Horsey Therapist

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What is magical

Blogging horsey friend wrote about patterns: "And the changes and the circles and the up/ down transitions DO break up the bracing and [my horse] becomes light. It is magical."

I write: The changes and the circles and the up/down transitions break up the bracing because in order for the horse to do all these things we ask, he has to let go of his own thoughts and go along with our thoughts. It's with the yielding frame of mind that we feel the yielding body. That is the magic. Whatever we can do to communicate our requests so the horse understands and wants to go along with our requests, that will bring success.

I can easily overlook what is going on and resume thinking that my actions are directly causing the horse's actions. No way! I am in no way strong enough to cause a horse to do anything, to make a horse do anything, to keep a horse doing anything, or to keep a horse from doing anything. It is his understanding and his decision to give my ideas a try that lead to his actions. Horse is in charge of horse's body. Horse does what I ask when horse believes it's in his own best interest.

And hopefully I've set things up so the horse is feeling good, not worried, as he takes care of himself with me. Horses like feeling unpressured and soft. Horses will do things when worried and tense, but for any of us who have felt the difference -- there is no going back, no settling for forcing a worried horse as a way of life.

It is so sweet when their little minds take their big bodies just where we've asked them to. Better than floating down a river on a sunny afternoon.

(Friend: if I could have accessed the Comments section on your blog this morning, these words would have been there not here.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Riding more, writing less

Such is life.

Now that I'm riding more, I'm writing less. I miss the times of reflection and expression here at the keyboards, but not so much that I will actively reduce my riding time!

Admittedly, it's not just riding that is taking my attention. I am completing the details involved with selling my house in Maine, and moping around in the heat and humidity. But I am riding more, including a three hour trail ride on my dear Rusty this morning. I am tickled silly that we are getting along this well. I didn't even feel the need to sing him into calmness today!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In honor of Leslie Desmond

[Me on Rusty at a clinic with Leslie]

I have been writing a lot lately about the influence of Harry Whitney. I must mention Leslie Desmond. Indeed I will be writing about some of my horse experience referencing her deep influence over the years that has helped shape me mentally and emotionally and physically into the horseperson I am today.

Lately I listen to her new audio CD book series frequently in the car. It is wonderful! Available from her website, and well worth the investment. Add these CD's to her book with Bill Dorrance, True Horsemanship Through Feel and wow, enough information to keep one experimenting for years. I mean it.

Riding Patterns

I read about riding patterns. I have done that a little, and could do it again. I even own a book of patterns to ride.

Sometimes I ask students to design and ride a pattern ("make a plan") although most of them are beginner therapeutic riding students learning the basics of how to steer successfully. These riders are blissfully without concern about the finer arts of knowing where the four corners of the horse are and influencing them, other than feeling the horse underneath them helping them accomplish moving from start to finish of the plan they created.

Honestly, I still do ride patterns a lot, or at least parts of patterns.

My patterns are different now from before. My patterns change often, when either it is going very well hence no need to ask any more for something via the pattern (for a second or so, that is) or it is not going well and I must change something in order to bring my horse's mind and body together again and together with what I have in mind for us.

What Harry Whitney told us really glommed onto me -- the stuff about frequent, frequent, frequent changes if your horse is braced. And my horse is braced any time he's thinking elsewhere and taking his body with his thoughts, away from where my intention is directing our bodies.

I might make a quarter circle and that's all it takes for us to be going 'straight' -- sounds weird to be going straight on a circle, but in this case 'straight' means the body is lined up with the mind going around a curve, in balance and with softness from poll to tail. I suppose that softness is from mind to mind -- his mind to my mind and my mind to his mind. But it shows up in our bodies.

(By the way, it is the horse's mind that moves the horse where I want him to go -- not me. My seat and reins and leg don't move the horse. Hopefully they communicate my intention to the horse's mind, and in his mind he understands and choses to go along with my direction, then his mind moves his body to the best of his ability in the manner and direction that I requested.)

Once we're together and going straight on the circle, I release him into going straight straight, feeling the goodness of those steps of straightness, all four legs reaching and responsive in harmony and balance, and feeling for when it's time to give us something next to do. Like two or three seconds, maybe fewer, maybe more. I don't tell him every step how to move. I ask him to do something and help him get straight and soft doing it with me, and when he's sliding into that lovely zone, I release him hopefully as he's getting ready, on the cusp, of giving what I'm asking.

When I hold my asking too long it interferes with his comfort and understanding of what I'm asking for. I overdo it often enough to get my own attention -- then comes a change after the awareness of problem. I've been focussing on finding the middle ground between underdoing and overdoing. Between asking late and failing to ask. Middle ground between asking too softly and asking too firmly -- neither is effective through and through. I suspect it's one of those lifelong missions -- finding better timing and better feel of asking and releasing, of 'please' and 'thank you'.

The green grass is lovely along the road sides now. Some of his thank yous today involved grazing. I do expect him to come back to me mentally and physically when I ask. But he really likes this green candy stuff. He would prefer I don't ask for his attention while he's enjoying himself this way!

