How to get a happy healthy horse often is team work. So I will share the journey I had with Hudson to give you an example of how teamwork can really make a lasting change. It took us more than three years.
When I met Hudson he was not happy and not healthy and very difficult to ride. He did not want to be lunged but he loved jumping. On and off unsound and very flat sensitive feet. But a lovely horse and I started to work with him, because for my own mental health I needed a horse in my life! I rode and worked with him three times a week and I also taught the owner. He was not in a good place physically, mentally and emotionally.
Riding him showed how “on the forehand” he was, all his weight on his front legs. This made it difficult to accelerate, turn and slowdown. Together with this he had no vertical balance, he always fell into a turn, he often veered to left or right when without a fence or wall next to him. These issues often occur when there are physical problems.
* A chiropractor helped for almost 2 years on a regular basis to make sure he could use his hind quarters and back properly and that he could take more weight there.
* Training from the ground in lateral work helped him get the strength and flexibility to properly work from behind. To get him off being “on the forehand” and getting a good horizontal balance.
* The owner changed his diet and changed yards to give him more time in the field all year round and 24/7 in the summer. This cleared up his is gut issues. Imagine having an upset tummy and asked to run around, that does not make you happy!
After two years we got stuck. I knew with all the work we had put in he should be making more progress into collection work. But he could not do it. He was also still standing with his face in a corner when in a stable and could be reluctant to start to move. I could not find the root cause of his “problem” because clearly he still was not a happy horse. Healthy yes but not happy ….
* A craniosacral therapist who had worked on me was brought in. She found and worked on a very old injury high up in his neck. Effecting his skull and jaw. The almost immediate change in Hudson was remarkable. It took two session! We believe Hudson might have suffered with headaches his whole life, hence the standing with his face in corner not willing to move.
* The training now changed since he could finally just relax into my hands when I asked him to collect more from behind. The issue in his neck had been stopping that!
Last Friday Hudson left on his way to Cork to join his owner as a very happy, healthy horse. Over the years the owner has gained more knowledge in understanding his behaviour and helping him stay healthy and happy. So I am a little bit sad that my buddy is going away, but I am so happy that we have been able to turn his life around. It was not a quick fix but it will give him a new lease on life.
Thursday 23 June 2022
Working with a herd
Working with a herd
My first experience with horses living in herds was during my stay in Mongolia. I was following herds of Prezwalski horses or Tahki’s ,as they are called over there. We were staying in a base camp in the Hustai Nuruu nature reserve. Every day we would track down a herd and just follow it around and note down their behaviour. Although sometimes I would walk all day without finding any of the herds.
The oldest of the herds was quite used to people following it around and had their patterns: they would drink in the morning from a stream in the valley and then they would move to some “pancake rocks” higher up where they would hang out during midday, breezy and shaded. This was a big herd, with several mares and foals and a very scarred stallion ‘Kahn’, always standing alone and alert. Scarred from the many fights he had been in over the years.
The herd of ‘Patron’ was also well established in their territory, but not always easy to track down. This was a smaller herd and this year the only foal had died and the yearling of that mare did not have play companions. So one day I observed him trying to play with his grazing mother. She sort of ignored him jumping against her or biting her legs. But after 15 minutes she got fed up with this behaviour and told him off, teeth bared and half rearing up against him. She actually knocked him over and he ended up in a bit of a dip in the land. Both got really worried then and when he got himself out of his predicament he turned from bolshie boy into a foal and started drinking from her. Having just lost a foal meant she did have milk. For me it was just fantastic to see how the behaviour changed in the young one and also how the mother dealt with the bolshie boy.
Northern Ireland (2022)
To have the opportunity to not only observe but to work with a herd is so lovely. You really have to become one of them, still and in tune with all the horses. First I introduce myself to the heard leader and make clear what my intentions are: I am not taking one of his herd members away, I will not harm anybody, I do have my personal space he/she needs to respect. How long it takes to establish this, to gain the trust that I am OK depends. Depends on the horses in the herd, depends on what is going on around us. Most importantly it is not something I can direct or speed up, not if I want to integrate.
Here in Northern Ireland I just worked with a herd of two horses: Lady and Mollie. Lady is a coloured horse who has appointed herself as the leader and protector over Molly, the chestnut. Molly is totally fine with this arrangement. Molly knows me well from the ground work and bodywork I do with her. So I start out with observing them and move into the field. Both are curious and approach me and I extend my fist so they can sniff while I keep my distance. After the introduction Lady goes into her protector role and pins her ears at me, I immediately flick a rope I am carrying at her, to explain my space and that I will not be herded around by her. So she backs away taking Molly with her in a trot/gallop down the field.
I give them some time before I stroll down the field into their vicinity. Showing I am not going to catch or chase anybody. We move around a bit and I end up close to Molly. For a while Lady stands guard, but after 10 minutes decides I am OK, and starts grazing a few steps away. Up till now I needed to keep an eye on both horses, reading their body language, to stay safe. Now I can fully focus on Molly. She has had a bout of laminitis and has very stiff and sore shoulders. Her being so sore and with her reactive background I just hang the end of the rope over her neck for my safety. Also I started from a distance doing energy work before I actually put a hand on her. Now when my hand goes to her chest there is lots of teeth barring, but she does not move her feet! Then finally she lets go of loads of tension, becomes soft and starts to yawn big time. I stay with my hand in place and she takes a deep breath. So I step way, leaving a much happier horse. Together with vet, farrier and herbal medicines she will get through this.
