front, use my seat to push him up into my hands, use my leg to get him off the rein he was leaning on, effectively use the half halt. I felt like a beginner all over again.

Truth is, everything is different at a show. Your energy is different and your horse’s energy is different. You are in an unfamiliar place with all kinds of activity. There are water trucks and tractors going by, golf carts zipping around, un-supervised children running or careening around on bikes and scooters, screaming at the top of their lungs with pure joy at the fact that their parents are so busy they have complete run of the show grounds. The weather can be a factor. Sometimes, you have thirty mile an hour sustained winds to deal with, or rain, or excessive heat. It’s always something!

Add all this up and your adrenaline is higher and your horse feels it. And just wait till that competitive spirit you have kicks into overdrive as you enter a class. The Art of Horse Showing is being able to overcome all of that and remember and rely on all the hours of training you’ve logged for weeks and months and even years before the show. It’s never easy and every show is different and presents new challenges.

I have in no way mastered the Art of Horse Showing, but I am definitely trying. One of the things I like to take away from a show is learning what I need to work on. The challenges become quite clear, and who doesn’t love a challenge?

The last show Chaco and I competed in was empowering. Everything went our way. This time, we ended doing pretty well. We were able to sort out the problems we had at the moment, and I ended up with a softer connection and communication, which is what I needed to accomplish. Our scores were not what I had hoped, but we have a lot of horse shows ahead of us. It’s not always about the ribbon. Keep those challenges coming! We’re in this for the long haul. Please feel free to share your show experiences! I love hearing from you!

The Stormy Diaries – Bringing Up Baby

Stormy at Saguaro Classic December 2013 Sweet Savannah Storm is an Arabian/Saddlebred mare. She is six years old and the first horse my husband and I have ever raised from birth. I bred her dam, Sweet GA Brown to my trainer’s stallion, Aspen’s Bolero, and they produced the loveliness that is Stormy. Or should I say, the cantankerousness that is Stormy. This is a mare with LOTS of personality. She was born in the midst of a summer thunderstorm, thus her name, and it’s a name she has properly lived up to.

Stormy is the youngest and nosiest horse in my small herd. It’s not unusual to find her in a predicament. One of her favorite past-times is to insert half her body into my tack room looking for objects to play with or snacks to eat. Once, when exploring the feed room, she got all the way in, freaked out, and somehow bulldozed her way out, leaving buckets and grain bags sprawled in her wake. We have since put a lock on that door because she’s figured out how to push the door open and get in. Even after her harrowing experience.

Stormy has encountered much of the wildlife that lives near our property on the Rio Grande. Once, because of her curiosity, she met the wrath of a wandering porcupine. We found her with about 60 quills in her nose, looking very surprised, insulted and indignant. Removing those was fun! The vet saved the quills for me in a little glass jar. Whenever I see them sitting on the shelf, I can’t help but chuckle.

Because she was the baby of the property for so long, and because she is so darn cute, Stormy has been a favorite of passers-by on the ditch bank. When I took her to my trainer’s farm for some schooling for two years we got many concerned inquiries of Stormy’s wear-abouts. What happened to her? Was everything ok? Had we sold her? When she came back completely grown and much more mature, it was clear that little Stormy had not been forgotten. One of our neighbors has made it a practice to bring her carrots almost daily. The others horses benefit from this ritual, but Stormy knows she is the culprit of this neighborly generosity.

Despite this mare’s big personality, she has been a dream to train. For the first three years of her life, my husband spent many hours learning natural horsemanship techniques and worked with her on the ground, bonding with her, teaching her manners and exposing her to all the things she would have to deal with as a show horse. He even took her to a competition and showed her In-Hand as a two year old and they won Champion in both their classes.

It was obvious that it was time for Stormy to get some more advanced schooling so we sent her to my trainer’s barn where my trainer worked with her on the basics of Sport Horse and Dressage. Stormy was shown a few times before I took the reins completely and now we are embarking on her show career together. Stormy has made wonderful progress and has taught me a great deal about bringing up a young horse. Sometimes it’s difficult for Stormy to keep her opinions to herself, but she is generally very eager to please and easy going. As well as Sport Horse and Dressage, Stormy is embarking on a career in Western Trail. I’ll be sure to keep all of you posted on her adventures.

Thanks for reading my post and please tell me of your experiences with training a young horse. It is definitely character building!!

The Handsome Herald – Do You Have A Worrier?

Handsome Photo by Kimberly Hopper

Handsome is just that (and more). Handsome. I wish I could take credit for his name, but I cannot. The farm that bred him gave him that moniker and they were so right on! He’s big, blond, finely muscled, and extremely charismatic.

I’ve had the pleasure of owning this boy for nine years. I bought him as a three year old, only fifteen days under saddle. My trainer and I had gone out to California to look at an equally impressive buckskin, but the trainer of the farm brought Handsome out first. I wasn’t sure why, I guess he was just showing me what was available. He had one of his assistant trainers work Handsome in the round pen for a few minutes and then they put him back in the stall. We spent a long time looking at the buckskin and talking about him, but Handsome made an impression on me and I made an offer.

And I have never once regretted the decision! Handsome has turned out to be one of those “all around” horses. We have competed in Western Pleasure, Western Trail, Hunter, Sport Horse Under Saddle, Cross-rails and Dressage and he has a number of prestigious awards under his girth! He is the star of my little herd and one of my best pals. I guess you could say Handsome and I have grown up together. It’s been such a pleasure to bring a horse along from a young age into emotional and physical maturity, while at the same time maturing as a better horsewoman myself. But, it hasn’t been without our challenges!

Most people who meet Handsome and even those who have known him for a while see a calm, seasoned, self-assured, mature horse. And most of the time, he is all those things. But deep down inside, Handsome is a worrier. He considers himself the head of the herd – it doesn’t matter if it’s his own herd or the horse he just got stalled next to at a show. He is the caretaker. The pleaser. The mom. I often joke that Handsome is a mare in a gelding’s body. If another horse is distressed or if Handsome thinks they are distressed, he paces, he calls, he frets.

The first two days at a show are tough on Handsome. I help him by working on his diet before a show, give him calming supplements (all legal of course) take him out of his stall often, and work him on the ground to help burn that mental energy. Once he realizes that all of his new equine friends are not being impaled through the heart with a spear and that he may indeed survive this show, he settles down and becomes the Handsome we all know and love.

I would love to sit here writing this blog and tell you that all of my horses are perfect, well adjusted, calm and obedient at all times, but that just wouldn’t be true. They all have their little personality quirks, fears and vices, just like people. We owe it to them to try to understand what makes their minds work and then work with them, not at them.

Do you have a worrier? A kicker? A nervous Nelly? If so, please share with us your horse’s idiosyncrasies and how you help them deal with those issues. I look forward to your comments!