Being early

I quote Harry Whitney as saying:

"If you are early, you don't have to be fast."

"It doesn't take a lot of strength when it's right."

I'll put those together and say:

It's easy when you're early.

Not to say that it's easy to get to the place where you can be early, but once that is figured out, it is easier to be early, you don't have to be fast like Harry said, and it doesn't take a lot of strength and there are few signs of struggle (mouth gaping, tail wringing, eyes rolling, etc.)

What are some things it take to be early?







I'd be honest saying I know a lot more about being late and struggling than being early and having it go easy. But I'm excited about the changes I've been making this year, this season, this month.

As I get quiet inside I become more able to really pay attention to what is outside myself, ie, my horse, while still being emotionally and intuitively (not sure if they are separate things actually) attuned to myself and my environment. In these moments -- and having felt when things are fluid and connected with my horse -- I can feel the smallest and earliest indications that someone's mind is straying from our togetherness. It could be my mind or it could be my horse's mind, or both. The sooner I notice, the easier it is to ask the mind to come back, to attend to the "now". The longer the mind gets to wander and become infused with some other place or event, the harder it can be to come back. Plus it can come back with gusto and that is not always easy to ride!

I've heard Harry many times talk about the importance of having the mind and the body in one place. Also about the importance of helping the horse develop the habit of letting go of his thought(s) so there is room for my thoughts. And of course each horse has an unique level of commitment to his own thoughts. The stronger the commitment the horse has to his own thoughts, the bigger the clash might feel when he is asked to let go and come along with his human's thoughts. I spent years supporting one of my horses to develop the habit of following his own thoughts and ignoring mine unless under duress. Bad habit of mine = bad habit of horse!

If he were to be a pasture pet with little interaction with people, it would be fully appropriate for him to live entirely by his beliefs. Well, he might have to work a few things out with other horses if he's in a herd. But the more I want him to fit into our human world and become a pleasant companion for a ride, the more I need to change what I'm doing to help him fit in better.

When something new comes to his attention, for example, without him having good human-world-habits, he is free to turn and run for his life. Hmmm, not so good for me although most of the time I've stuck with him. But it's unnerving to ride out and wonder when is this going to happen.

What a delight to be coached to develop ways of helping this horse let go easier, helping him to trust he will survive if he follows my guidance when things get scary. We had a lovely, calm, mostly forward and willing "trail ride" yesterday. I guess we went a quarter mile from home and back, riding on a slack rein 93% of the time. One day we'll go five or ten miles, but this was a sign of great progress yesterday. I waited for him to be ready to head out, he listened when I asked him to go forward, to stand still, to look ahead to where we were going. Our turn around to head home was no faster or worried than our heading out away from home. These seem like little things as I write them, but some folks know how gargantuan are these changes.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Happy surprise

I thought the fox got them. The guinea cock had been sticking close to his hen mate, and she had been sitting on a clutch of eggs at the edge of the hay field, before it was cut. One day no guineas and a bare pile of eggs -- nobody setting. The next day, our second guinea hen was on the eggs.

I grieved the loss of the breeding pair of pearl guineas, feeling ambivalent about the welfare of the fox who eats too often from our farm yard, then netted and moved the hen, her mate, and the eggs into an empty stall in the barn. The hen no longer sat on the eggs and after a few days I released the pair into the barn yard much to their delight.

This morning I heard some loud calling from over near the run in shed in the horse paddock. Then I noticed it was the puh-track of a guinea hen. Huh? I thought all the guineas were in the coop overnight. They were! That means this is the other hen! What do you suppose she's making all that racket about?

I go over to see and surprise, surprise! There she is with her mate and about a dozen keets! I am so darned impressed with Mother Nature! Not that it is unusual for the guinea hen to sit and hatch her eggs, but for the two adults to survive around here in their vulnerable condition, ie, sitting -- shall we say, like a sitting duck? (Sorry for that one.) An easy target for the fox who has shown much bravado (bravada?) in the past trotting through the paddock like she owns it.

RNB and I talked about whether to net and move them inside, or not.

We decided to let them be. There is no rain in the forecast, perhaps the biggest threat to the survival of the keets. And certainly growing up out there is "natural" not to mention less work for us. We still have a stall full of chicks -- 27 I think?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another topic: health!

This is an email sent by Linsey McLean to a group of horse people. She gave me permission to put this here on my blog. If you want to get more information, her website and contact info is at the bottom of what she wrote. Good stuff to ponder!

Fri Jul 14, 2006

The cause of the cause....again and again...

