Category Archives: herd behavior

When should I ride my horse?

This question comes to me often: When can I ride my horse? How much can I ride my horse?

Jazzie_trail

In our society, there is a strong push to get horses back to work after an injury or illness, just as there is with people. If you have a surgery, you can be back to work pretty quickly these days after some procedures. The problem with this is that the body may need longer to recover and may be playing catch-up.

At the same time, movement is essential to the health of the body. The horse may need a gradual curve of gentle techniques and movement exercise before actual work. Surgery interrupts the regular function of  the body. Any injury or surgery affects the entire organism.

The liver controls tendons and ligaments, for example, so when tIMG_0324hose areas are affected, the liver is deficient in fluids and therefore the tendons and ligaments are also not getting vital fluids and don’t move as efficiently.

I use the example of a horse hitting its head really hard and getting stitches. Just because the vet has deemed him “fine” and patched him up, doesn’t mean he is ready to roll. The horse may exhibit strange behavior after the bump on the head, sometimes neurological symptoms such as wobbliness. Or sometimes symptoms take years to manifest.

I’ve often asked clients if their horse has had a head injury at any time, because of something I’ve seen happening (or not happening) in the body. “Oh, yes, ten years ago he hit his head on the trailer but it healed up just fine.”

As we know, our bodies hold a road map of everything that has happened in our lives, and horses’ too. Everything – physical, emotional, you name it, it’s in there. That’s why every injury or illness needs support from within, not just from without.

Usually the vet will have a timeline for when to begin hand-walking, or lunging your horse after an injury. The timelines after specific injuries, such as ligament and tendon injuries, falls, illness, etc. will help you understand how many weeks of one activity you may have and how long to engage in it. You will have to depend on your knowledge of your horse and how he is feeling to know whether the vet’s expectations meet what your observations bear out.

Z_cavalettiWhen I was endurance riding, our ride vets would remind us that we knew more about our horses than they did, in one way. We were around our horses all the time. We knew their habits, and we knew when they were doing fine and when they were not.

My gelding Khami was a funny example of that. He used to like to sleep flat out on the ground, while tied to the trailer, with his eyes wide open, when at an hour-long vet check. The local New Mexico ride vets knew this habit of his and didn’t worry. When we rode in Paonia, Colorado once, he did this and the vet was frantic. He said I must get my horse up, he was worried and couldn’t find any vital signs. Khami got up to see what all the commotion was about, but he was very well rested. His vital signs were fine and he went on to finish a 2-day 100.

The question of when to ride your horse is going to vary with some horses a great deal. It depends on whether they are fit to be ridden, and for how long they can be ridden. It depends on their age, and their temperament and training. The saddle and bridle. The person who is riding them. The owner may have to modify his/her expectations of what the horse can accomplish for awhile.

I look at a lot of factors:

  • What is his facial expression?
  • Can the horse cross over behind?
  • Is he shrinking from touch anywhere on the body?
  • Can he lift his legs?
  • Can he stride forward on all four legs?
  • Any swellings or inflammation, stiff places or obvious injuries?
  • Does the horse hop like a bunny, lope like a giraffe?

Since I have a roller coaster experience with one of my horses — sometimes he’s sound and sometimes he’s not — I’m really tuned into this question. People may say, well, he’ll warm out of it. Maybe yes, maybe no. I want to understand the problem and help him with it, before I ask more of him. I want to ride in such a way, if I’m riding, so that the horse does not become more stiff afterwards. The exercise, whether riding or ground, needs to support and heal rather than set him back.

And when I do ride him, I ride him gently, and therapeutically, going over cavalettis, gentle trots, sometimes on uneven terrain, exercises designed to strengthen his muscles, tendons and ligaments. I must check in with my own body and do a Mounted Body Balance session on myself to make sure my body is not restricting him in any way. I try to focus on the things that feel so good about riding him – he’s so peaceful to ride, I love the way my legs drape down his sides. I love that I can sit his trot, he feels like an ocean liner. I continue to ride and mix it up, doing some Equine Body Balance on him before or after each ride, or in between, which supports the exercise we’re doing.

