Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can you hear the words that are coming out of my mouth?

I heard a horse trainer once quip "I love the horses! It's the horse people I hate!" Yikes! I cringed at the time, thinking of the lovely clients I have had over the years.( you know who you are...xoxo)But it got me thinking. I have had the odd challenging client who's last words to me where at best, awkward and at worst, rude. But I chalked it up to the biz and kept on. Not my personal problem...or was it? I'm thinking it boils down to good communication and as John Lyons so sagely told us, client expectation management. What that means is like any good relationship, both parties are understood. Questions are asked, agreements are reached, sometimes concessions are made, trust develops and the horse benefits fully from the two humans working it all out. This may sound like a "no brainer" to most of you but believe you me, two people can be using the same words and not meaning the same thing . Expectation management is tougher in some ways. In its simplest form its a diary or road map of progress. This sometimes butts directly up against what a client wishes for. The tricky part is to present this to validate the wish but insert reality in such a way that it is still "all good". In other words "yes! we are working toward that lead change, that trail ride, that show date, and if we don't make this one right now, we will be there surely in the future. Not to worry, it takes as long as it takes after all." When John told us this in CO so many years ago, I said: well, OK then;closed my eyes took a deep breath and exercised my faith. Until I had what I call(no offence gentle readers) my "come to Jesus" moment with John one early dawn before class started though,that faith was tested daily. I chaffed at the vagueness, the open ended feel of it. I approached him with my defenses up and hiccuped my way shrilly through my concerns. Ending with crying on his shirt front about how much the learning meant to me. He said little, but patted me gently on the back and gave me one his soul piercing looks and said" don't worry" and from then on I didn't, TRULY, didn't worry. I don't, however, want my clients to suffer the boot camp type experience that I did, After all they are not on their way out into the world to train horses for a living like I was. I like us to have dialogue, I like to be able to reach a person at their level and make it as painless as possible. Sometimes it does require a bit of faith, and it definitely requires those afore mentioned good communication skills. When I get a new client I explain the way I work, the time and cost. I give them weekly updates of what I feel is the most important progress with the horse. I really try to convey where the horse is and where he will need to be to achieve A, B and C of the clients wish list. I want above all for the horse and I to be safe and happy. After these things I evaluate the client skills and interactions with the horse so I can better formulate a game plan to unite horse and rider where they want to be. Its a tried and true method.;0) Sometimes though, I find myself arriving for a lesson and there is someone else on the horse in the arena, there is a note on a stall door, or a vaguely insulting voice mail. Its heart breaking for me. Not because my little ego is bruised, or because I see my income decrease unexpectedly but because, I have poured my heart and soul into that horse and failed to touch the owner. To quote a line from the movie, Cool Hand Luke "what we have here is failure to communicate!" and its a two way street. If there are questions ask them, if there are concerns voice your trainer. Not to your barn mates, not to your hair dresser and not to your facebook friends. Building a wonderful horse is a serious endeavour sometimes one will hear things one would rather not. In the end it is a journey that should be thoroughly enjoyed by all involved.

Friday, July 22, 2011

a little fun.....

Sometimes you have gotta have a little fun, Its dress up for pony in a big way!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Smart Dogs and New Tricks

PUPPIES! They are wonderful things. Soft and warm and full of that puppy smell and youthful exuberance. They are also awesome little teachers too. Like horses but much more constant, after all they live with you inside your home....or should. Our new one Mynee, the super genius, is helping me with my horse training. That is to say, in dealing with her very active mind and body, has challenged me to practice concepts Ive only recently embraced( in the last two years or so) The big kahuna of these new practices for me is simply redefining when a horse is ready for what ever the next step is in his education. John Lyons gave us permission to move on many ways and many times during our time with him. The problem, for me anyway, was fear and type A-ness( is that a word?) Fear pushed me to drill for safety and type A made me want to get that perfect. Conditioned Response lends itself well to my neuroses. Now that's scary. So my first teacher was sent, Cuervo whose physical limitations made drilling impossible at the time I acquired him. That forced the door open a crack. Then his agile mind overtook my linear ways and the search for answers led to new friendships that got a proverbial foot in the door. Well , old habits die hard and Ive had a few set backs. But before I despair, a new teacher is sent! One with out hooves, one who I cant hide from inside my home or behind a "busy" schedule....One who has presented me with a goal long forgotten of trail riding with my well trained doggie so I can ride alone with less worry in the real world.It makes me a bit dizzy but the light flooding into my horse consciousness from 24/7 dog training is blinding. What is so telling for me, is that I started with what I thought was the right thing for her and she showed me very quickly where that needed to be modified. Today was the break through she had been waiting for.That was to MOVE ON even though the pulling on the leash was still happening 35 percent of the time. Frankly sometimes more on "bad" days. Treats and clicks cant touch her on those types of days. Running after the ball and stick ad nausium couldn't either. Heck on those days the prong collar makes my arm tired...shudder. She needed mental AND more physical stimulation. So on our walkie today, I sped up my feet. If there was leaping and biting and flopping over in the tall grass( she is a bit graceless at this age)we slowed down and tried again. She was brilliant for steps at a time, and the happy dog face she made while we worked through whose feet get to go where was priceless! And while I appreciate the hour long nap happening at this moment that allows me to type this very blog, I am almost moved to tears for the desires and ideas that I am flooded with pertaining my wonderful equines out in the field. I'm out the door this evening in the cool to apply some good old dog lessons. Thank you universe for the abundance of teachers that have flown my way!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Notas de mi Corazon

