Gadgets and Magic bits

Riding this way is an exhilarating and free feeling!

I have been in the horse industry long enough to know that a lot of horse people love to use gadgets. I have seen people and horseman use side reins, draw reins, Chambons/Degogues, Pessoa rigs, Martingales and special Cavessons (some even with studs!). Phew! did I leave anything out?  The bit manufacturers would have you believe that there is a Magic bit that would make your horse softer, rounder, more engaged, happier in his mouth and perfectly on the bit.

 I stare incredulously at walls of what I call  "bondage" and medieval looking bits at tack shops and competition wondering why? These pieces of equipment not only don't "fix" anything but they often cause more problems and muscular discomfort. They can even stop a horse from being able to do all the things we are asking him to do! The horse can not go forward, go round or even breath properly in some cases. And tension? Yes this would cause tension if at the very least, from the horse trying to fight against these bits and devices to do what you were asking.

I was exposed to all these things early on but knew that this was not how I wanted to train. My path has taken me away from the band-aid quick fix approaches. I have found that there is no more humane training method then, thoughtful, patient, correct fundamentals. I combine that with my Liberty and Ground exercises and find that there is no need for gadgets ever.

I have found that most people do not intentionally use these things. They just want help with training problems and often don't have access to good quality instruction. Some people are genuinely afraid of their horse and are just trying to stay safe. Unfortunately, I have found that horses that don't want to participate willingly, don't seem to care what gadgets you have on them. They will rear, buck, bolt, and spin to communicate their offense or pain. I have for sure seen dressage horses flip out despite having two bits on!

My point is, we kid ourselves into thinking these things control our horses. They don't. The horse is still allowing us to ride and handle him until he isn't. I frequently say "A horse is only as trained as he's willing to be" Horses are very willing creatures most of the time. To their own detriment unfortunately at times. They put up with a lot from us two leggeds and they show up day after day and try harder for us even when their saddles are wrong, their feet hurt, their bit is uncomfortable, and they have pains and stress. They often do what I call "politely" complain for awhile about something that goes ignored until someone gets bucked/reared/bolted off with. That's about the time a horse is yelling "I need help! why aren't you listening?" And then someone says "ooh you naughty horse!" time for gadgets.

My journey has taken me many cool places with my horsemanship but no cooler place is to ride with little or no equipment. It takes utter and complete trust in each other and absolute communication that is completely agreed upon. It forces us to be absolutely real with each other. Gadgets and bits are no substitute for a strong Connection and good Fundamental training. Oats for thought...
*Bridless riding should be done at your own risk. FDH does not recommend or condone anyone trying or riding bridless with their horses.
Upcoming Events:
Feb 9th: 1 day FDH workshop at Silver Moon Farm, Greenville, NY
March 21-22 FDH Privates and Lessons over 2 days. Charlottesville, VA
May 4th: FDH Confidence for trail riders workshop. Windhorse International Bethlehem, CT
June 20-24: FDH UK Clinic at The New Horse, Motcombe, UK


My Artistic Vision

Some of you who know me well know that I come from a family of artists. Art has always been a part of my life but my inner artist sometimes wished I could combine my horses with my art. Many people have combined their passion for horses with their art in their own way but I had yet to find a way that spoke to me and my artistic voice.

I made genuine sterling silver and gemstone Wow!bands(http://www.fdhorsemanship.com/#!shop) for bridles and that was cool but I needed more. I designed my own websites, business cards, and logos but still wanted another outlet.

For those of you who don't know, my father, Jack DeJohnette (https://www.facebook.com/jackdejohnette) is a well know Jazz musician and master of Improvisation. Growing up, music was all around me but little did I know that this Improvisational style would come to permeate me to the very core in my career as a horseman.

