Going Home

One of the happiest and yet saddest times of my year are the times that horses leave our care and tutelage.  Happiest, because, most of the time, it means that the horse and I have reached enough of the owner’s goals that the owner can ride safely to do what they enjoy.  Saddest, because, it also means that a piece of us is leaving.  The bond that we develop with each horse requires us to give of ourselves in a very personal and special way.  In return, most of the horses give a big piece of themselves back to us as trust and confidence.

I often wonder what the horse is thinking and feeling when they first arrive.  If they are anything like me when I’m thrown into a new situation, they’re unsure, a little anxious, and looking for a friendly face.  The wonderful thing about most horses is how highly adaptable they are.  We see horses in all kinds of living and working situations and, unless they are starving or being abused, most seem to adapt to where they live and how they are handled pretty well.  It’s the horses that adapt less easily that we seem to see most often.  A big part of our job is to get the horse to become more secure in who they are so they can deal with change in a more appropriate way.  Getting the owner to recognize the unique characteristics of their horse and make some changes in their behavior to reinforce the horses’ new-found confidence is the other part.

Because we see our job this way, Amy and I strongly recommend that the owners be as much a part of the “training” process as possible.  We believe in preparing for the transition in all phases of our lives.  Proper preparation makes the transition simple and easy.  Preparing properly may mean that we start the process of transitioning the horse back home the first day he arrives.  Having the owner be a part of the discovery of who her horse is, and can become, is a good part of that preparation.  Preparing both horse and owner for the next transition seems to give them both the confidence needed to make that transition smoother.

I don’t look at horses going home as another success for our business.  Instead, I hope that a happy horse going home to a happy owner is more about each of them learning how to give to the other in a way that inspires confidence and trust.  Amy and I are such a small part of horses’ and peoples’ lives when compared to the sum of what they are and what they experience.  But, if we can leave them with something good to work with and build upon, that little piece that we give to each one can grow into something really special.  We sincerely hope it’s that way for you!

Tune-up Time

Spring is a great time to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate.  We get out the garden tools to get the yard, beds, and gardens ready for clean-up and planting.  We go through the lawn mowers, string trimmers, and roto-tillers to make sure they can do the jobs they vacationed from all winter.

If our horses sat around most of the winter eating hay and growing hair, Spring is a great time to pull them out of the pasture or paddock and give them a good dusting-off.  It’s this time of year we groom off piles of dead winter hair, get feet shaped-up, and see if there’s any muscle left under that hide to carry us around.

We had an awesome time this weekend with a group of people doing just that.  Our “Spring Tune-up Clinic” is one of my favorites.  Amy and I have a chance to get our hands on all of the horses attending the clinic to see where they are and what we can do to help them improve.  It’s one of the rare times that we have recent, first-hand knowledge of the horses.  Getting information straight from the horse, not through a human filter, is a big deal to us.  That insight really helps us help the riders as they get their horse “tuned-up” for the riding season.  The riders this year did an outstanding job of taking in the information about their horse, feeling what the horse was offering, and making good adjustments to improve their communication and relationship with their horse.

Everyone had a chance to dust-off their horsemanship tool bag, pull out some tools they forgot they had, and add a few new ones to the pile.  Knowledge builds confidence and having he right tools to work with only adds to that confidence.  A confident rider providing leadership to their horse makes for a confident, secure horse.  Together, that kind of horse and rider team can get out and really enjoy our beautiful state and all the activities our equestrian community offers.

We hope you had a safe and enjoyable weekend too.  Let’s hear it for a riding season filled with new trails, challenging events, happy horses, and safe rides!

A Natural Process

Easter, the blizzard of last week, warmer weather, and greening pastures made me think about how we often travel through some pretty rough times to get to the good stuff.  Mothers, especially new mothers like our daughter, Liz, live through some pretty painful, tiring times to experience the joy of a new child.  In both animal and crop agriculture we go through periods of time where we wonder just how we’re going to make it through.  Calving, foaling, or lambing in cold, wet, muddy or frozen conditions for weeks takes its toll on both mind and body.  But, the 2 A.M. checks, the confused heifer, the frozen gate latch, the snow drifts, and the mud soon give way to young livestock bouncing across green pastures to full stock ponds.  Nature keeps us humble and mindful of the processes that must be honored to come out the other side of rough patches with good results.

In our world of modern convenience it’s often easy to forget how honest and sometimes brutal the natural world is.  Our forefathers worked hard to mitigate the trials that they endured.  They wanted life for their children and grandchildren to be better.  I appreciate their efforts.  Especially after living through a short power outage in a house that is 100 percent reliant on electricity.  For those of us who attempt to walk between the modern and the natural, we are challenged to put aside the easy and instant for the difficult and sometimes slow processes that crops and livestock present.