With the horse who may not want to lift a hind leg but is otherwise sound, yes, you can generally ride the horse, but we need to continue to work on why it’s hard for her to lift that leg. With the horse who can’t disengage behind, there is something more complicated going on that needs to be addressed. Some suppling exercises added to the program of bodywork will help with that in a lot of cases. You can possibly ride that horse in a straight line but not do any lateral work. I may need to look at how the rider’s position may be impinging on the horse’s movement. We may add some gentle suppling ground exercises to increase lateral flexibility. If the horse is having trouble raising a foreleg or striding forward, I want to flex the forelimb to find out where restriction is without causing pain. Sometimes the problem is at the far end of the horse from what appears obvious.

While the body is complicated, with its elegant and efficient network of nerves, blood, bones, lymph, muscles, nerves, tissues, organs, etc., it is possible to support the health in the horse with non-force techniques specific to certain conditions. When we are mounted, we can increase our knowledge of how our bodies affect our horses and how they might also help us so we can be more comfortable and efficient in the saddle. This work plus self-care can do wonders for horses and their owners, making it easier to develop a treatment/ rehab program that best suits their needs.

(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)

Related link:  What? No more riding?

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Lost in the Horse

I was lying on the massage table receiving physical therapy recently and talking about myself as I was asked to do, past injuries, etc., and then I made a switch to talking about one of my horses. My therapist expertly swung me back to the discussion of “me,” which is why I’m there, and I realized something – not just about me, but many of us who work with horses or love them.

We would prefer to talk about horses than anything else. Horses are like meditation to us.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 12.55.20 PM

They are definitely calming, even when talking about something that isn’t right with them.

But there is another piece to this which may sound wild to some people, but I’ll put it out there: we get lost in the horse. It becomes an “out-of-body-experience” when we need to be in our bodies to experience it. We need to be in our bodies to give the horse her due, and to heal ourselves.

This is the awareness, the eye-opener, that appeared to me on that table, that I want to share with you, because I am so good at doing this myself.

I know I’m talking about several different things, but I’m really talking about the same thing. I’m talking about staying in the moment, in the body. If I am to learn the new way of using my body in physical therapy, then I need to be in the moment to absorb all the nuances of what my practitioner is telling me. It’s not a time to wax eloquent on how far one of my horses has come in his physical or emotional development!

While sometimes the conversation can be helpful for bringing us around to the true story of one’s own body, it can also take us far afield, out of ourselves and pain.

I’m in physical therapy for a reason, because I’m healing from something. Pay attention.

IMG_0630Being “in the moment,“ and “in the body” do take some time and energy to achieve, especially in Western society. We are expected to be out of the body in a lot of our daily interactions with people and in our jobs.

But horses live in the body and in the moment, so they would like our interactions with them to take place there.

I will say that with every horse mishap and accident I’ve had, I’ve been out of my body. My energy has not been centered. People who come to me after horse wrecks tell me all the time, “I knew that I shouldn’t have gotten on…” “I knew the horse wasn’t ready…” because it can be the horse that is not agreeable also, not just the person.

What has helped me to stay in my body has been a variety of things. There will always be things to pull me off course. But these steps help me stay focused:

  • Breathe. Breathe into areas of discomfort if you have them.
  • Pay attention to the horses when you feel out of body. Know when your energy right and when the horse’s energy is too high or not agreeable. It’s okay to say, I don’t think I’ll ride today. Or, this exercise isn’t right for this horse at this time.
  • When you feel yourself being pulled into the horse’s story, pull back and see how you feel in your own body. How does it make you feel? Do you feel empathetic pangs in a corresponding part of your body?
  • There is a difference between an emotional response and a response formed from data collection. Do a small investigation to find out which you’re experiencing. If in doubt, check in with your own body – touch your heart space, and connect up there. Do you need to address the emotional climate or the physical data you’re receiving, or are they intertwined?
  • Walk with your horse if you can. Let him or her graze a little then continue the walk and pay attention to your own body while walking. Where do you put your feet and how do you place them on the ground? What’s the rest of your body doing? How does your horse respond to this?
  • If your horse is excitable, check your own energy and shift it so it goes deep into the ground. Watch and see what your horse’s response is. Then recheck your own energy.

When I work with horses in a healing capacity, if they are trying to avoid my noticing something painful, they will flatten their ears or kick out maybe, or become dull in the eyes. They may move away from me and give me the distinct impression I’m not welcome. Sometimes the mere intention of wanting to heal will make them nervous. I have to arrive in their space with less agenda and give them space. The space may be then filled with part avoidance, but will gradually turn to curiosity as I work in areas that are not so triggered for them.

