Tag Archives: horse training

The trail less traveled

Years ago, I was teachnig in Florida at my friend Anne’s ranch, and her young pig Rosie got into my luggage. She ate face cream, my snack bars, and other stuff from my open suitcase. I caught her at it, and promptly guided her out, walking behind her, as I would with a horse.

“Rosie the Wrecking Ball”

There was a a lot of squealing, turning to face me with upturned, indignant snout, but Rosie the Wrecking Ball did move off to other food sources.

At that time, I had not been around pigs much and had no idea if any of that liberty work would work on a pig, but it did. I think that was how she was trained from that day forward.

A friend who had grown up on a farm said if you could do Liberty Foundations with a chicken, then you could very easily do it with a horse. I’ve not had that experience, although a rooster did come to one of my workshops, tucked lovingly into the jacket of one of the attendees. We had so many horses to work with we didn’t have time to work with the rooster, but it’s on my bucket list!

Anne Daimler working with her mare, Cherokee

The point of all this is, we who practice Liberty Foundations or other alternative forms of horsemanship or training, are traveling a trail less traveled. If you can practice it with a chicken or a pig, you can do it with a horse.  We are giving the horse an opportunity to choose. There are obviously times when we must ask the horse to do something they may not wish to do, like with Rosie, asking her to get out of my luggage.  Or  like our kids must brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, etc. but if they get a choice between certain things at some times, they feel their world open up. It also may be that brushing one’s teeth becomes less onerous because they know that they will get to do something fun afterwards. I used to take my kids to get ice cream after getting immunizations.

The ice cream is more of a reward system, but we have rewards built into liberty as well. Any approach where we are rewarding good behavior and not focusing on bad behavior will give great rewards in terms of connection, communication and lasting work together.

The trail less traveled may be filled with brambles. It may be a bushwhacking trail, where there isn’t a trail but in order not to fall off a cliff you are traversing the side of a mountain and carving out a path so you can ride down into a beautiful valley or other limitless vista. People who follow tried-and-true methods without exploring possible options won’t have this problem because their course is already set.  They pick a place where there isn’t the possibility of lost trail, quicksand or other challenges. It’s challenging enough just to get the basics on the animal, let alone go off into the unknown.

What if it’s like she said, the horse won’t respect me if I don’t get tough?

Well, I ask, what are your convictions? Do you feel okay about what’s happening or do you shrink from the tough work with your horse? Do you feel your point could be made with less force? Do you want an adversarial relationship with your horse because you can get the horse to submit that way?

My other question is, what is your energy like? Feel it in all its glorious dimensions. Is it forward, back, side-side, up-down, does it feel good in all those dimensions or is it missing out somewhere? Is it squishy or dark or inaccessible?

Working with the energetic connection with Glorya and Regalo.

The horse will notice these things. The horse has a veritable PhD in energy. When people say you must work with intention, this energy and dimension stuff all fits into that one word. Your intention can be blocked by the energy in your dimensions without you knowing about it.

So it’s not just about the doing. It’s not about being so scary the horse absolutely has to do what you say. It’s how you are inside.

Many students become intimidated at this stage because they know the teacher has more knowledge than they do, so they better listen, even though their gut is twisting with angst. They feel their horse not want to be near them. While the horse does everything the student wants now, the student feels they have lost their horse.

Where is the fun-loving sweetness and eagerness? The student may try to win the horse back with lots of cookies or pets, but they are nervous and tipped over in the relationship now. Someone else is directing the flow even when the horse and owner are alone. Training by intimidation.

It’s difficult to hold onto your convictions if you know that someone knows more than you. But you have convictions. Think about other areas of your life where you feel very strongly about things: your chosen profession, animal rights, the environment, education, world peace, etc.

There is also the thing where the professional may say, well what you’re doing doesn’t work because you still haven’t accomplished what you set out to do. 

My reply could be, yes, but I have a horse who has light in her eyes, who is still curious about our work together, who meets me at the gate. Whether we meet the goal is less important to me than the process.