Monday 14 February 2022
Introduction to training in liberty VIDEO
So I have been working with this lady for over a year now. Molly is a 30 year old thoroughbred with Cushing. She was volatile and needed careful handling. Also she was not one to be touched with out her full consent and she hardly ever gave that.
But we have been making major progress and she has mellowed down and can appreciate a hug now. Physically she has also become softer, the tension and rigidness have gone.
So today we thought lets see if she would like to do some work in liberty with us. Her owner has never done it before. The object of this first session was just to follow her lead and see what that would bring us. And she loved it! (as did her owner who was videoing us)
Sunday 26 December 2021
How about treats in training?
Using treats as a means of positive reinforcement during training. I am all for it, but I have been struggling with it myself. Even having had good training in how to use treats properly as a positive reinforcement during training and seeing the results did not warm me to the concept. Working with horses of clients who would “search” for treats actively and single minded did not help me revise my point of view.
But I decided I needed this to get to a horse who is very locked up in his world. We have been working together for two years now. He has become far more balanced and supple and stronger than he ever was. No more on and of unsoundness, no more consistent gut issues. His mind on the other hand is still stuck in NO and there is no forward thinking, no curiosity. This is making a true connection really hard. A little example would be having him tacked up in the stable. When I want to go out of the stable with him I still need to physically give a tug on the reins … it is so sad.
So after putting in all the work to get him moving freely and balanced he just does not go for it!
Working with treats as positive reinforcement to get his mind searching and looking to me will help me get the connection that is still lacking. BUT because of his years of gut issues and deprivation of essential nutrients he is very into food – as he will go and get it himself. The first stage of the training will be me having treats on me and him not digging them out of me. Softly explaining the new rules because I know where he is coming from. Sometimes asking to take a step and rewarding with a YES and a treat I give to him, away from my pockets and body. Also rewarding if he starts exploring softly by scratching, kissing and listening to him. Putting his mind at rest. Taking an interest in me and exploring is good and will get my attention and my love. Responding, even with just a little try, to an ask will get him a treat. But if he just goes for a treat, ignoring my boundaries that is not acceptable. I think after two weeks we have got this first stage in really nicely.
Phase two is to weave it into the training. Not as the single way of asking, but as a way of rewarding. I want his attention so we can build up our connection. I would love to see him exploring and offering actions. So I will friendly ignore anything he comes up with that I do not want. No punishment, no reprimanding words basically no negative reaction what so ever.
The coming months we will explore lateral movement from the ground. A course given by Lucie Klaassen (https://trueconnection.lucieklaassen.com). Laying down groundwork for working in liberty is on my mind. For that having a horse that still only thinks of how to get away is not working. Getting him interested and engaged with me, having a true connection is essential. That’s why in this particular case I am introducing working with treats. A learning experience for me and for the horse.
Friday 13 August 2021
VIDEO Molly on SURE FOOT
This morning I had Molly on the SURE FOOT pads and made a little video about it.
Now Molly is/was a highly reactive horse, with lots of Thoroughbred blood. This means that when anything happened around her, noises or movement, she would react. Often her adrenaline would shoot up and she would need to move then. Regardless of any human holding her lead rope! And she would stay on high alert and be not very responsive of any intervention. Which could create dangerous situations.
For several weeks I have been working with Molly and her owner. Combining bodywork with groundwork. She is also very reactive to touch which means the body work needed to be adapted to her needs. Using a jade Guasha scraper did wonders.
To address her high strung re-activeness I have used the SURE FOOT pads. This can help a horse switch from high strung and reactive to calm. And that is exactly what it is doing for Molly. She has learned to be alert without going into a high reactive state. Even when she does she can now easily calm down again.
Sunday 4 July 2021
VIDEO – Faith getting her first Guasha treatment
Take a sunny afternoon and lots of time to spent with a horse. Working with a herd has many advantages for me. Horses are keenly aware of anything that is going on, in and around the herd. So introducing Guasha to them in this setting gives a more shy horse the time to watch and feel how a more confident horse responds to me.
Today I started with Faith the little white one, she sees herself as the guardian of the herd. Always checking everything out. And she is very confident with humans. She came over to check me out strait away. I let her sniff me and my jade scraper and started scraping very softly and carefully. She became very still, working out what I was doing and how she felt about it. Then I felt her relax and I picked up the treatment. Working from front to back, top to bottom and from the inside to the outside.
She loved long strong strokes and enjoyed every moment of it. We captured the treatment on video so you can see what it entails.
Faith focused inward into the treatment:
Taking full advantage of her spa treatment
Saturday 29 May 2021
Trailer loading (part 2)
Last time I wrote about how trailer loading problems not always are a problem with the trailer. I used Hudson as an example. Now training the horse is just solving half the problem, because in most cases the human needs to make some changes as well.
I wrote: “My analysis was that basically he said NO as soon as he got pressured/pulled or perceived actions as such.” Which meant that the owner working with him needed to change from telling him to go into to trailer to inviting him to go into the trailer.
This video is of the following week, were she is loading Hudson and doing a great job! Love the connection they have now.