With the horse, while their natural state is to be in the body all the time, when people are around and trying to help with pain, sometimes they get “out of the body” too, just like us.

[Catherine Sobredo Photography]
[Catherine Sobredo Photography]
Most of them welcome the help. The other day a mare I was working with kept presenting her head to me. You’ve got to do something about my head, I kept getting from her. But at the same time, she didn’t want me to touch it, until I had worked elsewhere. And then it was just in small increments on or around the head, but it made a difference. During this time, I checked with her, and I checked with myself.

Sometimes we know we need help with something, but we are operating with our foot on the brakes and accelerator at the same time because of pain, whether physical or emotional.

Deflecting attention away from the pain can also be a way of not being in the body or the moment.

The horse also knows that we know how to figure out a lot of things. This is one of the things they like about us, and attracts them to us. We may not be as smart as them in some ways such as staying in the moment for such long stretches of time, but we can get aha moments and figure out how to help them because we have the intellect.

What has helped me a lot with the “lost in the horse” issue is to work on something that is my challenge and include one of my horses. For example, the PT work has offered me new ways to walk and sit. I’m applying that new knowledge to my walking with my horse, and my sitting in the saddle. This can best be done with a horse with whom you have a good relationship with, not recommended with one you’re trying out for the first time!

I find my horse – whichever one either comes forward for the task or I feel is the one for that activity – enjoys being helpful and helping me figure it out. The horse will behave much the same way with this helping activity as they do when you introduce new activities for them. The added plus is that they can not only feel a sense of accomplishment from completing the activity, as they do with ones planned for them. But they can feel a sense of accomplishment in helping you solve a problem.img_0320.jpg

All of this helps me stay in the moment. It also gives me something new to talk about when I go to PT and can talk about the progress I have made, still weaving in my horse stories, but now in relationship to the PT work!

(Some of these new insights will be incorporated into this year’s Conformation, Compensation or Both? classes offered in Florida, Santa Fe and Oregon. The relationship work will be detailed in the class Equine Liberty from the Heart, offered in Santa Fe, NM)

(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)

Please see my

Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops.

Leadership revisited – both horse and human

 

JazziefaceIn horse training, leadership is discussed a lot. If the person doesn’t have leadership, the horse will not be as responsive to them. There are people who are born with innate leadership. In horses, leadership potential can be recognized the moment the foal drops to the earth.

A breeder friend of mine once said, of certain foals, they recognized it in themselves and you as a person could immediately recognize this presence, this ability to be a leader. It wasn’t necessarily attached to physical attraction or size. It generally has to do with the presence of the individual and their awareness and caretaking ability, of other members of the herd.

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Horse-olutions for 2017

I am not one to make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t want to get upset with myself for not keeping them. So my “horse-olutions” are ones that can be easily be accomplished and kept in mind during the year.

herd_grooming

Personally, this year, my holiday was wonderful in that our two older grandsons came to visit. What was not so great was that throughout their visit I had very painful sciatica. While I work with people and horses on painful physical conditions, it’s another thing when it’s happening to me and others need to make room for my disability in their life.

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Be in the moment with horses

One reason I like to teach Liberty Foundations is because it offers a true reading of the horse, but it also gives a true reading of the person working with the horse.

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When people work with the horses that come to the clinics, they are often working with horses who don’t know the Liberty Foundations at all, and start from scratch. We begin with some dimensional exercises, to be sure we are not carrying unwanted baggage into the workspace with the horse, that may influence how she is responding. This also shows what we need to do to adjust our energy.

Once we are with the horse, we can see what further adjustments need to be made with energy.

I start the horse, then the owner or attendee will work with the horse, and start building the foundations, and in turn, the relationship. What is beautiful is that we work toward the horse being able to transfer her knowledge of one relationship to the next student, and refine that knowledge and connection with each student.

Often people work with horses who are not their own, and this is sometimes freeing in terms of not dealing with an ongoing relationship. It allows students to also experience a number of different horse personalities and energies.

