Tag Archives: equine bodywork

Nurturing the “Seeking Mechanism” in Horses

The “seeking mechanism” is a part of most mammals, according to neuroscientist and psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp, author of the book and concept, Affective Neuroscience, the study of  the neural mechanisms of emotion. For the sake of understanding our horses, it is a huge part of what makes us interesting to them. Curiosity about food, what we’re doing, what we might do with them, can help nurture and define our training process.

In nature, horses will seek different types of grasses, seek shelter, water, companionship, safety. Those are basic needs. How do we engage their interest? Is it always with a cookie, or can we engage them in other ways?

At the same time horses spend all day doing repetitive actions, such as moving each other off food, or space, and so that may seem very dull and uninteresting to us. They are moving each other for their health, and to find out what the other horse might be eating that might be more tasty. And that brings us back to the seeking mechanism. With their noses to the ground, they are seeking new plants, smells and experiences.

This type of natural foraging isn’t something we can provide much of in the west. Our grasses get eaten and take awhile to grow back since we have limited rainfall. But when rainfall occurs, grass pops up overnight, and the horses’ excitement about those new shoots is noticeable.

Here are some ways we can foster curiosity in the horse and get him interested in what we might have to offer:

  1. Take an interest in what your horse is interested in. This may not be easy to do if you’ve got limited time, but it can make a huge difference to how the horse views you and how relaxed he feels in your presence.

When you think about other humans, it’s difficult to be in the presence of someone who has no interest in what you’re interested in. In this way, horses are a lot like us.

Jicarita Peak ride, 12,000 feet elevation

2. Change things around. Ride somewhere different, do some of your schooling on the trail or down the road in someone else’s arena. My horses always loved the trail, though I know all horses don’t. I took them everywhere, all over our state and three adjacent states, riding new trails.

 

 

Take the focus off the horse. Kids get so immersed in what they’re doing, horses can often find them fascinating. In order to be more interesting, sometimes I’ll take a piece of tack to repair and sit with the horses, so I’m fully engaged with something other than the horse. In this photo, Kaiden is playing with one of his toys, and Patches wants to be a part of it.  Little did I know at the time that building a fort would be an activity of interest for my young mare, Jazzie.

 

 

 

4. Introduce something new. While my mares are not very interested in toys, my geldings have always enjoyed big exercise balls. You can see the different responses of these four…

Little Gizmo
Fearless Khami
Patches showing off

 

 

 

 

Zuzka is not thrilled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Add laughter to your day.  I’ve had some funny experiences with laughter and horses.  Once in a clinic, we had a very shut down horse who thought humans only wanted him to do things, so he simply went through the motions like a robot. We changed things up and brought him into the arena while we were doing a human energetic exercise. People began laughing as they practiced being horses and played with the idea of moving each other around. This horse Tank was so curious about the people laughing that he came to hang out with us so he could be part of the fun. This changed everything for him. From thereon he began to have fun and got very engaged with each person who worked with him.

Tank wants to be part of the fun

Jaak Panksepp did a lot of research on varying topics, but one I love is the research on laughter in non-human animals. He researched primates, dogs, and rats, but no horses. While I have no clinical research, I think it would be fun to see if horses emit sounds like laughter, and will laugh with us. Certainly sometimes their expressions suggest that they do!

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

Please see my

Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops. 2018 calendar is developing! Workshops scheduled for Santa Fe, Florida, Wisconsin and Oregon!

Tank joining the group

 

 

 

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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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.

hello_hand

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 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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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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Build a horse bridge from “the way we’ve always done things” to true liberty

Lately, I have been suggesting people go back to the traditional “the way we’ve always done it” training and see if they see a difference in the way their horse responds. Does she like it or not?

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The great unknown of rescue horses

Everyone who has taken on a rescue horse, or a horse from families who have passed them on, or a horse they have purchased, but then found the horse really is a rescue – experience the great unknown.

Cathy_Ambertalking Continue reading “The great unknown of rescue horses” »

Liberty Foundation Training: What’s the Point?

Liberty Foundation Training for horses is the most subtle kind of work you could be doing with a horse. Because it is so subtle, sometimes its purpose can be missed.

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

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Wrapping up 2015: horse and human musings

This year was one full of change for me, my human family and horses. What is most significant to me about a year is that it encapsulates everything you’ve done, everything that’s happened to you, and all what you cannot control and that which you have put into action.

(originally published January 1, 2016)

Zuzka and Khami
Khami and Zuzka

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