In a way it’s like psychotherapy. When I was in therapy, the therapist would always say, it’s a process.

It’s a process, like health is also a process. When I work with horses and people, they become better hopefully, and sometimes they have setbacks or get injured and I see them more often. Sometimes I work with them near death. That’s life.

If I lose my horse’s trust, which has happened to me, I worry that I may not regain it. I have breached a confidence, some understanding we share. I have the greater intellect, so I am responsible for not abusing that. The horse has the greater primal intellect; he knows how to live in nature and by primal rules. His responsibility is to not take advantage of his position also, but may need to learn that in relationship with humans. This is where we offer guidance.

If I demonstrate enough trustworthy behavior I can generally regain the confidence and trust of my horse, unless the horse has been abused a great deal before I came along. But at that point I must continue to offer a good deal, and if I have to ask more of my horse than he wants to do, I reward him greatly for his supreme efforts.

This is the trade-off, this is what makes the trail less traveled different.

The trail less traveled may involve a technique you come up with on-the-fly, that’s not in the handbook, something you have learned by watching your horse. This is wonderful, you are moving into intuitive learning, intuitive training, without steps. Sometimes we need steps like we need a map when we’re unsure of where we’re going, at the beginning.

But after awhile, the concepts become embodied and it is easier. Your convictions become stronger. The voices of the critical world fall away. You are moving along the trail, your horse picking her footing, dropping down off the mountain, heading into switchbacks with sunlight blinding you, skirting deadfall, down into that gorgeous valley where tall grasses tickle your mare’s knees and a thin snow-fed stream gurgles through. You are as one. And nobody can tell you any different.

Horse-olutions for 2018

Once again, I address the thing I’m not all that good at: resolutions for the New Year. I try to make them easy and attainable, otherwise they go the way of crash diets and best laid plans that get forgotten the moment stress or a better offer sets in.

This Christmas we had the joy of having our wonderful family: son Cory, wife Amber and three-year-old grandson Avery visiting.  Their visit brought many new insights to me, as it reminded me what it was like to be new parents . The care of new parents is so special and sweet, and all-consuming.

The other thing dear little Avery brought to me was the sheer joy of discovery. He got to feed and pet horses for the first time. If I’d had the video running I would’ve captured his squeals of delight and jumping up and down. I did catch this photo of Avery feeding Patches a carrot with his mom standing by.

So this brings to me to the first two Horse-olutions for you for the New Year:

Add a global view to your vision. If you find yourself getting really focused on one thing: a behavioral issue, a health issue, etc., take a step backward and see the bigger picture. In working at liberty and bodywork, many times I’ve experienced a horse who couldn’t stand the scrutiny of the person working with him. Either she was too close or her concern was too great. I ask her to take a step backward and the horse will turn his head to her and acknowledge her beautifully. Her recognition of his need for space was profound. This is a metaphor for life.

Continue the joy of discovery. A new trail, a new experience. Just yesterday my mare Jazzie decided she wanted to take a different trail home, and we bounded through the arroyo and up a hill to arch around some houses to home.  The joy in her was so much fun. I was reminded of Avery with his squeals of delight at getting to pet the horses, and finding a special bond with one of them in particular.  As a child my parents took me into the English countryside for picnics. The highlight of that trip was getting to pet a horse over a fence. Perhaps that was the start of the addiction for me.

Maybe you’ll discover something new in one of your horses, or in your life. I wrote about this last year, but new never gets old!

Respect differences. Notice how you interact with different people. Horses do that too. They don’t respond to everyone the same way. Sometimes you are drawn to people and sometimes repelled by them. Sometimes you think you will be friends with someone but the friendship never quite happens. Horses are capable of great bonds with each other and people. Notice what they are and protect your horses from those they aren’t comfortable with, and fill their lives with positive relationships if you can.

These two share a special and immediate friendship.