Wednesday 12 May 2021
Trailer loading problems or not … (part 1)
Trailer loading is seldom a problem with a trailer …
I will use Hudson as an example how escalating problems with loading him on a trailer had nothing to do with the trailer.
So what was happening and why did the loading into a trailer got so challenging? He had never been a fan of being loaded onto a trailer, but with some doing he usually got on fine. Over the span of a year he had been getting fitter. So his surly reluctance changed into a more expressive NO. Hence the “escalating” of the trailer loading problem.
But why the NO to start with? My analysis was that basically he said NO as soon as he got pressured/pulled or perceived actions as such. It also was clear that this was a long standing behaviour. So to tackle this “trailer loading problem” I started with some lunging where he showed similar behaviour. He would say NO by bolting off or trying to. My job was to let him know I would not pressure him into anything he could not do. I would invite him to work with me and if he, out of habit of years, said NO I would just stay calm, listen to him, give him a moment and then invited him again to go on. I also made sure we did not by “accident” get into a situation that could be interpreted by him as pressure. This does not mean I do not put him to work!
Since being in a trailer was no problem I was confident that after three lunging sessions in quick succession we could progress to actually loading him on a trailer. My objective is that a horse can load himself onto a trailer and I am only there to invite them to load and to close the trailer.
It took 20 minutes the first time. Going home it took 5 minutes. Next day it took 20 minutes but he was becoming more confident that he could actually just walk onto the trailer by himself. Going home the owner could load him without any hesitation. So both the horse and the owner have been changing their habits and are coming together more and more.
The “trailer loading problem” was actually a combination of old habits and no clear communication between human and horse.
Wednesday 7 April 2021
Sure Foot to the rescue
After some really nice sunny spring days the weather changed. It was at Easter that we got an Arctic wind storming down with snow, hail and lots of very very cold air.
When I go up to the yard the wind is howling in between buildings, but it is dry. So first a round of poo picking in the field. Hudson is nice and warm under his rug and totally not interested in me. But when I go fetch him he is fine with that, knowing there will be hay in the stable.
But in the stable he just nit-picks at the hay. When I ask him to move a step aside he tours the stable. All in all he seems a bit tense. With two stormy days that is not really surprising. Now I know Hudson is familiar with the Sure Foot pads and his owner regularly uses them.
So to help him relax I put one hind foot on a pad to see what he thinks of it. Instantly he “zones out” and go to deep relaxation. Totally ignoring the hay just under his nose! After a while he goes from resting his toe on the pad to fully loading the pad, resting his other hind leg. Obviously he is totally into it and is able to really let go of any tension he had built up during the storm. After quite a long time I tell him I am going to move him. I slowly lift up his leg and shove the pad out of the way and very slowly put his foot back on the ground. Walk around and put his other hind foot on the pad. Hudson barely reacts, stays “zoned out” and goes straight back into deep relaxation.
After half an hour I take him of the pad and give him an additional healing session. Then I leave him to come back to the here and now, by starting to prepare his food 😉 This brings him back and he looks really alert! Bunkers down on his feed and starts with gusto on his hay net.
First his left right toe rests on it.
Than he moves back and loads his full weight on the pad.
Then moves back resting again before I quietly remove the pad.
I place his right foot on the pad, he curves to the left before he slowly straighten outs.
Finally I remove the pad, give a small healing and leave him for a while still deeply relaxed.
Saturday 5 December 2020
How to make “work” enjoyable.
I am working on making Hudson stronger and more balanced. In this session I am for the first time doing canter circles. I have two fences up as an anchor for my circles. The size of the circle is decided by Hudson’s ability. This size is big enough to feel do-able but is also challenging for him. My focus points are the fences and riding a perfect round circle. Where ever Hudson is out of balance he will deviate and the circle will become egg shaped. When I feel him going out of balance I help him restore, but that is all the rest is up to him.
Since this is difficult and I need his engagement I interchange with stuff he likes. Going over a small bank, some poles on the ground. He likes that and becomes more forward. Which I then utilise by going back to the canter circles.
Tuesday 3 November 2020
Eager but relaxed
We are finally getting there! Combining balance, power and relaxation. We have spent month on building up power and rebalancing Hudson. Because just putting him more on his hindquarters and keeping him there by force is not a long lasting solution. So time was spent in building up the strengths of his hind legs using lateral work, both “in hand” and ridden. At the same time I have been working on educating him in taking responsibly and moving in a more balanced way.
When playing with free jumping I became aware how he loved jumping and that he was really good at it. So I introduced pole work sooner than I normally would.
But what a leap in his development he has made! The little pieces of training as pieces of a puzzle are coming together. During our third pole work/jumping lesson he could relax between the work, while being really eager over the poles and jumps. My only assistance was to keep him balanced. Look at this beautiful video of today:
Saturday 24 October 2020
I am so happy, because Hudson is so happy! We began our journey together in Januari 2020. We started out getting to know each other and discovered I did almost everything different then he was used to. Most importantly I was not going to do any “work” for him. Like putting all my energy in getting him to move or keeping him in balance … and I was inviting him to get invested in what we were doing.
In March I wrote about leading him in little steps and in august about building him up in layers.
Today it all came together! Warming him up trotting around with loose reins while riding circles and changing hands. And we cantered around in a relaxed and balanced way – on the straight lines! Still lots of work to do but have a look at these videos and see this happy free moving horse, thanks Hudson for following my lead.