Anne with Cherokee, photo courtesy of Rene Trebling
Anne with Cherokee, photo courtesy of Rene Trebling

If the person has brought their own horse, sometimes the person’s relationship with their own horse is one where the horse takes advantage of some aspect of the person. Or the person is so accustomed to their own horse, that they don’t correct their horse with any show of leadership. Or their energy is too strong for that particular horse.

There is what I call a “tipping point,” where the owner or handler can become uncentered in trying to get their horse to do something. Once they are uncentered, their influence over the horse diminishes. I have had this happen to me, and it’s important to recognize it as it comes out of our desire to effect a change. It also comes out of our desire to have the horse love us and want what we want.

Consider asking these questions:

1. Does your horse step into your space when you are working with her?

2. Does your horse ignore you a large amount of the time?

3. Is your horse agreeable but seems to have no real life in her for the work you’re doing together, or tries to hurry through it?

4. Do you feel yourself tumbling toward your horse, in your eagerness to have her like you and do things with you?

Jazzie_PatOne of the important things about Liberty Foundations is there is essentially no agenda. The steps are sitting with the horse, greeting the horse, moving with the horse, in ways that are common and familiar to the horse. If the horse chooses not to engage, it’s not a big deal.

If the horse continually chooses not to engage, then we aren’t being engaging enough! We can read the intention of the horse and read our own intentions. What do we want? What do we want the horse to do? He refuses to connect!

We are looking for willing participation. In other forms of horsemanship, people can have great results with a lot of horses, but the horses are not always willing participants.

The way we work in Liberty Foundations is in a larger space, a small arena, with corners or even a paddock, where the horse has the freedom to leave any time he or she wants.

Through our sitting with and greeting the horse, the horse learns to accept our presence in the herd. Through our walking behind her, she learns that we can have the same influence as other horses, and can come into rhythm with her. Changing that up to walk beside her, and we are companions, taking a stroll together, looking at the horizon, grazing, spending time like a horse. Moving the horse away and inviting her back, she learns that the relationship has a flow, that some space is necessary in the relationship, but that we will come back to each other with a stronger bond.

Andy mirroring Sam's stride.
Andy mirroring Sam’s stride.

Out of this quiet, focused effort, our horses will want to engage. Their interest in activities we introduce will increase. We’ll learn what their preferences are and be able to make modifications and bring joy. Other training methods will grow organically from these Liberty Foundations as we continue to move along the pathway to introducing what we need in our training programs.

I have included some videos of the work, with myself and students, with horses who are both ridable and not, with horses who have had a lot of Liberty Foundations and those who have had none.

We are seeking a change, a shift in relationship, by allowing it to emerge. We want eyes, ears, gestures, to all point to a soft, willing horse, not one who is just going through the motions.

To get this, we need to be specific in our directions, and not be tipped over into wanting certain responses, seeking love or understanding, seeking a bond that will come if the person just stays centered, breathing, in the moment.

It’s important for the person to increase the amount of time they can stay in the moment, which will naturally increase as they practice this work. The horse always lives in the moment, so she can guide us on this journey.

If you’ve answered “yes,” to any of the questions posed above, see if you can change that around as you work with Liberty Foundations.

Videos:

The Shaping of a Liberty Horse

Prairie Flower with Jazzmine and Lorrin

Transitioning to Riding from Liberty Foundations Groundwork, September 2013 Clinic

(c) Susan Smith, Horses at Liberty Foundation Training, Equine Body Balance (TM)

Please see my

Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops.

A new trail on the horse journey

” Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Zuzka_trail

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The deepening bond between horse and human

The trail followed the creekbed then crossed it, curving like a snake up the side of the canyon. My horse stopped to drink in the creek, then scaled the rocky side of the canyon and the switchbacks, a steep drop on one side, a canyon wall on the other.

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The spectrum for horse and human

There is a spectrum from 0 – 100+ or maybe more in terms of engagement and levels of interaction for horse and human.

Oliver_Tina2016
Oliver takes a really long time to come over to Tina to get treats.

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Subtle language of horses

The other day I was working on a horse who began to swish his tail when I attempted to lift a hind leg. Obviously, this was painful for him, so he was letting me know in the way that he knows how, without kicking or biting me.

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What is your horse’s self worth?

My mare Zuzka recently showed me something while I was riding my mare Jazzie in the arena. She looked directly at me and proceeded to wrap a lead rope that was hanging from a halter on the fence, around her neck. It was as if to say, “take me out for a ride.”

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