our world and life is so fast paced we forget that the learning
process needs to be slow, for both horse and human, for us to
process, absorb and understand. So take a deep breath and think
in slow motion when working with your horse. Ask the horse a
question and wait for the answer. If it is the correct answer,
reward him with kind words and a stroke or two. If it is the
wrong answer just say nope that was not what I was looking for
and repeat the question or instruction. Make sure you are very
clear with your body position and intention. If he is anxious
or nervous or moving too fast in his answer this means you need
to go even slower and reward tiny subtle accomplishments.
I was very pleased to hear the trainer of Giacomo, the Kentucky
Derby winner, say that he had to mentally condition the horse
as well as physically condition the horse to get this far. It
was refreshing to hear someone involved in the pressures of
big money and racing to embrace this philosophy.
It is still not the norm, but more and more I am learning that
people are taking the whole horse into consideration. Horses
are not "do and obey," "dominance over force" creatures. They
only fully function and gain well being through cooperation
and understanding with other living beings which is the foundation
of all healthy relationships. They want and need boundaries
like we all do to get along but they also need compassion to
I have asked horse people (who may choose to remain anonymous)
that I have or am working with, for their permission to share
some experiences with you in order to give you insight into
horse behavior. Also check out my website for Q
& A bulletin board questions.
I spoke at the Colorado Horse Rescue annual Holistic Horse Fair
last weekend and met some interesting horse people. One experienced
horseman and I shared many stories after my talk and he told
me the number one consideration that people overlook or misunderstand
in horses is pain. Pain is almost always mistaken as bad behavior.
Pain is the culprit for bad behavior, inability to peform a
certain movement, inability to move forward comfortably, bucking,
rearing, bolting, stopping at jumps, sour attitude, poor eating
habits, developing bad vices, etc. As I do, this man most of
the time gets the horses nobody else wants or can do anything
with. He told me of one example of an accomplished Thoroughbred
show horse that went from owner to owner to owner and got cheaper
and cheaper because of all the bad behavior and he was a very
hard doer on top of the problems making him unusable and expensive.
Thankfully the last owner had the sense of mind to hand the
horse over to Jim Rea. Jim said the first thing he did was take
him down to Littleton Vet Clinic and have a complete work up.
They found the horse's feet were almost to the point of founder
and he had multiple gastric ulcers among other problems that
had developed as a result of all the pain, like sore tight muscles.
It was no wonder the horse was a mess, very unhappy, didn't
want to move, wasn't utilizing his food and was deeply depressed.
Once his physical issues were resolved and the pain subsided
he was a new horse. He began to gain weight, move again, accept
round pen training and went on to be a nice horse under saddle
again. This horse was headed for the meat market because no
one was willing to stop and listen to him and get him checked
out. Thankfully there are people out there like Jim Rea (www.gentlehorses.com)
of The Colorado Natural Horsemanship Center in Parker, Colorado
who realize most horses are good partners if you give them comfort
in mind, body and emotions.
Clara and T came to me about a year ago ready to become partners.
Clara, a rider in her youth, was excited about getting back
to riding and was given her sister's horse T, a Trakehner/TB
cross gelding to recondition and put back into work. T had been
turned out for a few years but had had adequate training to
know the basics. On one of Clara's first rides before I met
her, T had bucked her off and she wasn't sure what happened
or why but she had her reservations about him going into our
lessons together. Clara thinks T is 10 now but we are not sure
because no one has his papers.
We had several good weeks of ground work and riding lessons
started when T began to bunch up his back and fuss and get hyper
active at the trot. We tried changing saddles, we tried a few
different approaches to going into the trot but he was still
about to explode. I finally went over and pressed around his
back and croup and found he was very sensitive and sore and
deducted that he had probably had a fall or a bad slip in his
pasture while rearing and playing with his buddies. So we had
the chiropractor come out and Clara gave him almost 3 months
Two weeks ago we decided it was time to start back with him.
Clara was ready and so was T. We checked out the saddle fit
before Clara mounted and to our surprise T's body had changed
considerably, the saddle was no longer sitting level. We agreed
that her saddle system set up needed to be reset to a level
place on T again. Without the saddle we decided to turn our
lesson into a bareback session. Clara warned me that T hated
anyone riding bareback on him and I had questions about that.