We all agree that many horses, dogs and humans are carb sensitive, meaning that they cannot handle even the smallest amount of carbs. But for a moment, let's look at the historical development of carbohydrate has been increasing in frequency statistically in both animal and human populations for the last several decades. When I was teaching at a college in Mi back in the 1980's, I used a video series as an aid to teaching equine nutrition, made in Cambridge, England. Back then, the standard recommendation was 10 lb of standard 10% protein sweet feed plus 15 to 20 lb of mixed hay per day for the average horse. That's correct, your eyes are not reading wrong! I still have my teaching materials....that came at a time when the average teenager was some 15 lbs heavier than when I went to school back in the 60's, and when the average carb intake was found to be only 1 teaspoon of sugar difference from the calorie intake of the 60's. So we have to ask ourselves ... what has changed? What is it that is affecting not only our people but our animals and pets too? Why is the same diet that was fine for centuries not fine now?

Living in the infamously industrially polluted I-75 Corridor of SE Mi, where the morbidity and mortality stats were quoted by the British Medical Assoc and the CDC as the highest in the entire world, I saw the carb intolerance wave coming like a freight train on the horizon back then in the 1970's, and that is when I began studying the "why's" of the driving force. That is when I began clinical trials with morbidly obese middle age women, mostly diabetic, and most on a bushel basket of drugs for the other concurrent symptoms that arise from exposures to industrial pollutants. It was 1974 when I formulated Hi Pro for horses, which is simply removing the carb sources from the standard sweet feed widely used at that time. I began by reducing the carb sources, and continuing to reduce them down to nothing as the carb sensitive syndrome became ever worsening, and the horses became ever more sensitive to the continuing reduction of the carbs that were left. So, can you envision this scenario?

The living body is like a teacup, where one drop is added per day. Sometimes two drops go in ... over time, the teacup is filled to the top and the next drop makes the cup run over. Then everybody rushes to analyze the composition of the last drop that made the cup run over, without considering the million other drops that were already in the cup, setting the stage for an overflow. That drop was the same as all the others. The body/teacup can deal with toxins to a degree, but not an overload. The overload, accumulations from all the years of life's exposures will cause an overflow of symptoms, which is what we see as "sudden disease", which in reality, was not so sudden at all.

So the point I am trying to show understanding for, is that the bodies themselves have changed over time. Biochemistry has been slowly compromised in ways that make the old foods and feeds intolerant, namely carbs. High levels of arsenic, iron, and manganese, coupled with low levels of magnesium, selenium, iodine, copper, and zinc understandably cause carb metabolism to fail, in "any" body ... dog, cat, horse, human etc..

Back in 1976 when the laws were changed to allow heavy metals, dioxins, PCB's and radionuclides as hazardous waste from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to be disposed of by adding them to the commercial fertilizers that grow our food, and our animals' food, there was already adequate data showing that the heavy loads of arsenic, lead, cadmium, nickel, mercury, iron, manganese, etc. interfered with the biochemistry of carbohydrate metabolism. For the few of us who knew what was actually going on with this practice, the coming IR [insuline resistance] stats and diabetes epidemics were quite expected. But nobody in high places listened when they should have to stop the practice, or at least elicit public outcry by educating the public. The huge amounts of monies moving from these industries into their subsidieries who take these wastes and put them into fertilizers and other ag products has corrupted even the overseerers of our health welfare. To this day, virtually nobody in the public really realizes and understands what is horribly going on with our food and feeds. My life's work has been oriented to educating the public. Without public outcry to overrule the corruption, this practice will continue to go on.

So, you see, we can argue till the cows come home about this sugar or that ... but the bottom line scenario is this: we do not have normal metabolism, as described in our textbooks, by the science of observation, and cumulative data mostly before the onslaught of chems in the environment after WW1. Our textbooks are basically obsolete -- they describe a paradigm that essentially does not exist any more. I have to say that my wonderful education at the Univ of Mich is obsolete. It was a nice foundation for the science I do now, but much of the biochem I learned there is obsolete. Everything is changed by the chemical interferences. That is why the drugs of conventional medicine do not work as well as expected, with more side effects. That paradigm of the living body has changed. Normal biochemical pathways that used to process this and that become compromised so that alternate pathways are sought, and these never work like the originals the body was designed for. Different food sources have to be employed, utilizing other natural pathways and bypassing those that are most compromised. That is what made the difference between my diet program and conventional ones that count overall food intake and calories. Mine does not. There is no counting of calories. The body eats until it is satisfied, just like Nature intended, and then stops. If the body can access and process the food correctly, then it takes very little food to survive and be satiated. But, if the body eats food that it cannot access, then it eats, and eats, and eats and continues to eat because even though it becomes obese, it is really in the starvation mode at the cell level. Is this understandable?

Here is a time line for what we are observing in the world today:

Post WW1 - Over 1 1/2 million new toxins enter our environment of air, water and foods as a result of industry.

1976 - The "recycling laws" passed, designed to protect big industry from environmental lawsuits, from the now well known dumpsites -- it is cheaper to spread them out and dump them this way than to spend monies on recovery and detox processes -- so the corps think. In the short run this is true, but in the long run the health effects of the population override the short term savings.

Late 1970's - Teachers now more and more calling kids they teach less intelligent than the kids they taught decades before, SAT scores plummet to lowest since the schools began testing around 1900. Schools blamed the teachers, "new math" invented, remedial reading, dropping phonics, etc., ADD and ADHD identified.

