Saturday, September 25, 2010

Showing Leadership and Trust

When trying to gain confidence, I'll often allow the herd or in this case one horse to help another horse.  Not only is he helping another horse, but helping me as well.  Sometimes, it's just better to have a horse be the trainer.   Jazz has been here for 1 1/2 weeks.  He has learned valuable lessons on manners, so far.  Yesterday, was the first time I've worked with him in the arena, since he's been added to the family.

I've been working with him for the past 2 years.  Jazz's mind was "I'm going to get you before you get me".  It's taken a lot of patience to get him where he is today. 

I brought him in the arena.  Actually, I asked Shhzar, who had just left the arena, to lead Jazz in.  I told him Jazz needed him.   Shhzar took my request very seriously and went back in with Jazz following him.  Shhzar is 14.2 hands.  He's an arab.  Jazz is 16 hands.  He is a Tennessee Walker/Quarter Horse.  Size doesn't matter, what does matter is the mind.  The mind must be strong, fair and centered in order for the horses to feel safe. 

Knowing that Jazz is afraid of going forward, because there's a big black hole in front him, I lead him down the jumping lane.  I started first using a halter and lead rope.  This gave him a bit more security.  He can feel my energy running down the rope. His energy meeting my energy, we became connected.  Even though, the trust isn't strong enough yet, this is a great start.  I made sure I stayed in front of him, not only to keep him from being scared, but this is a strong leading position.  If I try to put myself back at his shoulder, I'd be the foal to him. Not only would this scare him, but he would feel he needed to be leader.  This was the last thing he needed.  I needed to take the leadership.  For now, I need to make sure he understands that I'm here to help him through his fears. 

When, I felt he was ready I took off the lead rope but stayed in front of him, so he wouldn't think I left him.  We went up and down the jumping lane a few times. I was looking for quietness.

Then I set him up in the jumping lane and told him to wait.  I told him, Shhzar was going to help him get through it.  For the very first time, I saw the real Jazz.  Instead of feeling aggressive, he felt scared and very unsure. 

He felt safe enough to actually show Shhzar and I just how much he was scared.   He has always hidden behind the aggressive behavior.  He is coming out of his shell and showing us the real Jazz.  He's trusting me and the herd more and more everyday.  He is allowing us to see his real self.  Isn't this what people will do too...put up a front, to try to hide your real self.?

I, again, asked Shhzar for help.  "Show him the way, Shhzar."  Shhzar very softly turned and was gone helping Jazz through the jumping lane.  Shhzar being so confident and sure of himself is what Jazz needed to see.

"Jazz, you can do this."
 What I love about this last picture is Shhzar saying "This way. Follow me."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nothing is Black and White

Before I begin, I want you to remember nothing is black and white in the horse herd.  Every horse is different in conformation, how he moves, and most importantly, he is an individual whose thoughts are just as different and important as each and every human being.  Every horse feels a different way and will approach every obstacle differently.
Horses' first instinct is to run, when they feel danger.  Notice the word “feel”.  It’s not just what they see, smell, or hear but also what they feel.   Sometimes, horses don’t have to see the danger, and this is where it is very important as the trainer (friend) to have enough trust to where your horse looks to you.  And as the trainer to trust your horse.  Sometimes, we just have to take their word for it and take a different path. 
In the herd, when a horse smells, hears, or feels uneasy, he will become alert and that alerts everyone else.  They look to the leader, “do we run or do we stay?”   Everything may move in a snap.  Usually, they will run a ¼ of a mile, turn around, and then ask the question “what was that? Should we keep running or is it all clear and safe again?”   Once it feels safe, the horses will begin to eat.  All is peaceful again.
Body language is a complicated type of language.  A twitch of an ear, a muscle, even a tail is saying something.   Horses' rolling has many meanings, too.   Remember, “nothing is black and white.”  This is where it gets interesting.  Rolling can mean feeling relaxed.  Rolling in dirt helps to condition their coat and/or to keep bugs off of them.  Rolling helps with itchies.  But there is one feeling that has been over looked and not even considered.  Could rolling also be an anxiety relief?
I deal a lot with abused and neglected horses.  I watch the herd a lot and learn from their interaction with one another and found nothing in the horse world is simple.   Horses will roll to help release stress.  Buzz Light Year is one of those.  He will roll, get up roll again, find another spot and roll again.  He’s searching for that stress relief.  He’ll get up and roll again, over and over…10 times in a row is the highest I’ve counted.  It’s like he’s trying to get rid of crawling ants.  Buzz is very unique.  He isn’t your average horse.  I believe he is autistic.  I’ll talk more about him in another post.  He is fascinating and a huge challenge.
Body language is very complex.  A twitch of a muscle can have many meanings, too.  He could be trying to get rid of a fly or telling a horse to rub him here.  What is really interesting and wonderful is, one day I was riding, I felt a muscle push upward, it was like a finger telling me “you need to put your weight here.”   Horses are amazing if given a chance to be heard.
A foot cocked, what could this mean? Looking at the whole horse, I see eyes closing and the whole body going limp taking a quick cat nap, but there is something else going on, especially when I see the hoof flipped upside down with the wall of the hoof touching the ground.  Look how flexible that leg is.  A horse doing this is keeping his leg stretched and suppled which is very important to do, so the rump and leg doesn't cramp up.  It would be awful to have a bad leg and not able to move fast enough.  This is something Nelson has taught me.  He can be so stiff, but he hasn't needed massaging.  He knows how to keep the knots out.  This stretching I ask of my other horses and it has done everyone of them a lot of good.  Once taught, I don't have to ask them to do it. 
Ears laying flat back, may say that the horse is angry, giving a warning, but it can also indicate fear, or being unsure, and I’m sure there are more meanings than that.  Nothing is black and white.  Some horses show this behavior and they mean it, but the root of this behavior might be because he’s afraid and is insecure.  Jazz is one of those horses.  He’s very insecure and afraid.  He becomes aggressive.  He is also quick in kicking and it’s all fear based.  Many people will say, he’s disrespectful, but that’s not his problem.  He was also abused and was pushed past the line.  Nobody was listening that he was afraid of going forward.  He was pushed and pushed until he exploded.  Man has taught him, that the only way to be heard is to be loud...aggressive.  He is changing and has a baby face, but his insecurities show up not only with me but within the herd too.  Thank goodness the herd knows and understands how to deal with him. 
Even though Nelson's head is down,  look how
worried he is. He isn't feeling completely safe.  The wrinkles
above his eye is saying "One bad move and I'll be out of here."
Head down doesn’t always indicate relaxed.   Horses can be afraid even with his head down. Is the body stiff?  How is he holding his legs?  Squared hind quarters are always ready to take action.  What about his eyes, are they soft or hard, slightly hard, or bugging out?   Watch those ears, they tell you where he’s listening and possibly which direction he’s thinking of going.  A soft relaxed horse with his head down, is always a nice way to spend time with the horses.  Everything is peaceful and that’s the way I like it.
I barely touched on this subject.  It’s a very interesting subject.  The more time I spend sitting and watching,  the more I learn something new.
Take the time, grab a chair and sit.   Revisit and tell us about your experience, your new insight into this wonderful world of horses.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Had a lesson with Duke (retired show jumper) about responsibility. Poor Duke has been micro-managed most of his life. He is in his 20's. He is a retired show jumper. He is very sensible and has a lot of power. He was taught to pull and run on his forehand. He did very well in the show ring even with his handicap...amazing guy he is.

