Complaints

I sent in my first complaint to a company yesterday. I’m not one to send in complaints, but I was frustrated enough with the runaround I got that when they sent me the “how did we do?” questionnaire link, I was ready to tell them.

But it got me thinking – I get those types of requests for feedbacks in my email all the time and I have never filled one out until now. It was only when I was good and PO’d that I took the time to fill one out. There’s plenty of services and products that have gone just fine- not amazing enough to stand out, but definitely not bad.

That got me thinking about our rides. How often do we notice when things don’t go the way we want? Probably every one of us could say we notice everything that goes wrong. How often do we notice when things are amazing? Probably most of us again would at least notice some of the time when things are going wonderfully.

But what about when things are good, not amazing, but definitely not bad? That will likely be the majority of the ride. We notice when the horse walks away from the block, but what about when the steady eddy stands quietly at the block daily? Do we notice the good behavior that we’ve come to rely on, or do we only notice when it doesn’t happen?

Do we appreciate the normal, functional, small things that make our rides pleasant? It’s true we should always strive for improvement. But without noticing what your horse is doing right, the little steps, little achievements, little “not failures,” we lose gratitude, lose the whole picture, become complacent, and get stuck in a correcting frame of mind.

For at least one ride, make a practice of noticing what DIDN’T go wrong. You might notice quite a lot that is going right!

And maybe reach out to a company that offers you a product or service and let them know what they did RIGHT. They’ll probably really appreciate it, since most of them only get complaints (must just be our nature).

The Lead Rope

A lead rope should be “alive”

It is not a piece of equipment that just hangs from your horse’s face, to be used to drag the horse from one point to another.

The lead rope is the connection between you and your horse. The feel in it says everything about your relationship, communication, your ability to stay in the moment with the horse, and how they feel about the things they come across with you.

The lead rope is your reins, your connection to the horse’s mind and body.

The lead rope deserves all the respect in the world, as if you were holding the entire horse in your palm. The lead rope is not something to hold and use mindlessly- it is alive, and has a language. It’s for you to take that life with respect and mold it to suit your horse.

Lazy?

Is your horse actually lazy, or are they stiff, heavy on the forehand, and have learned to shut out your aids?

Is your horse actually forward and hot, or are they nervous, off balance, over stimulated and frustrated?

True impulsion to me means directable energy. If you have energy you can’t control, you don’t have impulsion, you have worry.

Being “in front of the leg” to me means that the horse’s front legs are literally in front of yours. If their forehand is tight, their front legs will take stiff, quick choppy steps beneath them, as opposed to out in front of them.

If your horse isn’t forward, chasing them with driving aids will only create more tense, choppy steps, but will not fix the problem. There is a big difference between faster, and with more impulsion.

Often we look at the forward and slow types of horses as different, but they both are showing symptoms of the same problem: stiffness and lack of balance. One is running away from his lack of balance, the other’s lack of balance has created an inability to go forward. Both horses can be helped with suppling the shoulders, lengthening and straightening the neck, and developing a swing through the back.

Distractions

You want your horse’s attention-

Most people say something like this. I heard in a meditation podcast this morning that the average American is distracted 47% of the time- according to a Harvard research study a decade ago. (The podcast is Healthy Minds)

That’s half of our waking lives. Half the time at least, most of us are doing something and thinking about something else.

When I teach, I try to bring people’s awareness to the small details, and most people say something like they had no idea how much was going on before noticing it. They didn’t notice the way the lead rope felt when they picked it up. They didn’t notice the way the horse felt when they pet him, or how he felt when they quit. Most people admit to at least some of the time thinking about the task and forgetting about the horse entirely.

I’m not perfect at maintaining focus, but it’s something I’m fortunate to have had brought to my attention as a goal a long time ago. My mentors ask me to do everything, no matter how minute the detail is, with care and feel. And every lesson or clinic I take with them, I work on those things again.

Learning to stay in the moment and put care into the details has been something I’ve been working on for over a decade. I work with on average eight horses a day and probably think about it 290 times a day (made up number).

I may be denser then many, some folks might achieve this quicker. But it will not happen without it being your day in, day out goal. You can’t come to a clinic and suddenly be mindful- it’s the shift of focus in your entire life. It spans across every part of your day. You’ll slip up, notice and focus again maybe 800 times a day, and that is the practice.

Do you want your horse’s attention? Start by paying attention to where your own attention lies.

Going Too Slow

Can you go too slow? Absolutely.

Rushing, or pushing a horse beyond their limit can be detrimental to their emotional and physical well-being. But it is important to understand that going too slow can also damage confidence.

If the horse is not continually expanding their physical limit, as well as emotional comfort zone, at least by a small percentage, they can actually become weaker and more afraid.

You can go too slow and damage a relationship if the horse is becoming disinterested, bored, checking out, or not connecting one concept to the next.

You can go too slow if you aren’t making the work just interesting enough to the horse to engage, try and make efforts toward the next step.