1980's - More emphasis on developing "diet drugs" as obesity stats begin to escalate, as a result of toxic livers not being able to regulate the internal blood sugar levels, causing sugar/carb cravings from without. So the toxicity comes first, driving the resulting behaviors ... rushes to McDonald's! But the awareness also leads to an explosive growth in health clubs and exercise gyms, as the blame is put squarely on the people and life styles.

1995 - Introduction of Genetically Modified Corn by Monsanto, followed by other GMO grains. Now with compromised abilities to regulate our blood sugar internally, the population seeks even more carbs. Data only coming after 10 years about the allergenic and toxic effects of GMO foods that have been in the market for a decade, and all on an already compromised population from the prior described exposures. Now we have inflammatory responses from all the drops already in the body teacup precipitating a host of "concurrent symptoms" like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases of all sorts, as well as the newly described Syndrome X.

2000- Health club memberships falling like a bomb, health clubs closing for lack of business as the most affected and compromised people are too tired to exercise, see little results from it, but are not tired enough to sleep. This is the common response I have heard from my clients over the last decade.

2001 - The populations are being blamed for personality and character faults for their illness. Antidepressants are given for anything that medical science cannot address in a conventional way. ("Depression" is aptly named in that the biochemistry and speed of biochemical reactions is indeed depressed and slow, trying to go around all the toxic interferences.) Of the drugs that are chosen for these syndromes, most all are in some way "speed", to speed up metabolic rates.

2005 - Now the conventional medical industry has so many stats in front of their eyes that they cannot deny what is happening. Nobody wants to accept character fault blame anymore, so the attention is turned to genetics... Partially right in this approach, in that Dr. Pottinger proved nearly 100 yrs ago that faulty nutrition will indeed trip faulty genetics, and that it will take another 4 generations of good nutrition in the same population to trip those faulty genes back again. Problem is, there is not 4 generations of good, clean nutrition on our horizon if we fail to recognize the cause, of the cause, of the cause, of the biochemical flaws in living populations in the first place.

Linsey McLean
Vita Royal Prod. Inc
605-787-5488 (information only)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I did it.

I put an ad in the local classifieds weekly in the hopes of attracting a few more students.

"Experience the satisfaction of connecting with your horse. Develop confidence and success as you refine what is good and make good what isn’t. Horse handling and riding lessons for all ages and disciplines. Call 'The Horsey Therapist'”.

The paper actually published the text like so (centered but I can't seem to make it show that way here):

of connecting with your horse.
Develop confidence and success
as you refine what is good and
make good what isn’t. Horse han-
dling and riding lessons for all
ages and disciplines.

I also placed an ad looking for someone to ride horses with me, giving me riding company and giving the horses more exercise at the same time. I got one response to that already. Should be interesting...

Wanted: eager horseperson to help exercise our horses in exchange for lessons. Moderate riding experience required.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The clinic starts...

The clinic started with dinner served by our hosts, Vic Thomas and Linda Bertani (, on Sunday evening before the first week got underway.

After dinner, we got Harry talking after he commented that he wished he could give people what he sees they need in order to succeed, but he can't. I wish he could give it to us, too!

Some factors involved in success with horses at his level according to my notes are:

Physical ability
Understanding of horses
Seeing the world through their eyes
Being present to help them -- not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow or even what happened three minutes ago

Monday morning our after-breakfast-chat included Harry responding to a question I asked:

What does it take to be a good horseperson, especially regarding the role of "leader" versus "dominator"? What makes it hard for some folks to lead without dominating, to use firmness without emotion? (This second question he answered in various ways later during the week.)

Some notes I took from Harry's response:

The social director is not the leader. The social director of the herd tells everybody what to do and where to stand, etc. Each horse has different leadership qualities from birth. One may be born with strong leadership qualities, one may have less. We have top do things differently with each horse. A leader horse is different from a more dominant horse. The lead horse is the one the other horses will follow to water for example.

In a natural setting, a mare is the leader. A stallion can be dominant like by driving the herd away from another stallion.

Most horses want to know: what, when, and where. Things are good when those are clear to the horse.

The unnatural ways we keep horses makes them act differently.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Quotable quotes

Harry Whitney said:

"I don't want just a response; I want a response with no worry."

"If you are early, you don't have to be fast."

"It doesn't take a lot of strength when it's right."

"A horse's feet are always working to be where his brain is."

"Traditional horsemanship is progressive firmness."

"The time to firm up with a horse is to block a thought." In traditional horsemanship, firming up is often done in order to make a thought happen.

"Be looking to see what took place behind the physical action."

"The magic is not in the feet. The feet are just a barometer for where the mind is. The feet are a manifestation of the mind."

"I want to help him respond differently when something worries him." People spend time getting a horse used to something like an umbrella or a plastic bag, but you can't get him used to a black bear. The main point is to help him change how he responds. "I'd rather a horse respond than act oblivious to a scary thing."

"Softness and forward are always separate issues."

"Nothing runs unmingled."

