The 3 stages of learning an exercise for a horse and rider

I wanted to talk about learning and how to help our horses understand our requests better by explaining how we can break down an exercise into 3 stages. When I say exercise, I want you to apply this to anything you do. It could be Ground, Liberty, Mounted, Dressage, Jumping, Reining or any task you have set up. It means that you evaluate where you and your horse are in these three stages by asking yourself these questions. 1. Is this exercise new to my horse and I?(first time you've ever showed it to him). 2. Are we familiar with the exercise but still have some physical difficulty with it (but intellectually you both understand what you are asking). 3. You understand and practice the exercises regularly and are good if not near perfect in execution reliably a high percentage of the time.
Now you've asked yourself these questions and answered them to the best of your ability. Think about anything you may be doing now with your horse where you are struggling a bit. Does it help to think of it that way? What stage are you at with your exercise together? Now let's look at this from the human perspective. It is the same isn't it? You learn something new, You understand it but need to practice it more to get it more correct, You have practiced a lot and have grasped an exercise pretty fully and can do it without having to think too much about it. It becomes natural. Think of Rising in the trot. Once it was a bit difficult to think of doing this motion while trotting and now it is as easy as breathing or blinking for you (or maybe you are still learning it in stage 2!) It helps to think this way so we forgive ourselves and our horses learning curve. Every horse and human learn at different paces and in different ways. It is best to work at a pace that is comfortable for both of you. Mistakes are o.k. and are really just guides to what you need to focus on. It doesn't matter how many times or repetitions it takes or how many days or weeks. It takes as long as it takes. If you think this way you will get where you want to go a lot faster. Trust me. Be happy with the smallest try in yourself and horse. Smalls slow steps lead to big improvement. Never be in a hurry.


Desensitizing versus shutting a horse down

Many trainers talk about desensitizing horses. I think that there is a delicate balance between desensitizing and shutting a horse down. I have worked with horses that are so desensitized that they know longer respond to any signal that is not "Loud". I think that in some cases horses should be left in there natural state of responsiveness. As always, I like to take each horse in a case by case basis.
Let's take a horse that has a medium amount of energy and a basically balanced temperament. This horse may just need exposure to people, places and things. But not a lot of flapping of tarps and ropes etc. Another horse may be very sensitive and reactive. This horse I'd focus on calmer more relaxed slower responses, but not necessarily flapping ropes and tarps. I may do a little desensitizing with a very fearful horse. But only after I'd done a LOT of Liberty work at which time the horse probably would only need a little desensitizing after we had trust and connection. There is a question to of breaking trust which has been built by over desensitizing. So the question is do we need to do much desensitizing if we have a good relationship working and or playing with our horse? Mostly our horses need our leadership, patience, and calmness to get them through new experiences. They need to be allowed to explore an object at liberty or given the space on line to approach in their own time when curiosity replaces fear which it usually does in time. Time is another question. A lot of horses just need time to get comfortable with things in their environment. I want a horse to stay in their naturally balanced state of awareness unless they are what I deem to be in an unbalanced state. In some cases flower essences may be appropriate for these horses as opposed to desensitizing. Food for thought...


Vlog series: How Liberty work helped me with riding part 4

In this 4th installment of my Vlog, Phoenix and I are really starting to connect and come together. We are starting to work in harmony and transitions are coming together along with the bond, focus and companion moving. She is becoming calmer and more relaxed and happy. This is particularly important because she is sometimes nervous as you can see in the previous videos in this indoor arena and this work helps her to become more confident with me when we move on to riding. I feel like if we can get here together before we ride, We will have a good ride whether we jump or practice dressage or move on to In-Hand or line work. My goal is to get her to move with me at the trot and canter as well. This is going to be the next challenge for us together and the topic of the next few videos.


Vlog series: How Liberty work helped me with riding part 3

 In this 3rd video with Phoenix, You see things starting to calm down a bit. We are starting to get better connection through Eye contact, Draw, Companion moving and leading from behind. The stronger these movements are the better the connection you'll start to see unfold. You will also see several things start to take shape.Through the leading from behind comes comes a desire to move together. From Eye contact comes more focus and calmness from Phoenix, From the draw I am able to start communicating speed, direction control and Halts. All without tack, all through natural body language and all contributing to the basic foundation goals of riding. Harmony, relaxation, focus, communication, direction and speed control.


Vlog series: How Liberty work helped me with riding Part 2

In this second video, Phoenix shows her energy levels in the full spectrum. You'll see me alternate between, Leading her from behind, Eye contact, Companion moving, and Sharing space with her. She is young and she likes to run! She also is nervous and anxious a lot of the time. I am using this Liberty work to address the riding issues of: Harmony, Trust, Willingness, Difficulty stopping, Standing still, speed control, Rhythm, Inattentiveness, Spookyness and relaxation. Each exercise I do relates to a certain issue. For example, Eye contact helps with getting her to focus on me instead of the noises and activity around the barn. Leading from Behind helps with her fear issues and with fostering more willingness to participate with me. Companion moving improves our harmony, connection, communication, speed control, halts, and rhythm. Sharing space helps improve our bond and connection and the Greetings (I walk in and she smells my hand and I walk away) you see me do periodically help build trust. This is very interesting and rewarding work because you are building a real tangible bond with the horse which is always getting better and stronger. It makes training, comunication and partnership more fun and fulfilling for both of us. It is the most important part of my program with my horses.