In a lesson this past week, I overheard Amy admonish her student to “be present” and “in the moment” with her horse.  That can be very difficult.  We have so many demands on our time, attention, and thoughts.  But, in the sometimes unforgiving world of horses, to not be fully aware of what’s going on with your horse and the situation you both are in, is dangerous.  We have heard people say that, “all of a sudden for no reason at all, my horse jumped out from under me”.  To the rider, that’s the way it happened!  To the horse, it may be more like, “I told him I wasn’t sure about that rock but, he wouldn’t listen….I don’t know where his mind was but, it sure wasn’t on supporting me….I didn’t know what else to do!”

Because horse people find themselves bridging the gap between their modern, complicated world and the simple, natural world of their horse, they will find themselves going through some growing pains.  We look at these pains as opportunities to learn from our horse.  We cannot overlay the complicated, agenda laden, human-to-human relationship rules on our relationship with our horse.  It’s not that hard!  Our horses need us to be “all in” during our time with them.  We should expect the same from them.  Once we develop that intention, the blizzards and other storms become less frequent.  We slog through the snow and mud a little less.  We enjoy the sunshine and good warm rain a little more.  So, don’t dread the storms you travel through with your horse.  Be there with them and for them.  When you do that, you’ll surely ride some pretty green pastures too!

The Connection Question

We all want to develop a good solid connection with our horse.  Even folks that ride in completely different styles agree that if their horse is really connected to them, the ride or the job goes much smoother.  How we develop that connection and how we test it can help us improve our awareness and understanding of our horse’s connection to us.

As with a lot of things with our horse, the answer to the question of whether our horse is connected to us or not lies in their feet.  Are the feet connected to the lead rope?  Are they connected to the reins or our seat or our leg?  Ray Hunt would talk about how he wanted to communicate with his horse through its mind, down through its body and legs to its feet.  Watch some old video of Ray on his horses and you’ll get a good picture of what it’s like to have a horse really connected to its rider.

Developing a good and real connection to our horses requires an understanding and awareness of when they are and when they aren’t connected.  To check that out, try this simple test.  Go out to catch your horse.  Be particularly aware of when he sees you coming and how he reacts.  Be particular about whether he helps you get the halter on or whether you’re chasing his nose around with the halter.  Ask yourself if you feel your horse being interested in what you’re offering or if he would rather be somewhere else.  When you lead him off, does he match your pace or does he hurry ahead or drag behind?  When you stop, does he stop with you or does he walk on by?  All of these things matter to the horse.  As we become aware of how he is responding to our direction, we can become more particular about how we direct and how accurate we expect his response to be.  It seems that the more particular we become and the higher our expectations are, the better our horses connect to us.  With that improved connection, I’m predicting you’ll see much more accurate responses to your leadership.

Another piece of the connection question revolves around consistency.  If, as the leader in our horse’s life, we develop some kind of consistency in our presentations and expectations, our horses can become more comfortable with us.  We want them aware of us, not wary of us.  For example, if I consistently expect my horse to offer to put the halter on and make sure that the halter does not go on until I get his assistance, I’m developing a good habit based on consistent expectation.  If, however, part of the time I go to catch him in a big hurry and just slap the halter on and other times slow down to get his assistance, I’m being inconsistent enough to keep some doubt in his mind of just what I am and how I’m going to behave.  Inconsistency can be one of the things that short circuit the development of a good connection with our horse.  They need to be comfortable with who we are even when we change things up a bit.  We don’t have to develop routines, that is, doing things in the same order, but, we should be consistent in how we present things and what we expect as a response.

I hope this gets some thoughts and questions popping in your mind.  We’d love to hear what you think about ways to better connect with horses.

Simply Put

Horses are simple creatures full of complexities and nuances.  Horsemen, over the ages, have developed “methods” of working with horses.  Some of those methods relied on domination of the horse to make him do what was required.  Others looked for ways to understand how the horse thinks and reacts and use that understanding to offer him a place in the human’s world.

Horsemanship can be very simple.  Horses are one of the most adaptable creatures on earth.  Provide them with good feed, clean water, a little shelter from the worst weather, and they’ll be happy.  If you’re going to work with them, show them the job they need to do, support them through any uncertainties they may have, and allow them to be comfortable when they find the right answer.  Simple….not necessarily easy!

In my opinion, we humans fail as horsemen when we look for someone to give us a “method” to work with our horses.  There’s something inside us that needs to have the “recipe” for success.  If you think about the hundreds of “self-help” books on the market, horsemen aren’t the only ones looking for answers from others.  The difference between horsemanship and other areas where we seek help is the horse.  The horse is real.  He is a true reflection of his genetics and environment.  He learns what he lives and lives what he learns.  He never lies.  He is not a complicated corporation or market with set trigger points.  He is a thinking, feeling creature with reactions to us and his environment.  The more consistently we can make him comfortable with what we are asking him to do, the more predictable his reactions will be.  The stronger the bond between the horseman and his horse, the more likely it is that the horse will look to the horseman for leadership and comfort in challenging situations.