"Judgment calls cannot be taught."

"If a horse understands fully how to respond to it [the flag], why would he have to worry about it? When they understand exactly how to respond to it, they can be comfortable with it."

"How it is presented is what makes a difference."

"If my horse is tight, not listening, I'm going to be doing frequent, frequent, frequent transitions."

"Every time you ask, you have to stick with it till it comes through."

"Always start with what you're going to end up with."

"If you're meaning it to punish them, they're going to protect themselves."

"If we're not confident we can help them, we have nothing left to do but correct them."

"Clearly get in your head, in your being, that nothing that horse does is a reflection of you. It's not about you. A horse is about as self centered as you'll ever meet."

"The ears are not as tightly tied to his thoughts as his eyeballs are."

"When you feel all the power that a horse is putting out, the strongest ... is where it's all lined up through the centerline of the horse."

"A lot of times we're insistent when we just need to be persistent."

"We're working on freeing up the horse's thought -- that's what we want to carry over to the saddle work."

"You can work and work on the ground but on a horse that has riding experience, he's going to revert back to what he knew before." But if you get a change, some will carry over to the saddle. And you've opened up their mind to think about things differently.

"Every time you pick up the reins there should be a change in the horse."

"We all tend to remember the things that verify our opinions."

"The real work goes on at home. I hope none of you come to a clinic thinking you'll cure something."

More thoughts on half halt

First, I love having special blogs to read that trigger me to think. Soon, I'll love that I'm outdoors practicing these things some more!

Meanwhile, Half Halt Friend wrote:

"Half halting or full halting with the hand alone puts the horse on the forehand."

And I commented in response:

It depends on how the horse is educated to respond to the hand. Of course we never ride with just our hands. WEIRD mental pictures of disembodied hands riding horses! Ok, sidetracked... but oh how I wish I had the artistic skills to create an fitting image to post with this today!

Anyway, when the reins come to mean "get ready" and "get ready" requires being balanced and ready to go in any direction at any speed, then indeed using the hands can remind the horse to carry himself in 'collection' or 'self carriage' whatever you want to call it. And won't necessarily dump the horse onto the front end. Which as I understand it is the purpose of a half halt -- to balance -- to remind the horse that an effort toward self carriage is wanted now.

And when a horse does not do it (not ready, physically or mentally, distracted or unable), then we go to full halt seeking that balance, or even to backing up aka rein back, not releasing the ASK in the reins until the horse offers the answer we are looking for.

Harry Whitney (yes, I'm still processing my notes and my learning experiences from two weeks with him in June) talked about this when relating something he atributed to Nuno Oliveira:

When a horse pushes against the bit, what choices do you have but half halt, full halt, or rein back?

The idea being, don't leave a horse pushing against the bit. It doesn't feel good, physically or mentally to be that way. Harry is a big proponent of 'getting the change now', of not letting a horse spend more time than necessary in a state of worry or confusion. So, if I ask, I must follow through until I feel an attentive, effortful response.

Now I've gone and looked up some quotes from Nuno Oliveira, after messing about till I found the correct spelling of his name -- it is not spelled "Oliviero" nor "Oliviera" although you will find some web references under those spellings.

Nuno Oliveira, from

"One must not begin riding by learning the rein aids, but by learning how to feel." (tr: Thomas Ritter)

"Every rein aid must be preceded by an action of the torso. Otherwise you only address the horse's head." (tr: Thomas Ritter)

"The hands have to be like concrete when the horse resists and like butter when he yields. " (tr: Thomas Ritter)

Time it takes to connect?

Someone wrote on a list where involving horses in mental health treatment is discussed:

"Connection is subtle and relationships grow slowly."

I see things differently.

With horses, connection exists at all times, it is not severed and withheld and covered with mistrust, especially obvious at first meetings -- all energy and emotion and expression is right at the surface. (I'm not including horses who have been caused to cringe and shrink psychically and/or physically due to their contact with humans or due to poor health.) Our human relationships grow slowly once we've been wounded by others, but we still have our first impressions antennae intact even if we don't pay proper attention to or we misinterpret the information we experience during an encounter, a meeting with someone new, whether that someone be a horse or human or of another species.

Human caution causes relationships to grow slowly, if at all. Look at young kids raised with appropriate confidence and dogs in a dog walking park who are let off leash and horses introduced to a new herd without being confined and separated. They jump right into relationships. It's about "now" for them because that is all they know.

We have much to learn from the innocents -- from those who have not developed the need to protect themselves from others. I think that is much of what draws us to horses, and much of the core of what we have to learn from our contact with them.

To work with unknown horses is refreshing as no patterns of reactivity have been established. It is much more challenging in my opinion -- doable but challenging -- to develop the ability to remain fresh and in the moment with a horse I've known for days, weeks, years.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

More about responsiveness

A friend asked:

Could you say more about the unresponsive horse. Do you mean that when we keep askng without getting a response, there is a build up and the horse gets cranky? What about the so called shut down horse? He's unresponsive but not cranky?

