Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Character of a Horsemanship with Heart Clinic

A clinic is only as good and as interesting as what you get out of it, and also, what you are prepared to put into it. Last Saturday's Horsemanship with Heart clinic was no exception.

We had a mixed group - ponies and young people, and horses and older people (I don't mean 'old', just older than 15!). Prior to a clinic, I ask everyone to fill out a Pre-Clinic Questionnaire, which tells me a bit about them, what they think their horse's issues are, any problems that they may be experiencing, and so on.

So last week we had a mixed bag ... horses that push into people, rush through gateways, don't lead well, don't like their faces being touched, don't like their groins being touched, are nervous around people, and who have tantrums!

I keep the clinic numbers to a maximum of 8 or 10 and this gives me the opportunity to offer personal help to every person and their horse. I show ways of doing things that instill trust and confidence in a horse, being firm but gentle and offering confident leadership, which is what they all need! The most common reason that horses behave in ways we don't like is because of lack of leadership. Horses need love, yes ... but they also need leadership - it's part of their nature.

Participants learned about how to be the dominant partner in the relationship with their horse (remember, in the herd, there are no equals), which is done gently and simply, without force, fear or fuss. It's a simple, easy move that anyone can do, and I use it all the time, with every horse, to start off on the right foot, before I ask anything of them.

We practiced some leading, using body language, focus and breathing. We practiced the friendly game, with our tools and our hands, all over our horse's bodies to gain trust and confidence. We handled hooves in a polite way that encourages our horse's respect. We did some cool moves with our ropes that caused our horses to look at us with interest and respect. Then we brought out the obstacles, when participants could test their feel, focus and timing, and their horse's newfound bravery, trust and confidence.

It's always the horse that comes to the clinic with the most 'issues' that turns out to be the Star of the Day, and in this case it was 5 year old palamino Lady, who had come from an abusive background. Lady's gentle owner came to the clinic in the hopes of helping her horse become more trusting and less fearful. Turns out Lady, deemed scared and spooky, loved the obstacle course, and surprised everyone there with her cute playful antics with the tarp and coloured cones!

With strong, gentle, loving leadership, a horse's true Personal Character emerges, and it can delight you, surprise you, and enhance your relationship in so many positive ways.

To know more about Horsemanship with Heart clinics see on Jayne's website

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mind Readers

Can your horse read your mind? We know that they can sense our moods, particularly those of urgency, or fear or unrest ... but can they 'know' when we feel negatively or positively toward them?

I put forward that yes, they can. Evidence is mounting up as I talk to people about this aspect of their relationship with their horses. It's such an important area that I am including at least one chapter in my upcoming book to this subject.

For instance, what about the man who decided to sell his horse that he'd had for 15 years and whom he wasn't 'using' anymore. The day he decided to do it, his horse would not approach him in the paddock (highly unusual, he assures me, as they'd always had a good relationship!) and for the next 3 days the same thing. On the 4th day the man sat in the paddock to look at his horse and think things over. Suddenly he realised that selling his old companion was the wrong thing to do, and he decided then and there to keep his horse after all. Feeling good with his decision, he stood up, called to his horse and the horse came over right away. Interrrressttting.

If you have a story you would like considered for inclusion, please do let me know! You can email or send an enquiry form that's on my website

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Reunion

During the colder months of 2010, student Steph and I went to help a thoroughbred (ex-racehorse) brood mare and her foal, a gangling, scared, wide-eyed creature whose prey animal instincts were so strong that crashing headlong into a gate was preferable to being near a human.

The mum wasn't much more confident either, and this is why we guessed she was wearing an ill-fitting old leather headstall, that looked like it had been part of her head for some time. The pair tore around that muddy, sodden paddock, fear written all over them, as we stood quietly, waiting for them to relax. It took awhile, with lots of approach and retreat, for the trembling mare to accept our approach, (and I removed the headstall) though her terrified offspring hung behind her, head high, tail high, poised for instant flight at the slightest attempt for us to come close to her.

You may have followed the subsequent story of how we came to trust and know each other on my Facebook pages; it was a slow and emotional journey for all of us over the next few weeks ... the gentle but skeptical mare discovering that not all humans are the same, and for the young filly, learning how to trust and place her confidence in me. I named her Crystal, for her fragile nature. Over the next few weeks we built our relationship, and the young Crystal was ready to meet the barefoot professional, be immunised and dewormed - all which went comfortably and smoothly for everyone. I went back over the summer, taking other students with me, to boost her confidence with other people and to rekindle our friendship. She would come when I called her name, and stand at the fence watching me when I left, and I hated to admit it, but I had become hopelessly attached to her!