As many children are, I was influenced by my parents but sometimes we don't realize how much. As I began my path into the art world, The horses called to me at a young age as well. I was completely obsessed and by the time I was 8 I poured over books about these magical animals, By the age of 16 after many riding lessons and working at the local stables, I declared I wanted to be a professional horseman. I had no real idea what this entailed but I knew the horses were calling to me in a very visceral way.

I followed a fairly traditional route with horses...Until I didn't. Like many people, I was taught all the basic ways of being with horses which really didn't allow us to "be" with horses. It took me many years to find my "outside the box" mentors that set me free from that box. I openly confessed that when I was set free as I call it, An awesome, experimental, happy monster was created. I stepped enthusiastically into a world where I could do anything with my horse I wanted as long as we understood each others vulnerabilities. Anything was and is possible if you are willing to try and figure out how to do it. From an amazing, wonderful deep connection with an animal, amazing things happened and continue to happen.

I got the idea to collaborate with my father when I started to see that this Liberty training that I was playing with closely resembled how musicians improvised together. It was a free expression between two or more beings with music. I felt like when my horses and I were at liberty together, It was like a musical improv. Especially since we are often listening to music. In Dressage we use the terms Tempo and rhythm all the time. These are music terms. Horses are music to me. Dancing with them is joy.

I like the idea that when the horse is at liberty, he is like another musician and can play his own instrument. When he is in tack, or under saddle it is not the same though I enjoy riding very much, It is a different type of collaboration. More like a guided dance.

My dad was gracious enough to agree to come to the farm and help me see my artistic vision start to come to life. I brought him to the herd and explained how he should see the horses as fellow musicians and "listen" to their music. That way he could get in the right frame of mind when I brought Mercury in to the arena to join our Music and Dance Trio.

In my vision I wanted to put a shaker on Mercury's leg so he could have his own instrument. I had to get him used to the sound and lots of carrots seemed to convince him this might be a good idea! He was a bit nervous about it and all the film people around. "Oh and who is this person sitting in the middle of our arena with instruments all around him making all these strange sounds!" He seemed to say. Were it not for our deep connection I would not have been able to settle him as quickly as I did.

My dad started to listen to Mercury's movement with the shaker and as Mercury started to move with me and dance, my dad expertly added his music spontaneously to what was happening. It was pure magic and joy! I felt that all at once, all my worlds came together in a way they never had before. I had made a living breathing, work of art! Live Music, Dance, Horses! I must say I am quite spoiled now and want live accompaniment all the time! We filmed the whole experience and will be filming more. I'll keep you posted in the mean time, enjoy another exclusive trailer. http://youtu.be/AVMnJqF1-LM


Interpretation Exercise

I went to a really interesting and powerful workshop last weekend based on EAL/EAP (Equine assisted Learning and Psychotherapy) work and Linda Kohanov's book The Power of the Herd (http://www.poweroftheherd.com/) teachings. It was geared toward Personal development and Leadership training skill building.

I wanted to share some of the brilliant exercises that brought into sharp focus how our thinking and being can be shaped in so many ways by old patterns and our brain's Interpretation of things can be skewed greatly by that.

We did several exercises that involved just Observing your surroundings and your own feelings about them. We did boundary sensing exercises on each other and with the herd of horses provided. We did an Observation exercise which was fascinating and telling. And we did a final group exercises that really showed how when you want to work with many different people with different ideas and personalities how wrong and then right it can go once you come together. This particular exercise was a very clear example of why people have trouble working together in businesses, relationships and life in general. But when given the tools and skills needed, we were able to get 9 people and 6 horses at Liberty on the same page and the result was a harmonious, joyful experience! It wasn't easy but we did get there all together as a unit. It was abundantly clear to me why businesses fail, Politics often don't resolve anything and personal relationships struggle between friends and family. The Horses as usual were fantastic guides.