I responded:

More about the unresponsive horse... Yes, when we keep asking without getting 100% of a response, the horse gets cranky. Good question about the shut down horse. I'd say the shut down horse moves from being unresponsive to overreactive when they come back to the present from wherever they've been. We talked a lot about horses (and sometimes people! ) being in la la land. Elsewhere. Spaced out. Dissociated. Half asleep. It can be a habit for us and for horses, a first place to go to when nothing is asked. Like falling in the hole at the stop sort of? We ask for a stop and then both horse and I disappear from our relationship, from our energy, from our readiness to do the next thing. Horse falls into la la land, but he/she wouldn't if I didn't also because if I'm present, I'll be asking my horse to be present with me.

From my clinic notes:

Stuckness and lack of interest, unresponsiveness -- hard to separate them. If a horse is attentive enough, probably will be trying to respond. Some horses will fool you into thinking they're attentive but they're shut down. Part of being stuck is lack of understanding and part of it is inattention. Harry was working on getting someone's horse responsive. WHEN the horse GOT responsive, his attention was there. If a horse is kinda stuck even if he doesn't know, he should be exploring. If he's hunting, give him time. When they're stuck -- have quit searching -- get him unstuck and he'll start searching.

Does that help? I had a major AHA moment about 'get the change NOW' -- in other words: do what I could to get a horse present and responsive NOW and then go about whatever business I had planned -- forward, stop, back, stepping over the hindquarters, whatever. I heard Harry numerous times say something about being intolerant of the horse being unresponsive.

It made sense and gosh I've heard him say this numerous times, especially as it relates to me running into trouble on the trail -- letting Rusty lolligag about instead of asking him to be present and making an effort to be with me and to be going someplace together. Because when I expect that and get that from him, 1) I can feel when he's sucking back or going into la la land and can do something to get him responsive again, and 2) if he's in la la land, so am I, and I'm going to miss the moment when he comes BACK from la la land and out on the trail it's not pretty when that happens! So request that he be present with me and then give him a place to go. In dressage I think it's called riding the line.

Related is another piece from my notes from the same day:

It's the feelings the horse brought to the situation that scare the horse more than some random object out in the arena. If you get the responsiveness worked out, there won't be spooking.

The shut down horse is unresponsive. When asked to be responsive, we will likely see crankiness or perhaps fear. Crankiness because something new is being asked (be present with me and responsive, put some effort into what we're doing); fear because perhaps the shut down state was a response to fear more than boredom, and when a fearful shut down horse comes back to life, all their unresolved fear comes back with them. Many of us do not actively welcome the horse's fearfulness.

We have benefited from having our horses shut down, until we don't benefit any more. Our horses do what we teach them to do, give as much as we expect them to give. Whatever is going on for the horse, we have the opportunity to be focused on helping him feel better, now. And he'll feel better when he's alert and responsive and putting an effort into responding to our requests. And it's not too much to ask of ourselves or our horses, in my not so humble opinion.


From my notes taken during clinic time with Harry Whitney...

All the asking things of an unresponsive horse build up and make him cranky, and he'll take it out on others by kicking or biting -- venting his frustrations, a displacement of his anxiety.

A horse that is not responsive is holding back what he has to offer. You see people do the same thing. He is not giving his best. The people who feel the best about doing their job are the ones who are doing their best. With a horse, if he's not doing his best, he's holding some back for himself. He does not want to be that way. It doesn't feel good being that way. He hasn't been shown how good it feels to break through that. He feels better when he gives 100%. He has to feel better than when he's holding back. It's an anxiety thing. He's asking how much he has to do before they give up. There are so many symptoms people want to work on, but they are just symptoms. You get the horse responsive and the symptoms go away.

Half Halt and other things

(Picture of how not to do it. Makes me hold my breath just looking at it!)

Reading a friend's blog and viewing part of Liberty Training video by Carolyn Resnick got me to experiment yesterday during my ride with Rusty.

Well, backtrack a bit. Before I rode, I experimented with getting his attention. Not a quick and easy thing as he was anxious, separated from his herdmates, and gosh, there was the green grass in the small paddock where we were. What a choice! Attend to LJB or eat grass? LJB or grass? LJB or grass?

Well, he chose the grass many, many times. And I found a way to communicate to him, "There is another answer, please keep looking for it." Although I will admit that once or twice my communication sounded more like, "NOT THE GRASS! Find something else!"

[I talked with Harry Whitney about what it might take to get Rusty's attention. I understood that I might tip over into scaring Rusty in the process of getting his attention because he had become so dull to my requests (my fault for letting him be in charge of our activities way too often for way too long). It wouldn't always be like that, and certainly with another horse there may be no need to get close to triggering fear in the horse, better indeed to stay this side of fear by drawing on their curiosity and natural interest in joining into what others are doing.]

Slowly we refined things. I searched for a more consistent message delivery, and bless his heart (bless his brain, really), he searched for a different answer. He made me smile when he would act like he was going to eat some grass, all the time having an eye on me, then not eat, then noting no response from me, he would eat. And we call these animals dumb. NOT!