Very important for this process is that Terri is following us and is changing her riding accordingly. She is also becoming balanced and light in her riding!
Warming up on a loose rein:
Cantering with the lightest contact possible:
Thursday 27 August 2020
First time with long reins
Big boy Hudson is actually just a little boy on a confidence level. He is uses to being led around and being told what and how to do thing. So I was looking for a way to invite him to stride out more confidently. To take the lead. Doing so will inevitably mean we need to connect and communicate to go someplace “together”.
Today I started with me working him from the ground using long reins. I will not take him along, but will ask him to stride on with me at his shoulders or further back. But for starters I will be at his shoulders until he gets braver. Hudson struggled and had this big question mark and tried to turn to me for help. It took some coaxing and lots of positive reinforcement to get him going.
But what a joy to have this boy become lighter in his movements and more sensitive and in tune with me. He got it and relaxed into it. Today’s goal was to get his mind-set changed and his confidence build up.
First getting the gears in place: stop, start, walk, trot:
Finishing off with some directional changes:
Thursday 20 August 2020
Building up in layers
Building up in layers means I train the horse on physical, mental and emotional level. But I do it in small increments and just focus on one layer at the time. Here I love how Hudson makes the choice to connect with me.
We did some ground work with the focus on giving him freedom to express himself. So for any action there was loads of positive feedback from me. I worked with two poles on one side to use for direction and distraction.
Wednesday 18 March 2020
After a lunging lesson with Terri Hudson was feeling very happy! First going off to the left, his favourite side. After blowing of some steam I asked him to go to the right and he followed my suggestion.
This is the first time I had him free in this paddock and he totally loved it. Afterwards we had a nice “join up”. He was breathing hard but no sweat what so ever 😉
Saturday 14 March 2020
Leading in little steps
When I met Hudson I loved him straight away. But I knew that I trained and rode differently than he was used to. This meant I would be challenging him on different levels. Challenging because I was asking him to change. Horses, just like people, often do not like change.
Now setting him down for a good verbal conversation does not work that well with a horse. Instead I lead him in little steps on this new road. Making sure he is ready for the next step before I start asking it. Giving him a say and I do listen, but I also encourage him if he is unsure. At the end of every training I want him to feel really good, tired in mind and body, but relaxed and ok.
Today we made a big step. We cantered on a circle while staying balanced! He needed some support and activation, but he picked it up so well! Coming out of the canter is almost the most difficult part, keeping him balanced and ride down to a relaxed quite trot. He was giving me his all.
Monday 27 January 2020
Now meet Hudson, a gorgeous horse that I will be working and riding with! I met him when I was asked to do a bodywork session with him, since he was lame at the time. A very grounded solid but sensitive guy that really enjoyed our sessions. Just 14 years, so in the prime of his life!
After coming to Northern Ireland in April 2019 I did not have a horse to care or ride and missed it terribly. I started helping Terri, the owner, out now that he could not be ridden. He could not go into the field so to option to have someone extra to take him out was very welcome.
I started out with just wandering around Gransha Equestrian Center together, since it is pretty big. Just getting to know each other a bit better. From there I moved into more “training” like sessions. Trying him out “in hand” and on the long reins. This was all new to him so I took it easy.
After a chiropractor session I started with riding him. Or maybe I should say that I extended my “in hand” work with ridden work in walk. Working on his balance and helping him with apparently new but healthier movement patterns. We have progressed to trotting and he is doing fine. As you can see he has had a morning out in a field by now 😉
In the future I will write more about how we progress together!
Thursday 16 January 2020
Connecting and Communicating
On the road again for more lessons. What I like best is when I can help a human connect better with their horse. Help them understand the horse and what he is telling them. Most of the time we are not clear and precise enough for them to understand us. So working on body awareness for the rider and for the handler of a horse is lesson 1. Because the horse is a herd animal body langue is his second nature and communicating on that level can be a true revelation.
Like the total amazement of an owner that the horse that was always strong and pulling just stopped and stood still on a breath.
Like the joy of an owner when lunging she could sent her horse away by just pointing in the desired direction instead of pulling and pushing him around.
When an owner feels “save” to lunge her horse for the first time.
If you would like to get closer to your horse and understand him better, feel free to contact me.
Thursday 19 December 2019
Release through touch
When I work at Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary in Antrim I work with mostly rescue horses and ponies. Here I meet with raw emotions and pure reactions. They have learned to take care of them self’s or should I say they have learned that people do not always take care of them.
When I meet them I do not even reach out to begin with, but just stand around. And when I move I do not approach them directly but take one step at a time. If my moving does not frighten them I approach slowly every step looking and feeling if it is still ok with them. If not I retreat.
Listening and watching are so important to build up trust.
When I have them with a head collar on a long line I still take it one step at a time. Most of the time the shoulder area is the place I can start to touch them. Scratching as they do to each other. Breathing slowly and standing grounded I create a safety zone. They might not trust that immediately but will recognize it. When they let me touch them is when the magic happens. We can have a whole conversation without visible movement. They relax or try to. Their eyes become soft, their head drops maybe just an inch it is all I need to see. Some really struggle and you get waves of activity and feet that need to move! Letting go is never easy not for them and not for us. Their breathing will slow or get deeper. Their lips start to quiver and relax. And finally the yawn comes, often a small one first slowly working to a big yawn with stretching of the neck and a tongue that moves about. Stress release and then the quiet standing attentions turned inwards, processing what just happened.