Corazon is a perfect name for the paso mare I have been rehabbing with a torn suspensory. I am working with her strictly from the heart. As we have the prescription of walking 45 minutes a day and building to trot and canter sets there is alot of leeway in there to play with all kinds of things. Can you imagine wasting all this good interaction by towing this horse around for three quarters of an hour...round and makes my brain numb just to think about it!
One of the coolest things that we have been playing with is lateral movement. Something that is fun to do on the ground but also a skill under saddle that will be key in bleeding off unwanted speed with out the in your face-ness of using the brakes. Turns out brakes are somewhat of a sore spot with sweet Cora. She had previous"problems" with a Bosal per her former owner and they switched her to a snaffle bit. No worries there but since I'm working her in a cowboy/rope halter (basically a mild hackamore) she has some baggage surrounding any movement from the thing. Lots of head flipping, and general drama when I touch the lead rope. Being a stall kept coming 4 year old fino, there is some necessity of my touching the lead rope often to keep the spice out of her step. So today I had a big AHA moment. She and I struggle a bit to lead correctly on the left side( lots of previous gar-badge-EE on the left) She wants me by HER shoulder and I want her by MINE,so there's a lot of rating of speed, changes of direction and stop and go. All peppered heavily with clicker and treats to make the medicine go down easier. Well, some days it does and some days it doesn't. Today, the day after a big rain where no walk was possible, requests to slow down where not to be tolerated. In fact I got a rather pointed air nip for my efforts. Hmmmm, well we took a little break from the leading aspect of the walking and I focused more on the driving and lateral part of the walking. Here comes the AHA! Knowing that under saddle I will use lateral movement to bleed off speed, I timed my lateral requests today for when ever the jig crept into her step, and Viola, I got my walk she got her peppermint and all was right with the world. We even achieved that elusive walk by my shoulder with out one peep from me about stopping or slowing down. We threw in some pedestal posing and some fun patterns backwards and forewards between barrels and called it a very successful day. I firmly believe that every horse that crosses my path does so for a reason, this girl is a continuation of what Cuervo has been grooming me for except with out the history he and I have. It makes things more challenging and certainly faster paced( and believe you me, Cuervo does not move or think slowly, being part arab and all....)I can't wait to see what she has in store for me tomorrow.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Manners is a term often bandied about by horseman when referring to a horses behaviour. As in, a horse should have good ground manners, Your horse should be respectful, your horse should be polite...yadda yadda. Yet no one thinks to mention that manners is a two way street. The question no one seems to ask is " Am I being polite to my horse?" Answers to this question run the gamut from eye rolling distane to cavalier choruses of "why, yes! yes, I am."
Maybe I should start by clarifying what manners toward your horse are. In a world where the horse must submit, get on board, deal with,obey,and just do( cause we said so) simple common courtesy is often not even considered. Manners toward your horse are as simple as speaking softly to him as you approach to using brushes and brush strokes that he or she likes. More thought and mannerly behavior on our part will carry over into say something like warming a bit before putting it in your horses mouth. Many times some manners are incorporated in what I call the honeymoon phase of horse training/ownership. This is the time where horse and person are getting to know each other. Where the problem begins is when the person feels the horse should have these things learned. Then manners go out the window. How many of you have seen a horse in cross ties, being "groomed". The horse is fidgety, hollow backed and high headed, in some cases his ears are pinned and he might even kick out. The person is either oblivious or can be down right vengeful. Then there are those horses tough to bridle, again horse signaling that bridleing is difficult, uncomfortable, scary even and person pushing on because the horse"needs" to be bridled. A break down of manners can come at virtually any point in our handling of our horses, with often undesirable results. Aside from being present and observant when dealing with our horses...that means check your bad day at the door and put down the black berry thank you very much....I often revisit two of my favorite Lyonisms: "Any time you are with your horse you are either making him better or making him worse." and "Go back to the point in his training where you can ask for and get the response you want." I find from feet handling to lead changes these two missives apply.
My little rehab mare is one such example of a horse who has been handled with a certain lack of manners, her first answer is generally "wait! what are you doing?" followed by either a reaction like balking or spooking or a response that is grudging and sour in appearance such as grumpy ears ,tense lips and drawn down lower eyelid. She is a very hard worker, and for praise/reward repeats behaviors with the tenacity of a terrier. Her rehab is causing her to have to adapt to a very unnatural living environment, the grace in which she has accepted it thus far tells me all I need to know about this little girl. Next time you are at the barn and your horse seems a little less tolerant of your behaviour take time to see if your horse manners are still intact. Remember, partnership is an agreement between two individuals. Setting the horse at ease is a simple as slowing down and taking the time it takes.....consistently.