In any case, he eventually found a good spot, standing parallel to me, quiet and waiting. Although he found that spot of standing there three times before he really settled with me. That's okay. I was feeling mellow and flexible and eager to see this through.

Our ride was nice.

Back to the half halt of the subject line. Friend was blogging about the half halt. Carolyn Resnick was demonstrating the half halt while working at liberty (no tack in an open pen, relying solely on body language) with a horse. I do best learning by watching and learning by doing. What I understood from the video was that we humans should use our entire spine from poll to tail (aka from atlas/axis to coxyx) when we half halt and/or halt, lengthening and rounding our bodies. She did this on the video and the horse did the same thing. It was lovely to watch! (Take note: she had already done a series of things with this horse to develop friendly rapport and establish a non-domineering leadership role with him.)

So when I got riding and eventually I remembered her advice about using our human body, I tried it for a walk-halt transition and voila! Rusty was right there stopping with me with life in his body, ready to go forward again or backward.

What was different in my understanding was about the lengthening AND rounding of my body. Before I had sought to lengthen upwards through my body while I 'stopped riding', but I can see now how that left me a bit tense and rigid, which doesn't do much for the poor horse at all. I'm struggling a little to describe this, but I know what it felt like and I know it worked to communicate to Rusty what I really wanted -- not just a stopping of the feet, but a stopping with form and flow, like an active pause perhaps, not a stop.

I'm seeing more and more how reciprocal horses are -- mimicking, mirroring, call it what you like -- and how good that feels to them. Just picture the fluidity and grace of a school of fish, then morph that image into a herd of horses moving together across boundless terrain...

I also found the length of reins, the amount of slack, that works well with Rusty. I found this during the clinic with Harry Whitney while I was searching for what I could do to influence Rusty's bit chomping, anxious mouth. Certainly part of Rusty's calmness comes from his confidence in understanding what I want (read: I'm becoming more consistent, understandable, and credible) and his ease in giving up his ideas and going along with mine. But another part of Rusty becoming quiet in his mouth was related to my giving him more rein.

This meant I had to trust him to be responsive even with all that slack! And I had to find a way to handle the reins so that in a moment's notice should I need closer contact to redirect his mind, I could do it smoothly (I hope!) and quickly, hence effectively getting the change I want without creating added discomfort or anxiety on top of whatever worry took his mind away from our activity in the first place.

Well, I found the sweet spot -- a comfortable rein length with which he could listen and respond to my hands without getting bothered, and with which I felt connected and confident. I created a small challenge for us: to do a complete figure 8 at the walk with quiet mouth 100% of the time, ending with halt with quiet mouth. It took a few tries but we did it. I grinned and swung off, feeling terribly pleased with our accomplishment!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hay - revised

Hay in the field...

Hay in the loft... (Strange visual effects from the airborn hay dust particles.)

Hay in loft as photographed the next morning. Dust has settled.

Today we'll add another 600 bales. If I worked out 2-3 times a week all year long like I do for a day or two at haying time, I'd be a different person!

Friday, July 07, 2006


Harry Whitney has an unusual definition of abuse.

"Any time you leave a horse mentally confused, he feels abused."

We usually think about physical abuse and neglect. Hurting a horse with whip, spurs, rope, sticks, chains, gunshot... Or confining a horse where he can't get to food or water, shade or shelter.

But leaving a horse mentally confused? That opens up a whole new realm of what a horse experiences as abuse.

And it opens up a whole new realm of wondering how to define confusion.

I've had a few conversations with Harry about 'gray areas' and 'maybes'. I'm still coming to understand and accept that horses thrive on black and white. Clarity is essential for a horse's well being. If I ask a horse to go left and he questions me and I say, well, ok let's forget that and do something else, that confuses the horse. The horse wants clear boundaries, so if I ask for left, I have to mean left, and that will bring calmness to the horse once he lets go of his thought to go right.

I can't have a conversation full of 'maybes' and 'it depends' -- not with horses at least. It's a human thing to be uncertain like that. It's certainly a habit I have -- to change my mind in mid-sentence. It don't work around the horses.

Back to me -- it's all about me changing so I can have it truly be all about the horses. They can learn things in order to get along well in our human world. It is our responsibility to teach them how to get along, whether respecting fence or finding the water trough or walking where we request when being led someplace.

Sometimes the horse has an idea different from our idea. He is certain about wanting to act on his idea until we help him learn to let go of his own thought in order to go along with our thought. Harry talks often about helping the horse develop the habit of letting go of his thoughts. It is not the same as the horse being a mindless slave. It does mean a horse can be responsive and comfortable doing his job. Assuming us humans are clear and consistent in how we ask for things like forward, back, left, right, life up, life down, go and stop. They can learn how they are meant to respond to our array of body language requests.