I stay with them while they process, to give them the safety I promised.
Tuesday 26 November 2019
When you cannot ride …
There are times when you cannot ride. Like last week when I got a call to reschedule the lesson we had planned. The horse was lame and the rider wanted to reschedule because riding was not an option. My question was if she was familiar how to give a massage to a horse. Since she was not, I explained the benefits especially now he was stabled 24/7 and had a sore foot. She was willing to give it a try but thought she might not have the “feel” for it.
So the appointment stayed and when I got there we found a quite spot for us to work. First some basic anatomy needs to be in place before you can start. Next to be able to do any bodywork you need to focus on yourself. Quiet your mind, your breathing and find your centre. Only than do I approach the horse. I will be firm and clear in my work but also will I listen to what he tells me. If someone indicates they think they might not “feel” I point out that the horse will tell them everything they need to know. The challenge for most people is to have clear intent for what they want to do and at the same moment stay open for what the horse tells them. How the horse tells you something depends on the character of the horse, how he has been handled and what the problem is.
The session flowed from lots of action from the horse to him relaxing deeply. His eyes where almost shut, his lower lip slightly trembled. When he erupted into action I told him to stay here but waited till he got quiet again before going further. Everything a horse does is information. So I listen. The rider was pleasantly surprised how much she could do and how she could really give her horse some quality time in this way. It also gave us insight in his reactions patterns she would also see when riding. The benefit of time spent is this way is so worthwhile.
Sunday 10 November 2019
Today was a beautiful sunny autumn day and I am going to meet a new client who asked for my help. Both she and her horse have some insecurity issues. Now that sounds maybe simple but actually getting to the bottom of insecurity can be quite a journey. Lots of possibilities that can result in being unsure of yourself. So what is needed to build confidence? First of all, if both rider and horse have insecurity issues, I start with the horse. Because for the rider, helping the horse become more confident will help her as well.
Information about past experiences is informative, but only the present mind-set is important for me. Now emotional fitness is strongly linked to physical fitness. The emotional state will result in a physical behaviour and reading the body language is therefore very important. Starting out with basic groundwork on a leadrope will both give me a lot of information about the horse and will give the horse structure and safety. Leading to trust and respect if done in a respectful way of course. In the future will be working on physical balance and getting stronger.
Today the horse connected or joined up with me within 5 minutes. He showed that when processing new information he would slow down so I gave him time. When he understood me he relaxed into the work I asked from him – just walk with me. He was super sensitive and relaxed when I took a deep breath, which was good to see for the rider. He was really trying working out my open invitations given through my body language.
I am looking forward to our road ahead together. Giving the rider tools to help her horse and to understand him even better. Next step will be helping the rider with whatever she needs to feel more confident when riding him.
Friday 1 November 2019
Healthier movement through balance
With Stan I have been working on his balance. Due to physical problems he had adapted a way of moving around which was not very healthy. He started every action and movement leading with his shoulders the rest of him followed. This meant that to start trotting he would launch himself in the air. Getting momentum going he would sort of trot on until there was a corner. He could “fall” around a corner at high speed or drop to a stop. No power from behind what so ever. No pushing of to move forward and no supporting. Also an on and off lameness that needed further examination.
The start was bodywork to loosen his tight neck and shoulder up. Then a chiropractor could examine and help him further, he was stuck on loads of places. Together with more body work on his still very tight neck and shoulders. After this mobilisation the training to a new improved moving pattern began.
How to get balance:
This rehabilitation is all about getting him into balance. Helping him getting stronger in his hind legs and back. Relaxing his top line and starting to move in an active healthy forward way. Also it is all about learning how to move in this new way instead of sticking to old habits.
For weeks most of the work was done in walk. He knew how to follow and he knew how to run around on a lunge line. He did not know how to walk slightly apart from me on his own. Getting a steady strong forward walk. Moving from small circles to straight lines and back. Having me not only on his left but also on his right was also totally unfamiliar to him. So explaining this all to him took weeks, only working with him on the Wednesdays. But it gave his body time to get stronger.
Next was trotting on a medium circle to help him with his balance. If the circle was too big and he would charge off with head high – back down and totally out of balance. Too small and he could not support himself yet. Recently I have been increasing the amount of trotting from just a ¾ circle to 4 – 5 circles in a steady trot, in balance and a relaxed top line.
He is really doing very well, but we are not finished. He still has a lot of tension in neck and shoulder. And the gaits need to be confirmed and become natural again.
Friday 1 November 2019
Patch is settling down
Patch has come a long way since I started working with him in July this year.
First of all his anxiety threshold is no longer very low and he has become very relaxed. This also resulted in getting him in a group for the so very necessary social interaction with other horses. He has become a very social and stable boy. Being at a sanctuary is not ideal, the nice social group he was part of is no longer in place and putting him with another strong willed gelding did not work out to good.
It is beautiful to see how sensitive this guy really is. On the smallest of signals he will react and he can follow me like a shadow. But he has a strong personality that is tinted by his experiences in the past. If he does not understand me and gets unsure of himself he starts nipping and biting. Giving him time and some gentle TOUCHES will settle him quickly. All he needs is time and TLC.
