Tag Archives: Dressage Naturally

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!


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.