Leaving a horse feeling uncertain about what is expected of him is abuse. A horse who gets excessively kicked or whipped on a consistent basis as part of specific activities might well feel fine deep inside because it is clear, the kicking or whipping is consistent and predictable. I am not advocating treating horses with unfair firmness. I am trying to make a point about how disturbing it is when we leave a horse not knowing what we meant or if we really meant it.

I'm not confident I presented this adequately here. I am confident that I have a greater clarity of understanding what Harry means, and I'm devoted to improving my consistency and becoming a better support to my horses. After all, if they are doing well, I'm doing well, and I have them because I want to get along and enjoy unmounted and mounted activities. So far I can see that the more consistent I am, the easier it is for us to get along together.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Should I be ashamed?

I just reviewed the notes I took a year ago during a week of clinic time in TN with Harry Whitney. Everything I noted then, I heard again this year. Twice if I count what I heard in AZ in February with Harry.

Maybe I should memorize the notes I take so the concepts are more vivid in my mind?

Maybe I should stop taking notes so I can fool myself into thinking what I hear today I have never heard before?

Maybe I should accept that as a human with X number of years under her belt, I have to hear things more than once, heck, more than twice or thrice, before I internalize them and make a lasting change.

Because some things I learned this year are carrying over to what I'm doing now that I'm home, I'm confident that with those few things I've made a change and do not need my notes to jog my memory. In other words, some of this stuff glommed onto me this time!

It's fun having pictures

We come home from each week's clinic with Harry Whitney armed with a CD of photos taken during the week. These recent two weeks in Tennessee were captured by three cameras operated by five or six photographers, participants and auditors alike. I am delighted to review the photos and find myself flooded with memories of what I learned, without even going to my copious notes.

Physical pictures from our slew of digital cameras and mental pictures impressed during moments of humor, struggle, successes, sharing the experiences of horses and humans letting go into new levels of understanding, calmness, and attunement.

Day One

Here is Sofia with her life up, in the round pen, on Day One of the first week of clinic time with Harry Whitney.

I spent much of the first week with Sofia, focussing on her responding with forward movement after I was successful with sending her mind forward. When I hurried her feet without getting her mind (picture the traditional 'natural horsemanship' approach of driving a horse), it looked like she literally left her head behind, with feet out in front of her and her head high and dragging behind, neck ewed, eyes big, tail switching, tightness through her whole body - signs of a worried horse from nose to tail.

Once I got better at communicating "let go of thinking about me so hard and take your mind out there, Sofia", her transitions became smooth, and trots and canters were full of life and confidence without hesitation or braciness. A big part of my changes was getting my body moving, going with her, helping her to feel of and respond to my rhythm and energy level. It got so I could bring my life up and she would respond with bringing her life up; bring my life down and she brought her life down.

The second week I worked with her under saddle with the same topic, sending her mind and body forward with life and responsive to my energy level. She has a desire to quit, stop, go practically lifeless when I wasn't working hard at keeping her going. Like at liberty in the round pen, once I got better at asking her to send her thoughts out there and take her feet along, she got better at upward transitions, keeping her life up during downward transitions, and assuming responsibility for her job which was to be alert, responsive to me, and ready: to go forward, backward, left or right.

It all kept feeling so much better to both of us as we progressed.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quotable Quotes

There were numerous moments in TN when one or another of us said something that stuck like glue in our minds. When Harry Whitney said these things, we called them quotable quotes. "Quotable quotes" as a phrase became a quotable quote.

From TMcC: Quotable quotes.

From Harry: Nothing runs unmingled.

From RR: I'm about tired of it.

RR was a great inspiration along the lines of 'make a change now', and the forces that help us arrive at a spot where we cannot tolerate our own casual and ineffective ways around horses. Motivating factors.

I am tempted to share more quotable quotes here and now, but I will wait until I have time to ponder outloud about the quotes as I write. Ah, a bit of self discipline!

Home Sweet Home

I loved being away. I love being home. Now the test of time and commitment to better horsemanship -- how well will I integrate what I learned in two weeks of clinic time with Harry Whitney now that I'm back home?

It is easy to pay attention to detail and monitor my thoughts, feelings, and actions when I'm surrounded by a focussed group of intent learners. Easy to see new things and try new things when I'm far from ringing phones and dirty dishes and what seems like four thousand farm animals needing one thing or another. Easy to slide into new behavior under the patient and humorously light-hearted serious teaching of Harry.

I arrived home last evening at 7:30. My To Do list for today includes lugging the chain saw to the lower pasture to take a tree off the fenceline where the cows and sheep are; turn out most of the horses in the closest pasture; do food shopping; do multiple loads of laundry; unpack the truck and trailer and clean the trailer; travel to High Horses and make decisions about what horses to use for lessons that start Thursday; make calls to arrange for various systems checks on the house in Maine that I'm selling; take a nap... What? take a nap? Not likely today!

One day soon enough I will sit down and start typing out the notes I took during the clinic. I am looking forward to that. I do not edit the notes by adding hindsite narratives -- just type. Well, I might alter some punctuation and make full sentences here and there.

I have to start right now though with at least one quotable quote. See next entry.