Horsey Therapist

Monday, August 28, 2006

Herd doesn't allow poor behavior

From my notes from the June 2006 clinic time with Harry Whitney:

The herd doesn't allow poor behavior, so we can think the way the herd would, and let a horse know he has got to feel better before he can get close.

Example: my horse is feeing bad about something and I draw him close for some patting thinking that might help him feel better. Instead of seeking to help him feel better out at the end of the lead line before bringing him close.

Example: I'm feeding hay to 5 horses loose in the paddock. One approaches me with ears back wanting some hay, now, first... instead of giving it to him, I can do something to send him away so he's not coming close with that bad feeling (evidenced in ears pinned) -- it might even be ears pinned at another horse, not at me, and I can do the same.

Example: in round pen horse is moving but worried and when I stop asking for forward, the horse hurries into the center to be close to me. But never got feeling OK before coming in. So I might ask him to take his thought out there again and help him feel OK out there before letting him come in.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New blog coming: Clinic Notes

I am creating a separate blog into which I will transcribe the notes I've taken at clinics where I am student. I have started with the notes from two weeks with Harry Whitney this past June. Some day I will add notes from clinics with Leslie Desmond, and previous clinics with Harry. I will continue to share highlights from those notes here on this blog, along with my insights and other ramblings.

Images of a friendship

Such an important shift

... one way to "sack out" a horse ...

I was very saddened this morning to read on a yahoo list about a woman who was sore from wrestling with a 2 year old to get him haltered and led to the round pen... And she was reporting equally worrisome trouble with two other horses.

I urged her to experiment with getting the horses' sense of curiosity engaged so they are looking for how to understand why she is there and what they can do to fit in with her plans.

[I'm getting my business card reprinted with my current contact info. I have a slogan printed on the cards: It's our nature to get along. This goes for horses and for people. How denigrated have become our expectations of relationships that we have to be reminded of this!]

Horses are hard wired to get along with other herd animals. If they are fighting us, it is because they perceive us as a threat. It won't ever be safe or fun that way, for us or the horse.

There is no safe and sane way to force a horse to do something.

They weigh more than we do and their awareness of what is happening around them is ions beyond what we are capable of! They spend 24/7 keeping track of their environment. We spend most of our time racing after our thoughts regardless of the real information perceived through our senses. Horses have a huge advantage unless and until we learn to use our brains to engage their brains. Our brains truly have a bigger capacity, but that doesn't mean we are using more brain space than they are, or more effectively. I have seen little evidence that humans use their brains better than horses regarding awareness of what is happening moment to moment in the environment.

My emphatic tone is because I am worried. Someone new to horses and approaching them thinking it's normal to use stud chains and to fight to halter a horse? Well, yes, this worries me.

I hope that each of us (myself included!) will develop the habit of questioning any beliefs that support domination and force.

I hope that each of us will notice when we feel upset and/or threatened by a horse, and should we find ourselves responding with the faulty notion that manhandling the horse will fix things, we will seek help to learn how to better understand and get along with our horses. Help is available. Someone with more horse handling experience can help.

Horses are wonderful, willing animals, unless we show them that life around humans doesn't offer anything sensible or enjoyable for them.

I hope that each us will challenge our old ways of thinking. I trust that each of us will be amazed again and again --and even brought to tears -- as we experience how a horse behaves when given a choice and when given something to be interested in. We need to explore what changes we can make in how we approach our horses, and play around with getting things done without force, even without any tack at all, until a better understanding developes between us humans and our equine companions.

Understanding and handling horses for what they are -- horses not humans -- is not magic but it does require a change in us humans: how we think, what we expect, how we behave. I know I had to be shown this stuff in person before I could even imagine the possibilities.

Everyone, please stay safe.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Old house, new house

Things I loved about where I used to live, live on in my dreams.

Things I will love about where I some day will live, live only in my dreams.

Off the grid

I would have thought this would feel more exciting than it currently does, but I'm scared! We have decided, due to exorbitant cost of bringing power to our house site, to go 'off the grid'. 100%. Wow. That's worth repeating: WOW!

A commitment that I've dreamed of, and now I am anxious. The anxiety I can identify as related to becoming dependent on something I know so little about.

So in my spare time (haha) I'm researching sustainable energy, green buildings, renewable resources. Google is as generous as ever with references. My mind is reeling and RNB wonders why I go out for long trail rides. I need to know, and I need time off from the information intake.

Passive solar, solar water heating, solar power generating. Super insulated building, low tech water hopefully gravity feed, energy efficient appliances. Back up power via propane generator.

What has this got to do with my horsey therapist blog? Ha! Each of us is connected to all aspects of our individual life, our family life, our immediate and distant environments. My time with horses and people is affected by the expansive growth spurt I'm in, as well as the anxiety I feel coming into this new adventure. So it's more than building a new home, it's becoming more of the pioneer I aspire to being.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


No, not Nigerian Dwarf kids, though the summer babies have started arriving. One doeling so far, and three pregnant does.

"Kids" this time means young humans. These are 10 and 11 years old. Young girls wanting to ride, who responded to my ad for horse people wanted to exercise horses in exchange for lessons. This is fun for the most part. Sure, I have to remind them to pay attention to what the horse is feeling and why. And to tell the horse what to do not just tell the horse "no". And to give the horse more slack in the lead rope or the rein. And to ask my permission before trotting or cantering. But well worth the effort and education I'm offering to have their presence here at the farm.