If you’re looking for someone to help you get through the rough spots with your horse, I’d suggest that you look for a horseman who is truly interested in you and your horse and your unique situation.  I would shy away from the circus acts, the “rock stars”, and the salesman offering you the gimmick that will cure everything.  If what you’re being offered is complicated, confusing, or requires an investment in certain equipment…..run!  Our relationship with a horse is special.  There is no easy way to develop a leadership role in your horse’s life.  It is, however, simple.  Watch horses in a herd and listen to your horse when you’re with him. Stop trying to do things to him and start working with him.  Offer yourself to your horse and wait for the return on that offer.  Not complicated, not confusing…..simple.

Where You Sit

Denver’s 850 KOA radio station has had a host named Mike Rosen for a long time.  When talking to guests or callers on his program he would often admonish them to tell him where they sat before they expounded on where they stood on an issue.  Don’t you think our horses would appreciate it if we got correct in where we sit before we ask them to stand or move in a particular way?

We all admire a rider that seems to be “one” with their horse.  The rider goes with the horse, stays balanced, and seems to have to do very little to provide direction to the ride.  In some of our recent lessons and clinics, we’ve worked with different riders to help them find that place in the saddle that makes them most comfortable.  We’re finding that as the rider gets comfortable and correct in where they are sitting on their horse, their horse gets more comfortable carrying them.  They operate more like a single unit rather than as two separate ones.

The key to becoming a more balanced, correct rider seems to be in the pelvis.  Understanding how the human pelvis moves and works with the horse’s pelvis allows us to get loose and “floaty” to better match what’s going on with our horse.  A rigid, braced or stuck human pelvis creates a variety of less than desirable outcomes in our ability to communicate with our horse through our seat.

If you’re struggling to find the pieces in your horsemanship that will allow you to become more refined, try looking at where your sitting!

The Older Horse

We recently had the opportunity to check-out a couple of older horses for clients.  One of the horses, a gelding, had been rescued from a rescue that was no longer financially viable.  The other horse is a mare that we’d crossed paths with a couple of times over the past 10 or 12 years and really liked.

Neither horse had been ridden for a while.  And, in the case of the rescue horse, the new owner had very little idea of what type of riding the horse had done previously.  Amy and I have a “standard” pre-ride check that we’ll do with horses that are new to us regardless of age or history.  This pre-ride check helps us get familiar with what a horse has been exposed to and how he may react to pressure or to situations that he’s unsure of.  It also allows some time for the horse to develop a feel for the new human that’s just entered his world.

As we’ve developed better awareness of what horses tell us, we’ve been able to partially replace reflexes with good judgment.  When we get on a new horse for the first time we have confidence that we know what we are getting on and have the  tools to help the horse figure us out quickly and comfortably.  Older horses may have been exposed to more things than a colt and they may have developed some habits, good or bad, that have helped them cope with their previous life.  The nice thing about all horses is that they are honest about what they tell you.  The human just has to learn to listen well!

Both of these horses checked-out really well and we were aboard and enjoying the time with them within a few minutes.  It may be a little vain to think it but, we felt like these horses really liked what we offered them.  We felt some of the things that these horses knew that we really liked and some not so much.  We had a conversation about all of those things and found common ground where we could be comfortable today and establish a base to build from tomorrow.


Blah, Blah, Blah

We were visiting with another couple at dinner one night when the conversation turned to upcoming horsemanship type clinics and then to past clinics. This couple had watched several of the past clinics and were commenting on the differences in delivery of material by the various clinicians.  Because of this couples background, they hone in on teaching styles that work well for them.  If the delivery fits them, the material seems to make more sense.  They feel like they “get it” better.

I think that we are all that way to some degree. We may not be able to verbalize why a particular teacher can reach us while another doesn’t  but, we know it when it happens.  Amy and I have been helping people become better horsemen and horsewomen for quite some time now.  We’ve tried to develop ourselves by learning how to better understand what Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt had presented for all those years.  We feel like we can only teach to the level we’ve reached ourselves.  If we truly understand what we are trying to present, it’s easier for us to put it in a form that our student can understand.

We may all have been put in a learning environment with an instructor that was just repeating what they had heard or read. The learning experience is lessened for many of the students because the instructor hasn’t lived what they are teaching.  There is no comparison between that instructor and an instructor that has lived what they are teaching and made mistakes living it.  That second instructor can really impart what’s important in a lesson because life has helped them sort out much of the static.  And, that good instructor has probably practiced what they teach so they can not only verbalize what’s important, they can perform.