Giving him new input with pods to stand on to stimulate his body awareness:
Tuesday 1 October 2019
Listening is all about “feel”
It is the end of September and autumn is letting itself be noticed. This morning we are lucky with a calm and sunny start of the day. I always like to teach in an outside arena. Today I am teaching Kirsty at Gransha Equestrian Centre. She was riding Summer a young promising mare they bred themselves. Now four years and still growing, but getting all the time she needs.
Today we addressed “feel”. It was lovely to see how Kirsty got softer, becoming aware of the effects of her breathing, muscle tensions and body position influencing the horse. We focussed on mobility of several joints throughout her body. Shoulders, elbows, back, hip and knee joints were addressed. Being soft you can follow the horse without any interfering signals.
From here the contact through the reins becomes a following and giving contact. Giving this young horse, Summer, the guidance she needs. And you see the horse become more soft and balanced! At this point Kirsty told me she had the feeling she was not doing anything …. She was not riding her horse. We changed her contact through the reins and she was searching how to know/see she was doing it correctly in this new way. Well Summer was giving her the answer! Kirsty just needed to shift to “feeling” the answer Summer was giving her. When there was too much tension coming from Kirsty, Summer would tense also, shorten her neck, tipping her head. As soon as Kirsty got soft but kept the connection, Summer would relax and reach forward into her hand. So “feel” is all about listening to the horse.
“Feel” the horse and listen. And a good listener has all the time in the world!
Saturday 14 September 2019
Breakthrough with Mabel
Trust needs to be earned, but when earned a horse (or human) can feel safe with you. It took some sessions for Mabel to feel safe. And together with my bodywork on her this created a wonderful session. For the first time she trusted me enough to put her hind feet on the pads. She even explored the big spiky pod without me putting her foot on it.
Mabel has laminates. But since 2 weeks her mane crest is soft. Her whole body is softer. Her rock hard hindquarters are softening. Where fist she could only turn around by leaning back and pivoting on her hind feet. Now she bents her body and steps with a hind foot under to turn around! I am so happy for her. Working with her is all about making her happy and her life comfortable.
At the moment I am working with Darcy, a lovely mare who missed out on going to school. For now I have had several sessions with her. It becomes clear she is very smart and can pick up new things very quickly. But having led a sheltered live she is easily overwhelmed.
Also she is an introverted horse, she will not speak out clearly when she finds things difficult. She stands very still and retreats inwards. My job is to listen very carefully to her. She will slightly look away with just her eyes, she turns her attention inward. Her whole body gets a bit more tense. If this happens she does not come out of this easily. Most people will just see her as a very calm horse.
So my work with her is now a series of very short sessions and a lot of room in between. Like doing some “freework” with her, which showed how smart she was picking up immediately what we did last and the only time I had worked like this with her. Then 10 minutes proved to be too long, so now I stopped after 5 minutes. Gave her a break and continues with some bodywork.
I have used a wrap around her head – just before and just after her ears – to help her focus, it works calming and with general relaxation. This really helped her with the leading exercise she finds particularly difficult.
Afterwards she was totally relaxed and stood processing for a long time. She has become very soft, her head has dropped very low. So I give her this time and just stand with her. When she starts picking up some hay and react to what goes on around us it is time to bring her back to her herd.
Sunday 18 August 2019
Having a conversation
Being with horses means everything to me. I have changed form just telling them what I want them to do as a monologue to listening and having a dialog. For a proper dialog with a horse my voice is just a footnote, my body language and position do the speaking. Having a conversation that way with a horse, one with a healthy and social upbringing, can be very rewarding. The conversation can feel like a dance together.
Being together with a horse who has maybe not have had a healthy social upbringing. Who may have been misunderstood by humans or even mistreated. Such a horse is a whole different story.
One way of coping could be that the horse just totally ignores me, and forcing myself on him will not lead to a good conversation. Or they have learned to just “walz” over people if necessary with their teeth bared. Very effective and here to protect myself I do need to be forceful, but the key is to not put aggression in my action.
Most importantly, with these horses, is being consistent. I also need to be very precise and my timing need to be on point. And if they get stuck I will help them release tension. The conversation can only take place if they are able to listen and for that they need to relax. Bodywork is a great way to get that first relaxation if bodywork is possible.
Finding a save starting point for our conversation is mandatory. Being able to return back to this save point so they can think over the conversation is paramount.
Saturday 10 August 2019
Working together, for the benefit of the horse
Last week showed how working together as professionals can really benefit the horse.
First Stan, who had been on and of not quite sound. When I started out a few weeks ago he was so tense in his forehand and neck that he would not allow me to do any bodywork on him. Therefore I introduced him to the Sure Foot pads, which he really liked. These relaxed him enough for me to start gentle bodywork. And after a few times I had him walking in strong, relaxed big steps around me.
When Emir started to palpate him she immediately felt how tense his muscles were, but she could touch him and work with him. Something that, a couple of weeks ago, would have been a problem. We discussed his status and the work I would do to get him to use his body in a healthy way. Because just making him able to function properly does not mean a horse will do it, often they stick to their old ways and need help to find the “better” way to move.
Second was Darcy, who has not been handled a lot. But she is such a sweet but introverted girl. When I started out with her, she did not like her legs to be touched let alone picking her feet up. And she did not know what to do when I moved to her right side. With her I worked on building trust. Trust that I could stroke her legs and pick up her feet. That morning for the first time I could do small circles with both front feet.