Those steps can be tiny, and progress doesn’t always have to be straight forward and linear. But sometimes, in well meaning attempts to preserve the confidence of the horse, we go too slow and lose their ability to stay involved or connected to our work.

Going Too Slow

Can you go too slow? Absolutely.

Rushing, or pushing a horse beyond their limit can be detrimental to their emotional and physical well-being. But it is important to understand that going too slow can also damage confidence.

If the horse is not continually expanding their physical limit, as well as emotional comfort zone, at least by a small percentage, they can actually become weaker and more afraid.

You can go too slow and damage a relationship if the horse is becoming disinterested, bored, checking out, or not connecting one concept to the next.

You can go too slow if you aren’t making the work just interesting enough to the horse to engage, try and make efforts toward the next step.

Those steps can be tiny, and progress doesn’t always have to be straight forward and linear. But sometimes, in well meaning attempts to preserve the confidence of the horse, we go too slow and lose their ability to stay involved or connected to our work.

Young Horse

Should you get a young horse?

Are you a fairly confident rider, with the ability to go with the flow?

Do you have patience, a sense of humor and time?

Do you have loose goals and a willingness to be flexible?

Can you let a horse move out, let go of the reins, and relax about what’s out of your control?

Do you understand or have help with developing a young horse systematically and fairly, over time?

If you can’t answer yes to these, I would seriously encourage you to reconsider.

To me, there is nothing so sad as the confidence of a young horse squashed by a fearful rider defending themselves against the antics of a young horse.

And, there is nothing so beautiful as watching a young horse blossom under a tactful rider.

The True Horseman

A good horse trainer isn’t a jockey or a bronc rider
A good horse trainer doesn’t just get the kinks, the ya-ya’s, the sillies out of a horse and install buttons. A request for this from a true horseman is an insult.

A good horse trainer is an artist- they work with a horse like a painter to canvas, where the horse contributes his own expression to the piece. They mold a mind into something calm and peaceful, a body into a gleaming work of art.

A good horse trainer doesn’t train on an assembly line. They see the unique needs of each individual. They are attached to the well-being, the inner being of each horse. They don’t send horses home without wondering about each one, how they’re doing, and whether they’re still thriving.

Photo by Jasmine Cope

Clinic Thoughts

Some thoughts on lessons and clinics:

-if your horse is nervous or hot, that is fine. You’re not performing, and I’d rather you bring me what you have to work with and have me help you get them relaxed and balanced.

-lunging your horse to expend energy before a lesson wastes precious energy you’re gonna need in the lesson, and goes against the purpose of the lesson. We’re working on relaxation and balance: lunging or round penning in circles to get the ya-ya’s out does the opposite of this, putting you at a poor starting place. Again, bring what you have and we’ll get there together.

-if all you did was walk, there was a reason. We’re working with where you and the horse can stay relaxed and balanced. If the basics in the walk are not solid, how can we trot and canter without losing balance and relaxation?

-if all you did was walk, don’t downplay the amount of physical effort your horse had to put in. Your horses is using deep postural muscles to stabilize their body in a way they aren’t used to. They will be tired. I’ve had top level endurance horses exhausted after 20 minutes of walking in good form- it’s not what they’re used to doing, and different muscles and ways of going are being used.

-if all you did was walk in the lesson, at the end of the lesson getting a trot and canter in out of balance and with tension is like eating Oreos after brushing your teeth. I left you and your horse where you were for a reason: because your horse was in a good frame of mind and a good balance. Ending on that note was intentional.

-you won’t walk forever. You’re there because either a) it’s a great place to give the rider enough time to focus, learn to follow the motion of the horse and practice a new skill
B ) the horses’ back is tense and needs to open
C) the rider can’t go into the faster gaits without pulling, getting tight, fixating on headset or otherwise reversing the balance and relaxation we’ve worked on at the walk.

There is no shame in any of these. We start with where you are and go from there. I don’t care if you’re a Grand Prix rider or a backyard trail rider. I don’t care how much your horse cost. If we’re working together, I believe in you, and you will be treated with the same amount of respect
but if the basics aren’t right, they aren’t right, and we don’t rush past basics.

Dogmatic Thinking

There are some topics I’m pretty die hard about (should horses be turned out? Yes) and others that I tend to be much more flexible about (should horses go long and low? It totally depends on the horse, situation and duration of time).

Us humans are often seeking yes and no, black and white, good and evil answers. Nearly everything I’ve been dogmatic about has been jarred and kicked out of me, sometimes quite literally, by horses who didn’t read the program.

It’s important to have a code of ethics in our lives that is strict – doing right by the horse for example- above adherence to dogma- such as always or never bits, shoes, whatever – because in the adherence to dogma, we let horses slip through the cracks- we miss the forest for the trees, and lose sight and flexibility of our original code: doing right by the horse, whatever that horse needs in that moment. Because our understanding of what’s right for horses can change with education, but only if we’re open to the details, while being firm on the principles.