We took him into the round pen and took all of his tack off
except the halter. I worked with him and Clara for a few minutes
first establishing body positioning with T and teaching him
how to release his hind quarters and move one back foot at a
time in both directions. After I felt he was secure with this
positioning we took him over to the mounting block and I asked
Clara just to lay over his back. We patted him all over, went
over him with the wand, talked to him and then Clara jumped
up and laid on his back. T completely freaked out and almost
went over backwards.= This told me that we had a serious fear
memory issue going on. I guessed that sometime during his young
horse life someone jumped on his back out in the field and made
him run and it really scared him. To him it would have seemed
as though a tiger had pounced out of the tree down onto his
We brought him back up to the mounting block and I got a towel
and put it all over him. He had no negative reactions and just
stood there quietly. Then we tried the lay over approach again.
This time I administered acupressure on T's neck while Clara
jumped up and down on the block making noise and patting his
back. Finally she was able to jump up on his back and lay there
without him moving. I had her lay on him for a few minutes and
we were even able to walk a few steps without him loosing focus.
We gave him a couple of small treats for his accomplishment.
We then decided to do the same thing on the other side. The
right side was even worse. At first he would not go within 6
feet of Clara and the mounting block. I went back to the spatial
positioning of the feet again, over and over with lots of pats
and strokes and positive words in between each step until he
was really listening and watching every move I made, no matter
how subtle. After about 20 minutes I was able to get him right
up next to Clara. We stood there for quite awhile and she rubbed
his back and made noises on the mounting block while I administered
acupressure again. This was such a big accomplishment that I
decided to end it there. He had given a great deal mentally
to overcome his deep seated fear. I had Clara give him a few
handfulls of grain in a feed tub in the round pen and we left
him there alone for a few minutes to process what we/he had
This is a horse that has had several years of training, been
through dressage and hunter barns as a sale horse and yet he
could not handle someone laying on his back. He had a history
of being nervous and sensitive, which is even more reason to
take it slow and allow the horse to process every little thing
you do with him and allow the time for the release of good chemicals
into the nervous system. You never know where the behavioral
issues are coming from. He also needs lots of body work to help
re-align his spine and this will help him to learn to self-release.
If a horse's body is clear and out of pain, when something does
slip out of place, most of the time they are able to re-align
themselves, and they heal quickly. A supple aligned body is
a body that will take care of itself in short order.
Our next session will be interesting to see how he comes back
to the same questions.
I have a wonderful friend who is 70 years young. Alana is an
amazing spirit with great determination and try. We have known
each other for several years through horses but I had never
worked with her and her horse. She had told me over the years
of the troubles she was having with her Morgan mare. The mare
is fancy, beautiful, petite-sized with a large ego and power.
Shasta was/is determined to be the alpha mare over Alana and
expresses her opinions loud and clear.
Alana has tried working with many different trainers to get
Shasta to work and behave and the mare just fusses or resists
or acts stubbornly or flares her temper. Finally, Alana and
I talked and she decided to try me out. From the very beginning
it was clear to me that the partnership wasn't going to work
if they kept going forward with the same approach. Alana is
a very creative artist and thinker and she was, in my view,
always trying to shape Shasta and herself into a beautiful piece
of art working together in harmony as sport partners, and when
she didn't get what she expected she became frustrated and very
tight in her body. Shasta on the other hand was tight and sore
in her body, she was all bound up and stiff and was angry about
not being able to float and fly like she knew she could. Alana
suspects that the mare's tight body issues are from an injury
a few years ago. Both females were frustrated, but what to do?
I felt that freeing them both and getting them to identify their
issues was the way to start. I started showing Alana how to
lunge Shasta and work with her in the round pen asking her to
move forward and enjoy herself and play and buck and run. After
this kind of start to each session, I began asking Shasta to
listen to me more on the lunge line and I would squat down and
whistle to her and ask her to connect with me on the line and
bring her head down and stretch. I asked Alana to demonstrate
the same thing and showed her how to begin moving with her horse.
You trot when you want her to trot and you canter when you want
her to canter. I always use this to help a horse learn to play
with me and have fun, then over time I do less and less until
I can just begin to trot or canter and they go off that cue
and my words. Horses watch every move you make, they look for
your eye contact, they notice if you are not paying attention
to them. You must always focus on them when you are working
in their space.