Compared to Stan, who had a definite opinion about being treated, Darcy stood like a rock. First apprehensive but later you could see her relax under the hands of Emir. And we could see her body posture change, standing totally square behind with a strong back.
We had left her legs for last, it is a bonus if she could release them. First of Darcy’s right front leg. Picking up was no problem and with me holding her halter, helping her balance and telling how great she was doing. Emir could “work” her leg. Then she picked up Darcy’s left front leg, immediately there was a balance problem. We left it alone, as not to lose her confidence she gave us.
Also in her case we discussed her status, a fine strong stable horse. And the work in training that would help her build more strength. Learning her to balance on 3 feet will also be a training goal.
Friday 2 August 2019
My first approach
When I work with a horse there are some ground rules that need to be put in place. I prefer to have the horse without any tack or head collar in a small area with good footing. First what rules do I have in mind? Well I have my personal space and I do not want others (horses or people) to barge in on me. Secondly I want to show them I am clear and consistent in my approach and questions towards them. I want to show them I respect them in their search for balance. Most of the time emotional balance, which can be addressed thru restoring physical balance.
Since every horse is different I may start, to the observer, different. But the end result will be the same, aiming for a dance together were only body language and intent are used to move together.
Take Patch who had been trained and who has been to shows. I can start a question to move with just pointing were I want him to move to. He understands that, he challenges me, he tests my consistency and my focus. So I might need to add an activation aid directed at his hind quarters. I might need to move and be bigger in my question, but not harder. He will than relax in the safe knowledge that I mean what I ask and that I do not lose focus. He will accept me and respect me.
Now Darcy has had no training for anything. Just pointing will mean nothing to her. To start with she does not even acknowledge my presence, searching for her friends. So I quietly ask her to move over when she stops somewhere by swinging my rope – making a noise – and moving in on her. As soon as she moves I get quiet and let her move off. It takes less than 5 minutes for her to get the idea, I only have to raise my activating hand – no swinging or noise necessary – for her to move. By now I also point first and she is picking that up to. She is a very smart lady. But do not under estimate the work she is doing, she is tired after 15 min. and I just stand with her and do some bodywork to make her feel safe.
The end result shown by Djarra, a free and confident horse, dancing together:
Saturday 27 July 2019
Darcy, a very green skewbald mare
Darcy may be 8 years old but has never really learned any skills needed to be around humans. The only thing she knows is being led around following who ever leads her. So she is still very green under her skewbald coat. But she is very friendly and comes when you call her name! Since she always been in a herd she could do with a bit more confidence just being who she is.
My work with her is bases on giving her more self-awareness and confidence. For this I use TTEAM techniques. Already she is relaxing with me if I start doing some TOUCHES and is happy to be with me. This creates a mental state in which she can learn. Asking her to move on her own, without following me, was a totally new concept for her. Me being on her off side and asking her to move made her fall to the right sort of over me …
Physically pushing her away will only create more force from her side, she just does not have a clue what is expected of her. But creating space with the “wand” in between us works well and tapping her on neck and withers keeps her in balance on her own feet. I ask her to back up a lot to get her back in balance and on her own feet. This backing up she also needed to get explained quietly while I needed to make sure she was able to do it.
So we have been walking and stopping and she is learning fast. What is so nice is that she really is eager to learn. I was training her last week, while she was in a new field with grass, and she worked with me without any discussion.
Thursday 18 July 2019
Patch, the piebald
So meet Patch a piebald boy with a chequered past. A solid boy who can be energetic and also reserved. At the moment he lacks confidence and had some bad experiences. He is not sure what is expected of him. On the other hand he knows what he likes best such as eating. He has learned to throw his weight around and getting away with it.
This askes for a flexible approach from my side. I must have clear intent if I ask something, but he also needs room to explore. While his exploration is not allowed into the slow feeder with hay, my NO needs to be strong but neutral in emotion. For me it is like dancing together and when I end up with him relaxed and confident moving freely next to me, we both are happy.
His anxiety has a low threshold, which means any sudden sound or movement makes him jump. Like a car on the road or me stumbling on a stone. For this I do body work with him, mainly TTOUCHES. This relaxes him and gives him more body awareness. Already after two sessions you can notice the difference.
Saturday 13 July 2019
Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary
Coming over to Bangor, North Ireland one of the things I really wanted to do was helping out at an animal sanctuary. They aim to find homes for the animals they give shelter. But most have bad experiences and are in one way or another traumatized. They need a lot of care and love before they are ready to out into the world.
At Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary in Antrim they get good shelters, paddock, feed and lots of companions. They get veterinary care and supplements, if they need them, to get them back on track. They get love and attention to gain their trust back. But there are only so many hours in a day to take care of all the animals entrusted in their care. It takes lots of hours and volunteers to keep everything up and running.
When I went over there in the beginning of July I was impressed. Everything is well cared for and more importantly safe. Good fencing, paddocks, fields, stables and animals you can see are well cared for. Working with these guys to help them become happier horses and ponies would be so rewarding.
And I am happy to say that from now on I will be at their sanctuary every Wednesday to dedicate my time and knowledge. To be able to work with these horses and ponies one-on-one is wonderful. They all have their own history and personality and I can tailor to their needs.