Work with energy. Energy is part of the previous horse-olution but is part of everything we do. Horses seek positive, grounding energy in humans. It’s not necessary to do anything, just be yourself. If you don’t know yourself well, the horse may know you better than you know yourself. If you’re anxious and your anxiety transfers to your horse, pay attention to that. Maybe change your agenda for the day or until you can become still inside.

Just know that every emotion you have, the horse experiences. They may not understand its complexity, but they feel it. The horse’s presence may be calming, but make sure your presence is not disruptive to the horse so he or she doesn’t absorb it and act on it. Don’t hide your emotions, but on the other hand, I think it’s best not to use your horse as a dumping ground for emotional baggage.

Judith reading a poem with Zuzka listening.

Talk to your horses and around your horses. This past week my granddaughter Ariana and I were working on some teaching videos with the horses. The sounds of our voices put them to sleep. Of course, that could mean we’re incredibly boring, but I tend to think it was soothing to them. I did some hands-on, and all the horses not receiving any work dozed off.

I’ve noticed that when I’m mucking, or brushing, if I talk to them, they become very relaxed. They like my noticing things about them, asking how they got this scratch or noticing where they are sore.

Work with other horses. It’s easy to think all horses do the same things, and there are some general things that all horses do. But when you get a chance to work with multiple horses, it broadens your view of the horse world.

When I meet horses, I want to take in their personalities. Who are they? What do they want to show me?

When I only worked with my own horses, I had a limited view of them. Since I see many horses, I can bring the knowledge I gain from others home to my horses and they benefit. That’s why the workshop setting is so valuable; we get to work with many horses and see differences and similarities.

We can also gain a more neutral perspective.

Remember gratitude.  With all the wants entering into daily life, I remind myself to be grateful for what is. For family, the horses I have, the health I have, the work I’m entrusted to do.  With each year, new opportunities arise and others fall away. To mourn the loss of beloved beings is natural, and takes time and a holding place. Gratitude has its place in honoring what was loved and what is still here to be loved. Spring will come and a new order can rebalance losses and gains in ways we never can predict.

Breathe. My mare Zuzka started teaching breathing exercises at workshops about two and

Zuzka and Ruella sharing breath, a special ritual for their first meeting.

a half years ago. She wanted people to just stand and breathe with her. She wanted me to breathe with her. No touching, nothing else. While I was teaching a lesson, she decided she didn’t want to do the lesson, it was time to stop and breathe.

That was a more important lesson to me than what was on my agenda!

This way of breathing is a way of being together without doing. She may want to breathe on your face, or synchronize breath with you. While doing bodywork, often I will feel the horse breathe into a tight or sore spot. This is another way of using breath in a very constructive manner.

Yoga breathing exercises are great, yet I know no horse who has taken a yoga class – they know this on their own. Zuzka’s message is quite simple: stop doing and breathe.

The breathing is something I now do often – before I ride or do groundwork, or when I feel I’m not quite centered. Just taking that moment can make all the difference.

Happy New Year! My wish is for your new year to be full of joy and promise!

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

Please see my

Events for information on upcoming clinics and workshops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horse-olutions for 2017

 

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

 

 

 

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.

What? No more riding?

Many people have expressed to me great sadness over not being able to ride a beloved horse anymore. In many cases, it’s not just that they want to ride, they want to ride their own horse, whom they have spent countless hours riding, who is no longer rideable for health or other reasons.IMG_0240

Continue reading “What? No more riding?” »

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.

Continue reading “The deepening bond between horse and human” »

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.

Continue reading “The spectrum for horse and human” »

Do you have your horse’s vote?

What if, every presidential hopeful had to go into the corral with a few horses? America could stand outside the corral and tally up the results. Which types of horses would gravitate to what people? Would some candidates be left off to the side?

Continue reading “Do you have your horse’s vote?” »

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” »

The robot horse

Have you ever met a robot horse?

IMG_0728 Continue reading “The robot horse” »