Alana had her saddle re-flocked and re-fitted and I began to
massage the mare and check out her body. Alana was/is determined
to do the best she can for the mare. She was tight and sore
all over and appreciated every little release I could give her.
I taught Alana where to massage and what to focus on to give
Shasta some pleasure. Alana told me that for the first time
Shasta was coming to her in the pasture and seeking her hand.
This was a new relationship developing and Alana understands
that this is a slow process of healing.
We kept on this program once per week. Alana had the mare's
mouth checked out because she was so fussy with her head and
mouth. Sure enough the dentist found a large abcess inside her
mouth and her teeth were not in balance or level. The healing
in the mouth began our process of re-building this lovely horse.
Shasta had a slight injury to one leg and had a few weeks off
and the vet suggested that Alana look further into Shasta's
way of going. We talked about it and decided to have her looked
at by a wonderful human and horse chiropractor and saddle fitter.
The chiropractic alignment work started a few weeks ago and
we can already tell a significant difference in her gait, her
attitude, her willingness to work, her fluid joint movement,
the swing in her trot and her understanding of what Alana is
asking. It's like we are all working together to free the bird
I have also been working with Alana's biomechanics in the saddle.
She goes to a Pilates class once per week which has been very
helpful in her fitness and stability in the saddle. We start
every lesson with Alana finding her neutral pelvis position
and aligning the legs and upper body with the correct position
of the spine and neck. We work on softening her elbows and wrists
and making a connection with Shasta through the hand to mouth
and seat to hocks.
We will continue on this path as the pair learn to feel each
other more and more and seek each other out more and more. Alana
so wants their partnership to be a happy one. Once Shasta is
pain free, which may take awhile, she will be happy to share
the spotlight. It's my job to bring them together in the happiest,
safest, healthiest, most comfortable way.
I share these experiences with you to show you how various issues
can be handled. But none of this work can progress unless the
human side of the partnership is willing, open, trusting and
fully clear in their bodies and minds. If your body is tight,
not released through the lower back, and your joints are locked
when you work with the horse, the horse will receive mixed and
confusing messages. If your abdominal core is loose and wobbly,
you cannot expect your horse to be balanced and supportive and
moving forward under saddle. When you want your horse to be
a great partner you must be his or her equal in every way. I
realize this is a tall order for many of you but it is worth
it all to have joyous, safe, fun and thrilling rides together
for many, many years. Take care of yourself the best that you
can and do it for the "long run" with your horse partner. _____________________________________________________________________
article for your interest on feeding alfalfa - "Protein
Praises and Woes" by Gretchen Topel
Check out the website for Masai
Barefoot shoes/sneakers called MBTs. Excellent shoes for
saving your joints while giving you correct conditioning.
Check out the website for Synergist
Saddles. Synergist makes endurance, english and western
saddles specifically designed for the female rider. Their products
are beautifully made, have wide fitted panels and comfortable
My Women & Horses TM Essential Oils for Horse and Rider are
almost ready to debut. We have everything planned for a June
Maggie Parker, Pilates for Riders instructor, and I are working
on a "Get Fit To Ride" Exercise Booklet Series for the female
rider. It should be out no later than July 1. The first insert
is called "Finding Neutral Pelvis Position". This is the basic
position necessary to all riding for effectiveness, comfort,
balance, stability and power. It will feature photos and diagrams
of positions and exercises for you to establish and maintain
the neutral pelvis position.
My website is being updated to include a Women & Horses Products
and Gift Shop. I will be able to sell directly the website with
credit card payments starting in June. I will be offering my
books, videos, ball and bands, plus the Essential Oils, notecards,
the new "Get Fit to Ride" booklet series and other items helpful
to the female rider. They will include a selection of bras designed
for high-impact sports like riding for the large breasted woman,
natural horse care products for grooming and cleaning, breeches
and clothing with interesting and fun design elements and more.
My own horse Redge is going through many positive changes these
days. We are in month 10 together and he is a safe horse to
ride now, trustworthy and very happy. We are slowly progressing
in connection work along with free happy-go-lucky trail rides.
What a fun dance partner he is becoming!
Peggy Cummings (www.peggycummings.com)
will be visiting me to work with me and my horse from July 10-12.
She will take a few additional lessons during those days and
you are welcome to come meet her and observe her marvelous work.
My next clinic is in Sheridan, WY with Lucy Widener and friends
from June 3-5. See the Calendar
Happy Riding, Mary