Take Darcy, a lovey Skewbald mare of 8 years old. Very friendly and trusting but she really has never been handled so she has lots to learn.
Or Patch who has been ridden and been to shows, but has lost confidence and became difficult to handle. For him it is all about gaining trust.
So from now on I will write about my encounters with the residents of Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary. https://www.crosskennanlane.co.uk/
Sunday 3 March 2019
Forever home found
It took months, but at last I found a forever home for Djarra.
He has a whole new family who are totally in love with him and have loads of plans for him.
I am going to emigrate to Northern Ireland and follow my passion and dreams. All my time I will dedicate to working with horses. Everything I ever learnt, also together with Djarra, I will apply in my work with horses.
To help them through rehabilitation, to help them when they are traumatised or to help them become stronger and more happy.
Djarra has an new family.
I go on with other horses who need my help.
What will remain the same is being “together”, what will change is the formation. Always I will be thankful for what Djarra brought me and this blog will keep his name.
Next month I will arrive in North Ireland and my posts will be about my encounters with other horses and maybe also dogs that I meet.
Thursday 14 February 2019
Traveling together …
It is February and you can already feel the power of the sun. The winter hairs fly off and I can loose the jacket. Even though the trees are still bare, spring is coming. Together we are behind the stable in the paddock. Without saddle with only a pad to sit on. Our first exploration of the paddock is with a bridle. If it is not scary or too muddy and the neighboring horses can be ignored, the bridle also goes off.
With only a neckring to walk around the paddock, I look where I want to go and Djarra takes me there. He takes good care of me, but thinks trotting is too dangerous, I could fall off. So to distract him and make him aware that I really do not fall off we put some trot poles down. We test the poles in walk and then it is ok. And then Djarra is trotting with me through the paddock and over the poles, no problem. I love this horse!
We went traveling together and this is how it looks now:
Wednesday 30 January 2019
Some video’s of Djarra (19 years) who is super fit and happy.
Apologies for his looks!
After a week of frost and snow, tempertures have gone up and there is plenty of black mud in the field. Djarra loves a daily mudbath and here he just came out of the field with only his blanket removed.
Tuesday 29 January 2019
Djarra, dancing while I ride
I can enjoy a horse that is dancing next to me, completely free and happy. But Djarra had never done that when I was riding him.
Today was a beautiful day with sunshine and temperatures just above freezing. Our outdoor arena was perfect and an invitation for a ride. After some days with snow, ice and frozen grounds, some gymnastic work was in order.
I started quietly in walk with some circles, bending and going backwards. Then I asked slowly for more action without increasing the pace. Djarra took his time, but relaxed and was so soft to ride. He snorted softly and extended his stride. After this some trot with some small circles. He kept holding back what usually means he still holds his breath. Some extra bending with more action then help as was now also the case.
Then he sees something, but I do not see it. He raises his head and dances slowly below me but is totally relaxed and springy throughout his body. With some small circles I try to get his attention at work, but actually there is not something specific that draws his attention … he just keeps dancing in a totally relaxed gait. It really feels so precious! He has never done this before, so I ride around a bit longer and reward him extensively.
After years of being terrified of being ridden in an arena, just becomimg completely rigid, I was happy the last couple of years I could ride in an arena. Only, as free and happy as today, I have never had him while being ridden. What a present!
It must have looked a bit like this, but of course with me on top 😉
Friday 11 January 2019
Walk around the village
This afternoon we did a tour of the village in the drizzle. With my thoroughbred Arab along the shops, bus stop and main road. Djarra just felt like walking and had a fast pace. If there were no cars we walked on the road and when a car is approaching we went on the sidewalk. Djarra was alert, but at ease. Along a meadow, there was grass next to the fence and he had to have it. It was clearly much better than the grass in his own pasture.
We also did a few streches of troting and he wanted much faster than I could. Fortunately, we have made good arrangements, so with relaxed long steps in a pace adapted to me we trotted along.
Sunday 30 December 2018
The teacher, powerful and yet quiet
To be able to learn a number of things are very important. To start with a safe environment. In addition, a teacher with patience and a lot of positive reward is also very nice. When I use Djarra as a teacher he creates exactly such a safe environment and he works from rest. For someone not so familiar with horses, he exudes safety and patience.
The person who goes to work with him gets all the time to organize things like long reins in his hands. When they go out together, Djarra just stops when the student leaves without giving an invitation to follow. As soon as the pupil manages to establish the contact, you see Djarra focus his attention on him, he does his best to answer the cautious and sometimes somewhat crude questions.
How beautiful to see a physically strong man at work with Djarra for the first time. He discovers that breathing is all it takes to stop Djarra if you are truly connected. What previously looked very magical appears to be accessible from a sincere connection.
Sunday 4 November 2018
Djarra took Laura along
We did a forest trail ride today with a friend who hadn’t ridden in a few months. She took Djarra for a ride. I took Joep, who is still a bit tense in the forest.
At first it seemed Djarra wasn’t happy with Laura. Until I let her take the lead, then he pricked his ears forward and went. He’s so used to walking in front that he was truly fed up with being in second place.
Djarra gave Laura a nice and safe feeling during a very pleasurable forest trail. Despite Joep being pretty tense and many mountainbikers racing all around us, their track crosses ours more than 10 times!
Fabulous weather, beautiful forest and great company, it was a great autumn day.