What is Duke's responsibility? On this day, he learned he can make decisions and keep the rider with him. He was allowed to pick the direction and the gait. All that was asked of him was to keep the rider safe.

This is a big deal for Duke. At first he wasn't sure about this decision making, but it didn't take long for him to settle into it. He went up one path and down another. He chose trot and walk. There were moments he felt the rider's balance wasn't where it should be and he slowed down sometimes going down to a walk. He took this responsibility very seriously.

Allowing Duke to make these decisions is very important. I need him to look out for me and I need to trust him and his judgement. It's a good way to gain respect from Duke and learning more about him as well as him learning about me. Riding with a loose rein and allowing him to pick and choose takes trust, that he will watch out for me that I don't need to micro-manage him.

At the end of the ride, he was very pleased with himself. He also chose to go over the ground poles. He held his head up and hit every pole with what sounded like six feet instead of just 4 feet. He was worried that the tug-o-war was going to start. It didn't happen. The second time thru, was my idea because I felt he needed reassurance that the tug-o-war wasn't going to show up. As soon as, I lead him to it, I went back to being just a passanger. He was perfect...didn't hit a single pole and went through it with pride and came out with a lovely working trot.

When all done, he was smiling and the more we talked about him, the more he was beaming. He even stuck around for awhile after being untacked. He was very content and happy.

It's a simple lesson, but a very powerful one.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Welcome to Dogwood Lane

Dogwood Lane is a place for abused and neglected horses. The horses I take in are the ones who are super challenged. I love taking on these types of horses.

Buzz Light year, whom we call Buzz, is autistic. It takes a lot of patience to handle him. It's very important to know when to just walk away. He tries very hard but sometimes it's just best to walk away from him until he can handle things better. He has a hard time with touch from horses as well as people. He rolls a lot. It's like he's trying to get rid of crawling ants.

Nelson hides his head to protect himself. He had his nose broken. If you are wondering what kind of force breaks a horse's nose, try a 2x4. People have lied to him and hurt him. He isn't an easy horse to catch, but once you have him feeling safe, you can do his feet and send him down the jumping lane. He's an amazing guy. Every single time I go out, I have to show him that I'm still the same person I was just 5 minutes ago. If he doesn't feel safe, he bolts and is gone. He hasn't done that in a long time.

Jazz has a baby face, but almost 3 years ago when I started him, he was ready to stomp my face. He is afraid of going forward and was pushed behond his point. Going past the line can be a dangerous thing and with him it was. He was terribly overfaced. He now has a baby face and has helped Buzz with his problems. Buzz came to us starved and totally misunderstood. Jazz showed Buzz that everyone had full bellies and had hay in front of him. He had no need to worry or fear. He will always have a full belly. I am very thankful to Jazz's help.

I have many other stories to tell of the other horses I have. I know that I'm helping these horses, and in return they are helping me to be a better person. It's never a one way street. It's very important to stop and listen. Hear what they have to say and then in return they listen and hear what I have to say. It is a two way street. Together we find peace and harmony.

Want to help