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I just returned
from a week of shooting Equine Tips from Equestrian World in
Kentucky. As you
may have read in the press
release on my website home page, I have signed a consulting
and national spokesperson contract with the Tarter Gate company
and its new horse division, Equestrian World.
RFD-TV will be airing 28 of my equine tips starting the first
week in September, to run through December. RFD-TV is a rural
farm network which features 8 hours of horse programming per
day and can be found on any satellite television system. It
is not on cable yet.
The tips range from fencing advice, to neutral pelvis alignment
for women, how to fit protective headgear, body biomechanics
around the horse and in doing stable work, saddle fit and much
more. We will be shooting more tips later in the Fall. I hope
you and your friends will find the tips fun and informative.
Handling Horses Through Body and Mind Awareness
horses, especially young ones, needs to come from a basis of
awareness learning. Most horses are trained in a way that is
referred to as "rote" learning. The dictionary says, "A memorizing
process using routine or repetition, often without full attention
or comprehension; learn by rote; mechanical routine."
In my many years as a trainer and in handling horses in general
I have seen horses trained in this way. The horse understands
how to go in circles but has no idea of where his feet are,
how his body is balanced, how to connect with the rider, how
to handle change, how to handle crisis, how to maintain comfort
in his body especially with the rider's weight added or how
to process new information.
For me and my horses it comes down to comfort and safety. When
a horse is operating in a mechanical routine manner we are not
safe, we are not together as partners, we are not comfortable
and we are both frustrated. When something changes or goes wrong
the horse simply checks out mentally and can bolt, spook or
decide to leave the premises.
As you may already know, I have a new horse named Regal Red
or Redge and our photo is featured
on the home page of my website. Redge is a very interesting
study in the misunderstood horse and he has learned everything
in a rote manner. I feel it is important to share what I have
experienced with him so far and believe is a common occurance
among many horse and rider partnerships.
I bought Redge a month ago knowing he had behavior issues but
was willing to take him on as my intution and experience told
me there was a beautiful sensitive horse waiting to bloom under
the defensive layers.
Redge is like many young horses who show talent at an early
age but are not given the time to develop mentally or learn
how to work with a human on the ground and mounted at their
own pace as an individual. They show their physical ability
early on and so they become marketed to high-end buyers and
get stamped with a label of high expectations. These talented
horses are pushed and framed up and collected to present the
picture of the future to perspective buyers, when in reality
the horse is simply performing like a robot and has no concept
of body and mind development and awareness that needs to come
slowly with maturity.
As a 6 year old, Redge has already had a great deal of expectation
and challenge placed on him early in his life. He has the maturity
of a 3 year old with lots of defenses already built up in his
youth and he has no idea how to handle himself. He has a big
ego and acts like a tough street kid and has become defensive
and disrespectful because of his lack of awareness and inner
peace. He reminds me of the orphans in Dickens' Oliver
where these beautiful young innocent kids are fed to the wolves
of society and they grow up overnight becoming thieves and scoundrels
out of self-preservation. They become incorrigible without nurturance,
compassion, support and understanding.
Redge has a long way to go to come to full self-awareness in
body, mind and spirit, it may be years, but it is my intention
to give him that. He has already given me the joy of owning
and riding a talented horse of a lifetime. He has softened incredibly
in just the one month I have owned him. We are having a great
time together on the trails, in the round pen, out in the fields,
in the arenas, in the stall and in just being together. There
will be good days, bad days, days when we go back to square
one, days when we jump ahead and connect and days when we just
Undoing the "rote" horse is an experience in patience and resourcefulness
for me and I look forward to the education that it brings me
in my understanding of relationships with horses.
To begin bringing awareness to a horse you must go back to the
one-on-one animal level between you and your horse. Take off
all the tack and join him in the round pen. I like to use my
body and my voice in unison to let the horse know what we can
do together. I walk beside my horse and use the word "Walk"
with him. Then I begin to trot beside him and ask him to "trot-trot"
with me. Then to the canter and the same thing, I canter or
jog beside the horse and use the word "canter" and tell him
how good he is while we are going around the circle together.
I pet and touch him as much as I can to reinforce the body and
mind connection. I also repeat all of this body and voice language
with him when he is in-hand out in the field on the trail. I
will jog with him like he's a dog on a leash and occasionally
stop and let him graze and talk with him.
He needs to become completely free with me as a partner, with
no demands on him. As the connection builds, I will add in a
few challenges like going over a bridge together, stepping slowly
through a pile of poles, backing him into a tight spot and then
continuing with our walk and hand grazing. I will begin mixing
in days of ground work and riding work and continue on a daily
basis to mix up my questions for him, helping him sort out the
questions, but always staying connected by using my body language
to jog with him and have some fun.
After a few weeks of this kind of approach I will check in to
see where we are and take him into an arena and ask for a quiet
workout with a connection to the bit as I would with a "made"
horse. This will give me an idea of what he has learned and
how far he has come or not. Will he bend his body with mine
or is he just doing the same old "bend my head and neck because
she says so" approach? Has he accepted my hand and leg in a
comfortable way or is he just performing because he has been
taught he'll be beaten up if he doesn't? Is he listening to
my aids and respecting them because he's happy about our partnership
or is he afraid of me and what might happen?
Once I have answered a lot of these questions for myself I can
take note of where we are. I will go back to my ground work
and reinforce his awareness of his body and mind and work on
calming his nervous system with some acupressure and mouth massage
to release endorphines.
In addition to my training work with Redge, I have also supported
what his body needs to make him comfortable. I had his mouth
examined and floated by a master dentist, acupuncture and chiropractic
for his sore lower back, 5 rolfing sessions to release all the
tight fascia throughout his body, had a discussion with his
farrier about balancing his feet, corrected the saddle fit and
massage from me as I groom him. I found he holds most of his
tension in his mouth and jaw and I give him a good mouth massage
before each ride.
This is our beginning and every horse deserves this approach.
Even if you cannot afford a great deal of health care support
you can learn many techniques and do them yourself.
If your horse or others you know of have been trained from "rote"
learning please consider starting in with a new approach. I
took my mare Theo on at the age of 14 and was able to recapture
her health and spirit bringing both of us years of comfort and
safety in riding pursuits. It is possible to give awareness
to an older horse as well as starting them out correctly.
I feel for all the young horses out there that are precocious
and show talent early on because many people will take advantage
of the outer picture and not consider what may be going on inside.
The "inner horse" will become an Oliver and lead a difficult
life which is uneccesary.
I will touch base with you occasionally and let you know how
Redge is doing in his journey to find his comfort level of existence.
In the meantime, go out and have fun with your horse and let
him know how much you care.
By the way, my mare Anna has reached that goal of self-awareness
and self-confidence and is fit, sound and happy. I have worked
with her for 4 years and I am trying to find a new home for
her if you know of someone who might be interested.
for your support, Mary