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.