Colt starting contests, Mustang Makeovers, and Clinics...

Colts from a contest
This subject has been on my mind a lot lately because it seems to be getting more popular.
People ask me from time to time why I don't enter a colt starting contest. There is now some for women exclusively. My response is "Why what's in it for the horse?"

And though I would love to get a Mustang at some point, He will be started with an attention to his pace and comfort level and no need to be put on display in 90 days to do some amazing feat. I am not against the principle of the Mustang contests. These horses need homes and that is the goal, but I question the entertainment concept and putting them on show. Could there be a less stressfull way to do this? Absolutely. Would it be less glamorous? Probably.

I have watched from the side lines as a horse lover and a professional these colt starting contests. I have not been excited by what I saw. I see horses being started in record times and doing very complex tasks in absurd amounts of time. What impresses me the most? It is not the skill of the Clinician in the arena. As usual it is the huge heart of the horse. Their willingness to let us subject them to whatever our whim is. It is the same thing that awes me everyday I am around them. With that said, it is my personal feeling that I, as a human should not take advantage of the horses generous and willing nature. It is my responsibilty to respect it and handle it with care. They show me again and again their huge heart and desire for connection if only given the time to let it unfold.

My final thought is how Clinicians and horses are increasingly being put in a very tough position when horses are brought to them to be "fixed" in a few hours or one, two or three days. The pressure to deliver results is very high and again falls squarely on the horses nature.

We are obsessed as a culture with speed and how fast we can get things done. Just because I possess the skill to do something very fast does not mean it is the best way for me or the horse. Last time I checked, Horsemanship was not a race it was a skill that took the time to consider the horses well being at all stages no matter what our goals are. Competitve or not.

Just my two cents...


The 10 second exercise

Elsa taking a 10 second break in the hay pile...
I wanted to share an exercise I came up with which helps you learn to slow down your responses, be clearer in your communication and thinking, relax you and you horse and ride better.
All you have to do is do all the same things you usually practice with the simple addition of a 10 second moment between each request you make. It doesn't matter if you are doing Liberty, Ground Work or Riding. It will be hard for some but what it will do is help you stay focused, clear, and relaxed and in turn this will mirror to your horse.
So for example if you make a request for your horse to do something like move or walk, you count to 10 before you request anything else. Whatever it may be. If you canter, wait 10 seconds before you make a change. If you horse does something, I want you to wait 10 seconds before you do something with it UNLESS there is a safety issue. I'd like to hear what people find leave me a comment on your experiences when you try it out!


Visualization and Intention Setting

Visualization and Intention Setting are two powerful and under utilized tools in our relationship and training of our horses. How many of you have uttered the phrase " I just thought it and he did it" while working with a horse? I bet some of you have.
It is in our mind but we cast it off as a unique incident or that the horse is really trained or super sensitive. Now those factors of course can be in play but what if we worked from this place all the time.
First let's break down Visualization and the different uses for it. I use Visualization in Riding, Training, and other times with my horses. The reason I put the two together is that when you Visualize you are starting to set your Intention. Visualization is when I clearly picture something in my head. It could be a particular movement as small as moving the horses body or leg a certain way, it could be a larger movement of leg yielding, it could be seeing the horse take the canter on the left lead etc. It could also be a calming visualization for me or the horse. I may see the horses posture in a more relaxed shape with the head lower and may mirror breathing calmly to the horse. I may see myself as softening and relaxing my body by visualizing something the triggers that in me. It is only your imagination that is the limit.
When it comes to Intention Setting. This can be a long and short term idea. I may say I want to do a Liberty Piaffe with my horse or I want jump four feet. So I have set my intention. By doing that, if we stay fluid and opened to the path to that goal it will most certainly happen. As soon as I set my intention, if I get out of the way, everything starts to move in that direction. Even training problems seem to fix themselves. Another good place for Intention setting is for a fearful rider. You may say "I want to walk out on the trails with my horse in 3 months and feel safe and calm" This helps you start on a positive path as opposed to this mind set of "I'm afraid to do this, I can't do this". Setting small achievable goals and knowing exactly when to push past yours or your horses comfort zone are keys to moving forward. Even so called backward steps are just reminders of readjusting your intentions or slowing down. If you listen to these little guides you will stay more fluid with yourself and your horse. Mistakes are only road signs to pay attention to. Read them and follow what they say and you'll get back on the path. The next time you go to your horse, try setting your Intention and then Visualizing what it is you want the horse to do. Let me know how it goes in the comments! Also write your Intentions down so you can start working toward them. Below you will see and example of my own Intention setting and Visualization. A long time ago, I never dreamed of riding without a bridle and doing dressage or jumping and then I saw people do it and I said "I can do that" and I saw myself doing it and I did it on a horse that was very difficult to ride it was a testament to what you can accomplish when you use these tools. See my first free ride in an open field I did last week and my first jumping video on only my second attempt at bridless riding in the videos below...


Relationship problem vs. Training Problem

What Connection,Trust, and a strong bond can do...Mercury and I riding bareback, bridless, cantering and about to jump
In my travels as a trainer, I have obviously come across many horse-human problems. I have been called in to help the human with the horse. They say the horse does "x" and I don't like it or it scares me. As a career problem solver, I have learned to put things into categories so I can facilitate the problem solving process for both parties. The first step is asking is this a Relationship problem or a Training Problem? Also there is another category. Technical Training versus Behavioral training but that is for another blog.

What are some things that fall into Relationship problems? Hard to catch would be one, Head shyness could be another. Refusing to go certain places, or anxiousness and tension. Some people would say these are respect and obedience problems but I look at things from the horses point of view.
If a horse doesn't want to be caught, they may not be looking forward to some things that happen after they are. That list could be a long one starting with hard work programs to just plain bad chemistry with their person, Poor fitting equipment, leaving friends etc. This is a Relationship problem because if the horse was bonded, connected and trusting the person who comes out, they will most likely happily come to you or at least allow you to walk up and halter them.
Another symptom of a Relationship problem would be a horse exhibiting tension while being ridden and spooking. Another symptom of Lack of trust and not having confidence in the leadership of the person handling them.
As someone who has built connection with some horses who really didn't want to work for anyone, I have seen first hand that they will give so much when you take the time to build Relationship with them. Often a lot of misunderstood horses can be worked with to gain a great partnership if only you are willing to take the time. I find far too many people just can't be bothered to work with a horse that is not absolutely simply and calm. These horses often have a lot of untapped talent and heart. But the problem is often how people relate to them and their not so easy behavior. Calling them stupid or bad or disrespectful.
The word Respect is thrown around horse training far too casually and it becomes the label for every problem behavior. Some Disrespectful behavior has developed from the persons disrespectful behavior to the horse. Respect is a two way street. This is how I explain it to a horse. I'm going to respect you and your feelings and I expect the same in return. Once these things are in place Technical Training becomes a pleasure and much easier for both horse and human. Think about your horse and how good your relationship is and if it could use some building or he's your best four legged friend!