There were several terms and ideas that really resonated with me and I could relate to. One term that was used was Vilifying. Vilifying (Judging negatively) is what we do when someone does something we don't like or a even a school of thought we don't like and we decide that they are inherently bad by association. Basically writing someone off because of their beliefs, ideas etc. Or even attacking them personally. I think the world is full of this type of behavior and in fact wars are started because of this. I feel the horse world is fraught with this as well unfortunately. Another term used a lot was Predatory behavior. Other related terms would be Dominant, Intimidators, and Bullies. Of course we have all seen this behavior in the horse world as well.

My favorite exercise was the Observation/Interpretation Exercise. It involved all the participants standing with the horses and observing something about them that we ALL had to agree on what we saw. This exercise challenged us to see what is really in front of us and not "project" our interpretation of any emotions or ideas we thought we saw. The result was a very neutral non-judgemental environment between us and the horses. So for example, one person would say what they observed. They might say "that horse is happy" but that is an interpretation that not everyone might agree with. Remember, we ALL have to agree on what we see to be able to work as a team. Get it? Another person might look at that same horse and say "That horse is sad" because that is their Interpretation. To make it neutral and easy for us to agree on what we observed, we had to stick to statements like "that horse is a bay" and of course, we could all agree with that! Or "That horse is eating hay" Yes we can ALL agree that we Observed that. The agreement in what we ALL observed, unified and neutralized our connections with each other. When someone would say something they "Interpreted" it split us as group because inevitably, we would not all agree on that Interpretation.

Another example of this was with my Mother who participated as well. She was standing with a group of horses around her and then we had to share what we observed. One person said my mom looked scared. My mom then relayed that she was in a state of complete joy at that moment. So the other person's Interpretation was coming from their own experience and they projected it on to my mom. How often  do we do that to our horses? I know I see it all the time.

Try this Interpretation exercise and let me know what you find out about yourself and others. I often tell my students to ask themselves "What is the horse really doing right now? Not what you think he's doing, but what is he really doing? It can greatly improve your experience with your horse. Especially the fearful people. I find fear can make us spend a lot of time Interpreting everything around us in an effort to stay safe. It can quickly become a cycle of projections from brain and not what's actually happening.

In the company of horses (http://www.inthecompanyofhorses.com/index.html) is in New Jersey and it is well worth it if you can participate in a workshop on every level. Non horse and horse people alike. I met many like minded awesome people too! I look forward to doing another workshop and implementing these powerful techniques in all areas of life.


Annual New Year's Exercise

Happy New Year! Each year I personally go through my previous year's accomplisments and then I look forward to the upcoming year and set goals for the next year. These goals can be personal, professional or equine related. Whatever you want.

2013 was full of great clinics and moving ever forward in my own journey with my horses and my clients and their horses. I have continually watched with amazement how you all are making steady progress with your own journeys. Some of you have really made huge leaps whether it was with yourselves or really challenging horses.

Your exercise as always, is to write down what has improved with you, your horse or horses over the last year. Where you were a year ago and where you are now. This can be anything at all from what you personally have improved, what you and your horse have improved together, to what has improved with your horses character, condition or training.

Once you have done that, I want you to write where you would like to be next January. The key to goal setting is having a clear picture in your mind or a very clear idea of how you would feel when you have achieved this goal. It doesn't matter if it's improved connection, a technical training skill, more confidence etc.) Try to see what that would look or feel like if you had already achieved it. Then, start making choices that bring you toward that goal without any attachment to how you will get there, how much time it will take or what steps you will do. Just a firm belief that you can and will get there. Then, sit back and notice each and every little step of that journey for the next year. Try to really stay present and aware of these moments as you go along even if it seems like nothing is happening. One of my favorite ideas from Deepak Chopra is about uncertainty. We experience uncertainty frequently with our horses and our lives. When you are uncertain, try to ground in the uncertainty. Try to let go of control and just be in it. It's when the universe is doing it's sorting for you. I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this. Below is just a sample of some of moments of my year. I shared those moments with a lot of you and look forward to sharing more in 2014 Happy New Year!