In adult education, the adults have often chosen the subject matter they are willing to pay to learn. In horsemanship, there are as many opinions as there are horsemen.  It’s not hard to find “salesmen” telling you that their “method” is the one true way to better horsemanship.  Amy and I prefer to let the horse serve as the screen that filters fact from fiction.  We watch the horseman’s horse.  If that horse has a good expression, is relaxed, and stays in a good frame-of-mind when performing, we listen to that horseman.  If not, what that horseman is saying comes out blah, blah, blah.  If it’s not real for the horse, we’re just not interested!

A horseman’s horseman is coming to our area November 7th for 3 days.  Joe Wolter is one of those rare instructors that is as interested in teaching as he is in his horsemanship.  His horses happily perform at the highest levels, a sign that he truly understands how to reach them.  He’s lived what he teaches and can not only talk about what he’s learned; he can do what he talks about; he can communicate to you what you need to know.  His clinic will have 3 classes:  colt starting/green horses, horsemanship, and cattle working/ranch roping.  If you ride in one, you’re welcome to watch the others.  Don’t miss out on a good opportunity to experience horsemanship at a higher level.  The clinic will be held at Spicer Arena.  It’s one of the premier facilities in Colorado and the folks that operate it are super to work with.  If you’d like more information, contact Amy LeSatz by email at amy-steve@bridle-bit.com.  We look forward to riding with you!!

The Comfort Zone

We attended a couple of after Christmas, after New Year parties on Saturday afternoon and evening. Thank you to Kristi and Christy for being such wonderful and gracious hostess’.  Believe it or not, we are not really very social people.  We love visiting with people one-on-one but, crowds in non-business social situations are pretty overwhelming to us.  This year is a year where we’ve vowed to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones and give things that we normally shy away from a chance.  A real chance, not the “okay I tried that for 10 seconds” kind of chance.  These parties were the first of many situations we intend to put ourselves in so we can teach ourselves how to be more comfortable where before we were not.

While working with a young lady and her horse this week, we had a similar conversation.  The mare she rides has been with us for about a month and we’ve worked to try to get her to be less defensive in a few areas.  This mare had been stretched way out of her comfort zones pretty early in life and had learned how to defend herself by getting pretty crabby when she thought someone was going to try to stretch her again.  So, the conversation we were having was about when is it appropriate to push a little and when should we back off a little.

No easy answer here.  Experience and feel will tell you the most and give you the best judgement.  But, as the old story is told, the best way to get good judgement is through some bad experiences, so you may have to push a little too far to find the line.  Likewise, you may back off a little too early and create some stuff you work through later.  In general, when I’m asking a horse to do something out of its comfort zone, I offer it to them the best way I know how and try to let them find it.  As long as they are trying, I’m good with continuing to just offer.  If they quit trying, I find another way to make the offer until I find the one that makes sense to my horse.  Keep in mind, I’m not asking for something that’s impossible, just a little something that my horse hasn’t seen before.

So, we’re going to push ourselves out of our comfort zones as much as we can this year.  I think we’ll learn a lot about ourselves by doing it.  Maybe, like the horse, we’ll end up more confident and more comfortable in more situations.  We’ll have a much larger comfort zone to work in!

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way

Yesterday, Amy and I had the opportunity to work at Blue Roof Equestrian Center.  We had the chance to get our hands on a couple of horses that we hadn’t worked with before and a couple that we hadn’t worked with very much.  I know that it sounds a little crazy but, we live for the chance to try our “stuff” on horses that haven’t been exposed to us.  It’s really re-affirming when we see some nice changes in new horses in a short amount of time.

One of the horses I rode was a really nice bay mare.  This mare had been injured and the owner had spent a lot of time bringing her back.  She’d done a great job in spending the time to allow the horse to get sound again.

One of the things that showed up as we were working together was that the mare wouldn’t hold the trot.  She wanted to speed up and then lope.  When she found the lope she got more comfortable so, would stay at about the same speed in it.

This mare has been ridden with contact on the bit most of her life.  It looked to me like she’d learned to live with it, and ignore it.  She and her rider were leaning on each other and any signal given through the reins wasn’t making it to her feet.

When I got on this mare, she got pretty excited and really wanted to move her feet.  It gave me the opportunity to check out how much it was going to take to get her thinking back to my seat through the reins.  I didn’t pick up on the reins unless I wanted a change in her feet and I started with changing my seat before I touched the reins.  Wow!  What a difference it made.  In just a little while, she and I were trotting around the arena on a loose rein.  She really began to listen to my seat and would transition down softly, soft in the face, soft in the feet.

She was a great example to me of how amazingly adaptable the horse is.  She also showed me how much the relief of the release really means to the horse.  Just because she had been ridden a certain way most of her life didn’t mean to her that she needed to be ridden that way for the rest of her life.  She knew that it didn’t have to be the way it was as soon as it was offered.