Horse Journal

I have so many unique and sometimes challenging horses come my way. Often their people are struggling with them and conflicting advice and wondering if they may have the wrong match.

I am proud to say that I have been able to help many of these horses and their people through their relationship and health issues.

I am very sympathetic to the average horse owner as they are often given much well meaning advice that is conflicting. I feel it is my job to clear the fog and create programs that are customized for the horse and their person as opposed to saying this is the method you have to use. This has allowed me to help my clients achieve harmony and connection with some difficult horses.

I have one particular mare I am working with currently who came to me with a long list of "issues" some health and some behavioral. Some of her issues were biting, bucking and kicking as well as charging. Her health issues were also part of the picture. She was sore and stiff and coming off a long period of rest.

They were not sure they wanted to keep her with good reason and I wasn't sure they were a good match either. In these cases I usually ask if the owners are willing to give the horse a trial period for me to start figuring out what program may help change the dynamics of the relationship between the horses and their people.

After the first 30 days, I was able to figure out what was the horses true nature, what was communicating discomfort, and what was missing with her FUN!damentals.

I found that she was quite a like-able mare and despite her dominant bravado, she quite liked people. I also looked at her completely differently then all the people who said she was "naughty" and difficult. I saw that she actually was quite willing under saddle as long as it was not an uncomfortable movement for her (In fact I switched her from her twisted snaffle to my bitless bridle because she was so nice). I learned that she bucked in the canter, because it hurt. I saw that once she understood that we didn't agree with her dominant behavior (that was separate from communicating discomfort) it disappeared almost completely. I explained to her (in my farah way that I do with horses) that I wanted to help her feel better and though we did not take her dominant behavior personally, we showed her how we'd like to be treated when we were around her in ways she understood. Carolyn Resnick inspired work helped her and her people alot.

Although we still have a long way to go with her health and physical rehab, I am happy that she and her people seem to be enjoying each other much more because we gave her a chance. I really enjoy helping a horse like this because I knew she was being misunderstood. I thank her people for giving her that chance too.


Goings on

For those of you who don’t already know, I am in the UK this week for clinics at the New Horse in Motcombe. I’ll be sure to share photos and updates as always.

I am pleased to see that this year’s clinic sold out and that people are really taking a keen interest in not only building stronger bonds with their equine partners, but training their horses in empathetic, fun ways as well.
I finds myself globetrotting yet again to new places and new and familiar equine and human faces. I will be in Kent, WA October 5-7 at Reber Ranch, I am going back to Carterton, NZ for another fun clinic November 30th-December 2nd, and going to Strath Creek, Victoria, Australia December 8th-10th. This will be my first visit ever to Australia and I am super excited to meet new horses and their humans and assist them on their journey and bond. I didn’t forget about people on the east coast. I have been to Charlottesville, VA, Schoharie, NY and Plainfield, MA. If you missed those, I have another weekend possibly coming up in Virginia in the fall (check my calendar for dates TBA). I also have a 3 day clinic at Backacresfarm.com (Plainfield, MA) coming up Labor day weekend in September that is about half full now. As always, the broad topic will be Liberty-Line-Mounted, FUN!damentals and Bitless/Liberty riding for those interested. As always, the clinics are shaped by the participants and highly customized to meet the needs of those who attend. If you’re interested in attending a clinic or would like to organize one in your area, contact me or Check my calendar link for details and more info here fdhorsemanship.com

I was thinking a lot this year about what my job is and the true purpose of my work/play. The answer is, I help horses and their people find more joy and fun. No matter what the surface goals or issues may look like. I help people and horses communicate better with each other. Growing up, I worked with a dog trainer who used to say he was an interspecies communicator. I often feel like this is what I do as well. He actually helped me on my path to animal training. Believe it or not I worked with dogs long before horses even though my passion for horses started at a very young age. In the past few years, I added Dog Training back into my services. Dog training clinics anyone?! The interesting thing is I brought a lot of what I call Natural Dogmanship to the horses and Natural Horsemanship to my Dog Training. I find the two species quite similar despite one being prey and one predator. Their social culture is similar because both naturally live in groups. Sometimes I am called upon to help horses and dogs recognize each other as fellow family members for their people. I have to explain to them that people often include many different species in their family when they have a love of animals and that they should look their people to help them all understand each other and feel safe and friendly.