They are good enough riders so my worries about their safety are minimal. They are learning fast and open to what I have to say. I have no idea if what they learn here carries over into other horse time in their lives, but I can hope. They are connected enough to what we are doing that I am letting them struggle more with little things (not really little things, but it's all relative!) like mounting without holding the horse still with the reins. Some ways I have around horses I let slide with them as they were getting used to these horses and to my direction. But now that I see how well they are doing with the basics, I'm leaving more things for them to figure out, with lots of support and reminders that there is no hurry, etc.

Some times they offer to help each other. One is comfortable picking out hoofs for example. One is handy with lowering the horse's head. One has better balance at the canter, the other is more balanced when posting. One is more courageous on the trail, one is more creative in problem solving when I give them a challenge.

They are handling and riding RNB's two horses. When they show me their horse handling skills are a closer match to my expectations and what my horses have come to expect from people, I'll consider letting them handle my horses. I am much more particular than RNB.

Each of his horses has unique quirks. Which create their own unique challenges for these kids. One is friendly, confident, and pushy so intent needs to be backed up with energy. The other is attentive, overly sensitive, and requires us to be quite precise with what we ask and how we ask. I think next time they come I'll have them switch horses, at least for part of the time. They are well matched right now, but will learn by adjusting as needed to the different feel of another horse.

Their availability will change in less than 10 days. School starts and then it's weekends for riding time. I have an adult and her home schooled son coming later this week to meet me and the horses. Both of them sound pretty handy with horses, and if it works out, they may become my riding help and companions for the autumn days.

Lucky me. Lucky horses.


Yesterday I sold my house in Maine. It went smoothly, and about as quickly as I could handle. I started putting the word out in mid-June and it went under contract a month later, and closed yesterday.

So many feelings have come up!

Lots of gratitude for all the wonderful times and memories. Sorrow with the thoughts about missing the simplicity and quiet of my life when I was living there. Pride for all the planting and fencing and building I did, either with my own hands or guided by my own design ideas. Laughter and joy when I recall the chorus of frogs on the warmer evenings, punctuated by the snorting of horses and whh whh whh of bat wings in the evening sky.

It's a relief at some level. I'm glad I had that home, glad I came to a time and place in my life when I wanted to own that home and live there with my horses and cats. Glad that my life has changed and expanded into what it is now, and that my life with RNB supports our shared love of animals and my passion for time with horses.

Changes. I'm getting better at changes. Not having the same need for the familiar and known surrounding me all the time. Learning to let go into newness, sometimes with grace and sometimes with fretting. But letting go, and trying out this trust stuff.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I do feel a bit lost when I am unable to count on communications with others.

My ISP is refusing all emails from the company that hosts my .org address. That means I've gotten virtually no emails since Monday. A few folks have gotten through using my fairpoint address, a few have made contact via yahoo lists. A very few have connected by phone. How old fashioned! How lovely!

Meanwhile, riding more and writing less continues to be a theme. Although I'm creating a newsletter for the therapeutic riding center where I work and volunteer. That keeps my brain occupied.

My rides have been delightful except for those times I go into automatic old habit patterned behavior and start pushing my horse. How quickly that shows up as unpleasant feelings between us -- me annoyed and pushy, horse worried, worried, worried. As soon as I back off and calm myself, things resume in a sensible way.

It's raining and very green. Time to do some chores.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Slow horses

I spent Saturday watching Joe Wolter at Piper Ridge Farm. I woke up the next morning with a burning question, so phoned to friend LL who was in the clinic and anyway has usually got some good ideas to pass along when I'm in a quandry.

My question was about how to use my body when livening up my dear Sofia mare. Her default speed is HALT. She's green but not a newly started green. Joe was talking some and demonstrating how to get a youngster going, and how to get an older horse going. He doesn't use words to describe what he's doing with his body the same way some other teachers do, so my questioning him then and there would have helped me get information that would be useful.

I find myself working harder than Sofia when it comes to moving someplace while riding her. I know this is not how it's meant to be.

LL's wonderful memory came up with this that Joe had said recently: with a slow horse (yes, Sofia qualifies as a slow horse!), reward the very smallest try. In other words, with a faster horse, a horse who naturally liked to boogie here and there, you could ask for more life now than with a slow horse. In any case, I experimented with this in mind later on after the phone call.

I'm glad I had talked with LL because otherwise I'd have been felt as pushy and demanding by my dear horse. Instead, I really focussed on rewarding the smallest try on her part. So if I livened up and got a forward lean in preparation for a step, hurray hurrah! And built on that. Before too long, we were trotting and she was holding the trot energy for 8-10 steps without my continuing to put effort into our movement. I was so proud of myself. I was so pleased with her.

I changed focus a few times, giving her relief from my "plan" and exposing her to other things. Like the flag. I ended up steering her with the flag while riding her. That was after helping her feel comfortable with it flopping around her shoulders, neck, head, back, rump, legs, etc.

I spent more time encouraging and allowing her to go anywhere, instead of steering AND livening up. Then I added some occasional steering and her response was good.

Soon I hope to be out on the trail with her. Just waiting until I feel VERY confident with another horse and rider combo so Sofia can get the best exposure with support from a sane horse at her side.