cowboy on horse

Get the Most Out of Your Play-Date with Your Horse

riding on beachMaking time to spend with your horse can sometimes be a challenge. Family responsibilities, work, and everyday life commitments sometimes don’t allow us to be with our horses as much as we want. When we do get the opportunity, we want to be able to make the most it. We want to ensure that our relationship with our favorite horse pal is still on track. Here are some tips to get the most out of your play date with your horse.

1. Schedule an appointment with your horse at least once a week and stick to it.

As you know, this is harder than it sounds. With responsibilities and distractions pressing  on us every day, it’s easy to put off our horse time for more “important” things. I know I have been guilty of this myself. But, we have to remember—we have a responsibility to our equine pal. You probably didn’t purchase him or rescue him to have him sit in a pen by himself, or never have any human interaction. Tending your relationship with your horse is as important as tending your personal or business relationships. Your horse needs you to check in with him on a regular basis. You have to make time for him to get the most out of  your relationship.

2. Greet our horse with respect and friendliness.

Sometimes we get so focused on what we are going to do with our horses, we just walk straight in to the pen or field and halter up. If you think about it, isn’t that kind of rude? If you made a date to pick up a friend for lunch, you wouldn’t just storm into her house, grab her hand, and drag her to the car, would you? I hope not! The same applies to your horse. Approach the pen with a friendly, non-rushed demeanor. Bring carrots or cookies. Scratch your horse’s favorite itchy spots. Talk to them. Greet them. Then slip on the halter. I promise, it will make a difference in whatever you plan to do with your horse that day.

3. Use essential oils with your horse during your grooming session.

Everyone likes to be pampered, even horses! Once you’ve greeted your horse and gotten him out of the pen or the field, set up a pleasant grooming experience. Read your horse’s expression or body language to see how he might be feeling. Does he seem cranky or sullen? Present him with a bottle of peppermint essential oils. Let him sniff the bottle with the cap on. If he seems receptive, put a few drops of peppermint essential oil mixed with some olive oil in your palms and rub them together. Then stroke your horse between the ears or down his neck. If your horse seems nervous or anxious, do the same with lavender oil. Lavender is very gentle, so a carrier oil isn’t necessary. If your mare is a little moody, see my article “Unlocking the Mystery of the Mare”

4. Have a plan.

As I mentioned before, with our crazy schedules, we need to make the most out of the time we get to spend with our horses. It’s good to have an idea of what you want to work on, whether it’s working on the ground or in the saddle. Keep a list of the things you’d like to accomplish with your horse, and then pick one or two for the day. Have a third in your back pocket in case things are going swell and you are both game for more fun. Have a backup plan in case of inclement weather or other obstacles come your way. You’ve scheduled this time, so make the most of it by being organized. Your horse will see and feel your leadership, and it will help her from getting bored.

For ideas on what to do with your horse if you cannot ride that day see my previous article “Can’t Ride Your Horse? 10 Non Riding Activities”

5. Adjust if the plan gets derailed.

cowboy on horseOne of the most important things about having a plan is being able to make a new plan on the fly. If you wanted to practice your leg yields that day, and the communication between you and your horse seems off, break down the task. Go back to the basics, if only for a little while. Remind your horse, and yourself, how subtle your communication can be. Work on yielding the hind quarters, then the shoulders. Then maybe work on your sideways. See how refined and light your communication can be. If nothing is working, stop and breathe. Give your horse some love. Maybe it’s a better day for a trail ride, or a nice bath. The worst thing you can do in a frustrating situation is to push the agenda. Be kind to your horse, be kind to yourself. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”


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.