One of the things I bring up in my clinics when I am teaching Connection exercises inspired by Carolyn Resnick is the reason dogs are so bonded and connected to us naturally is because we “Share our Territory” with them all the time. It helps illustrate the importance of the first exercise we do with our horses to develop the same strong bond. For that matter, this exercise strengthens the bond with any species or person. Hope to see you soon at an upcoming clinic. I love meeting all of you in person!

One of my favorite UK friends


Starting Django: The Approach part 2

In the last post I talked about how I helped Django understand and allow himself to be lead by using his keen interest in food to get him to focus on my requests.

When he first arrived, he did not know how to focus on his person's requests. He also didn't understand tack and being lead with a halter and lead. When on lead, he dragged you around and if he was spooked, he would go directly into you. He was also prone to bolting ahead on the lead. If you asked him to move over, his dominant side would often kick in and he would say "no you move over". I knew he was playful and smart and did not know better so I did not take any of his behavior personally. He did do some quite rude things but again I could tell he didn't know he was not supposed to. I have two categories for respect "issues". The first one is for horses who don't know any better and if you simply show them how you would like them to behave around you they quickly adapt to that and have no issue with the request.

The second category is for horses who I have asked nicely to respect my requests and they understand them but choose to test the "rules" I make repeatedly. These horses are usually dominant and can have a playful, mischievous side. In the second case, I will be firmer in my requests and I will take the time it takes to help the horse understand what I would like. The behavior I am referring to is usually around horses that push over you, bite/nip playfully or otherwise. They may also offer to kick or push their hind end toward you. These behaviors gone unchecked, can develop into dangerous habits to work around.

In Django's case he was mostly the first case scenario and a little of the second. I was able to get him to understand most of my requests happily and he seemed pleased with himself as he got much praise for being so smart and quick to learn. However, he was attached to a nipping habit and was still a bit to quick into my space and not so easy to get to move away at times. I felt he was being dominant/playful in both cases, but nonetheless wanted him to be clear that this behavior was undesirable.

The food work is very good at teaching horses not to lean on you or pressure you in anyway by simply not feeding them until they make you feel comfortable. I not only want to feel the horse is out of my space but also is not "leaning" into me with there chest or nose. This is very helpful in the future for horses at liberty coming at you at speed and also for safety in general.

Once Django understood how to focus on me around the food, I started working on having him come with me away from the food. I knew with this particular horse, this was the in road to his desire to follow my lead. As I rewarded his self-control and focus around food with food, he became increasingly focused on where I was and where I might be going. Once he was watching me intently for how he could get more food, I started asking him to just take a step or two away from the food. Then I would reward him for that. If he would not leave with me, I would herd him away from the food for a distance and then ask him to halt. If he did that well, we would walk back to the food together, halt before the food, and then he would get his reward. If he rushed past me to the food, I would claim the food and send him away from it again. Pretty soon he realized the quickest way to get the food, was to go where I went and and then he would get to come back and get a reward.

That is the beginning of how he started to learn to let me "Lead" him places in the paddock. Once we had that firm, The Companion movement became very strong. Django would walk with me, stop with me, and trot with me. He was also learning to look out for where I was in his space at which point I knew he was ready to try his halter and lead again. There was no surprise that he was infinitely better on the lead and was already understanding to watch for me and not run ahead and push into me. Also to stop when I stopped. I continued building this Liberty-Line progression in the paddock and then out in the arena. I gradually keep adding more challenges when he is ready as he is easily over stimulated. I don't to make it too hard for him in each session. We are quite deep into the Line phase of the Liberty-Line-Mounted at this point. Django is learning how to Natural Lunge and feel boundaries through the line and follow the feel of the rope. He wearing a saddle and getting used to weight in the stirrups and me swinging and laying over him. He is doing great!

If you'd like to follow along with Django's education, You can subscribe here on my site to my Classroom http://www.fdhorsemanship.com/#!classroom

Checkout my picture log of Django below: