Tag Archives: horsemanship

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.

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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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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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

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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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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?

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