Tag Archives: natural horsemanship

The Silence Between the Notes – Developing Harmony and Trust with Horses

Guest Post by Mattie Cowherd – Licensed Parelli Professional, 3-Star Instructor


woman on horse

For me, there is a certain peace achieved after a day of riding. In that moment, I can drift away from the past, or my distraction of the future. This allows me to simply BE – soothed by the passing of the moments rather than the struggle of my thoughts. I believe that peace and calmness are essential to developing the true art of horsemanship.

I still laugh when I remember my students’ faces as I galloped past them on a fat little cob during a trail clinic in Wales — eating an apple! The concept of peacefulness in full motion didn’t make sense to them. But, if I have true harmony and partnership with my horses, not even galloping at full speed should separate us.

Peacefulness should also extend to teaching your horse something that is scary or new. Pressuring a horse when it is on adrenaline is never a good idea. This natural drug in the horses’s system sets off its flight-or-flight responses. Horses don’t think when they are on adrenaline. Yes, you can force a horse through the experience, but you are likely going to have to repeat this lesson – again and again and again — because the horse is not mentally present. The horse’s brain is shut off, and it is operating strictly on instinct. If you use calmness, clear communication with your body, and patience, your horse will learn that he can make mistakes, and retreat when he is fearful. He will trust you to show him the way through a problem.

I believe that peaceful horsemanship starts with awareness – first of yourself, and then of your horse’s  internal and external states. Are you tight? Are you worried? Is there a good reason for this? Can you foresee any issues during your groundwork session or your riding and if so, can you simply avert it by being passively proactive? And can your horse check in with you and see that things are indeed okay? Can he see that you have been a patient and progressive leader for him? Can he trust that you will not be afraid or offended by what he needs to do?

Perhaps I notice more strongly now what a true partnership feels like because I also know what a false partnership feels like. I can feel the lack of attention and the lack of trust. I feel the discordant communications when a horse is terrified and unable to think.

I can also feel the harmony and the moments of true oneness. I can see my horse reaching across our communication to ask me a question or answer confidently when he understands.

I feel the moments when my horse and I are slightly out of sync, and yet, I can refocus my energy and my intentions to bring us back to harmony in an instant. If I feel my horse and I are out of sync during new lessons or a moment of fear, I can ask my horse to trust me and let me guide him to the right answer.

It’s like a dance. You can’t dance with another person when you are both intent on correcting or defending yourselves.

You need silence between the notes.

Stillness between moments of movement is vitally important to your horse’s understanding. If you do not pause or release completely, your horse does not have a chance to learn.

It is in moments of stress or learning with our horses that our attention to PRESENCE is so important to our communication and relationship with them. Horses are only in the now – adjusting to the present with reference to memories of past experiences. Create your best self when you are with your horses. Strengthen the positive responses with reassurance and attention. Your horses will seek this praise with enthusiasm and will approach future learning opportunities knowing that their partners have their backs.

To learn more about Mattie, go to her website here.

Unlocking the Mystery of the Mare

angry horseDealing with a mare in season can be a pain. Figuring out how to help her can sometimes be a mystery. While some mares show little symptoms of their heat cycle, other mares show sides of themselves you didn’t know they had. And, their behavior can vary from month to month. At times they can be fractious, angry and distracted, and at other times they can be sullen, depressed, or moody. In other words, not themselves.

Like women, mares can feel upset or physically uncomfortable from their cycle. There are many ways to manage this ranging from using natural supplements to prescribing hormone therapy. It is important talk to your vet about what your options are and what will work best for you and your horse.

One thing you can do is to help find relief for your mare through essential oils. While essential oils do not treat, diagnose, or cure disease or illness, they can help with
emotional and physical discomfort.

My 8-year old Arabian/Saddlebred mare, Stormy, is often uncomfortable when she is in heat. Emotionally, she becomes distracted, herd-bound, sometimes frantic, worried, and even more right-brained than usual. Physically, her back gets tight causing saddling and riding to be painful.

Here are five essential oils I’ve found to be helpful to unlocking the mystery of Stormy. (Please read how to use essential oils on your horse below)

Progessence Plus (Young Living Essential Oils blend)

Progessence Plus oil contains the natural progesterone produced by wild yam extract. With sacred frankincense, peppermint, bergamot and coconut, it has soothing and uplifting properties that can calm or combat sluggishness.

Dragon Time (Young Living Essential Oils blend)

Dragon Time, a natural phytoestrogen (dietary estrogen) is a blend of jasmine, clary sage, marjoram, lavender, fennel, and blue yarrow essential oils that helps to promote emotional balance in human and animal females. It releases anger, frustration, and other emotions associated with a monthly cycle.


This sweet smelling oil helps to balance hormones. It compensates for both lack of hormones and excess of hormones. It calms and relaxes, and also supports the nervous and circulatory systems.

German Chamomile

This light blue oil supports the body’s natural response to irritation by clearing heat from the body. It’s sweet, grassy aroma promotes feelings of peace and calmness. It is similar to yarrow in its properties to relieve physical discomfort.

Clary Sage

Clary Sage works as an anti-spasmodic and is good for mares prone to back pain and tension during their cycle. It stimulates the production of progesterone and is warm and comforting. It also promotes focus and relaxation, and also helps with previous trauma.

Other oils to comfort your mare during her cycle:





How to use essential oils on your horse:

Present the oil with the cap on, first. See how she reacts.

If she sniffs at it, nuzzles it, or tries to eat it out of your hand, you have
been given the green light! If she sniffs it, turns away, and then comes back
to it, you might take off the cap and present it to her again. Go slowly.
Sometimes it takes horses a while to process the oil. If your horse seems to
accept the smell of the oil, put a few drops in your hand and let her sniff it
again. Signs of acceptance, licking and chewing, licking the oil out of your
hand, lowering of the head, blowing out – relaxation or signs of relief. Signs
of rejection. Turning away and staying away, trying to walk away, wrinkling of
the nose, flipping of the upper lip.

If you get the green light, rub a few drops on the oil on your palms, rub on the nose, poll, chest, withers or insides of the hind legs.

What kind of essential oils to use on your horse?

I use only Young Living Essential Oils on myself and on my animals. Young Living oils are 100% pure, therapeutic grade oils with no added chemicals or solvents and they back their products with their Seed to Seal Guarantee  (https://www.youngliving.com/en_US/discover/seed-to-seal)

If you have questions about or would like to obtain Young Living Oils, contact Kari at Kari.bovee@icloud.com or https://www.youngliving.org/Karibovee





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.




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.