So, the months went by and this past week when I went to see her, I stood at the gate like I'd done before, and called her name. It was a beautiful moment when she raised her head from her grazing, 100 metres from where I stood, and came galloping across the expanse of bright green grass, her friend Pegasus alongside her. Delighted, I climbed the gate, and moved toward them, and then when they were almost upon me, I turned and ran away from them, and they followed me, the three of us sprinting back down the paddock, they bucking and me running as fast as my gumboots would allow over the wet soggy ground! What fun it is to be reunited with your friends!

I stopped, and they did too, walking over to sniff and greet me. After a few minutes, it was like old times, and as I ran my hands over their strong young bodies, I couldn't believe how much the fillies had grown. Crystal now a 2 year old and Pegasus a 4 year old (my story about her another time). We played the games of Horsemanship with Heart and I trimmed Crystal's front hooves (so overdue I didn't want to wait for the trimmer's visit) and we hung out a while, just walking about giving scratches and standing close.

When our time was up, I reluctantly left them standing at the gate after I had said my goodbyes, and they whinnied at me as I waved one more time from the car. Every day, in every way, daily in my career, I am reminded that it's all about The Relationship! And the Crystals and Pegasus' of the world are just two of the reasons I love my job!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Do horses and ponies like to do cool stuff?

Coming up next month is our Mini and Pony Agility Clinic - a totally fun day of learning and games, all designed to develop a better bond with the little guys and their humans!
Which raises the question: do you think minis, ponies and horses like to play games with obstacles?

The operative word here is 'play' and 'games' .... like children, I find that most horses (by varying degrees) do in fact join in when presented with stuff to play with, as long as things are presented to them in a light hearted, kind, patient and sensitive way!

If the whole thing is approached as 'work' and a 'must make them do it' frame of mind, instead of a 'let's play' attitude, then a human could mistakenly think that their horse isn't playful, and doesn't want to participate!

Something we all need to remember when teaching something like standing on a log, for instance, as mini Gypsy is doing (above) is the invisible tattoo that is on every horses' forehead ... WIIFM! It simply stands for 'What's In It For Me?' and will shape your whole approach, if you pay attention to it!

So how long did it take for me to help little Gypsy to 'get it'? No more than a few minutes - but be warned, it can take the human a bit longer to figure out how to 'ask' and get a positive response and a 'try'. And then, when the horse does try, relax, give a scratch and a small treat, and maybe even lots of praise!

Tips for training fun tricks: keep it short, fun and simple. Reward lots and often. Leave 'em wanting more! Don't confuse them with voice cues at first (which may be YOUR way of learning, not theirs) instead use your ground skills to move them around gently and quietly. Use Approach and Retreat. Start with something easy and build confidence. Once they've 'got it' realise that the repetitions (after 3x) are for the human! LOL

Back to the question of whether horses do in fact 'enjoy' obstacles and the challenge of mental and physical games, well, we have only to observe them in the paddock if we leave stuff out there for them! Some like balls, others like gumboots, some prefer your ropes, your jacket, your hoof trimming tools! Horses are curious and playful (once they feel safe and comfortable) so go ahead, put on your party hat and have a go with the party games! But, um, be careful, your horse might try to pull it off your head!

For more information on the Mini & Pony Agility Day and other clinics, click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Awesome Clinic!

Last Saturday's horsemanship clinic at Bethanga up in the northernmost reaches of Victoria, right on the NSW border, was fantastic. The group was fun, light-hearted, enthusiastic and attentive - and the horses were awesome as usual!

Right away I could see how much everyone loved their horse, and how keen they all were to learn about 'being natural' with their horses! Student Steph came along to help with everything, and at the end of the day, we left feeling tired but so happy that the clinic has been such a success, with big positive changes in all the horses and smiling humans!

Biggest Ah-Ha's of the day were about reading the horse's body language, using breathing to control energy, directing focus to relax or engage the horse, and being able to move all the horses around with just a Feather! At the start of the day, no one believed we would be able to do that, and by the afternoon, that's just what everyone was doing! Awesome!

'I'll be back'! and can't wait! I love my 'job'! Thanks everyone!

Am back in the office setting clinic dates for the coming months in between getting my new website up and running! Have a look at the dates here!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two little ponies

Two little ponies recently entered my life by way of a dedicated rescue team and their new carer - and presented me with one of the most challenging missions of my career.

Who would have thought that two terrified little equines would have such an impact on me? We've all heard that our horses are our best teachers, and nothing could have brought this message closer than this pair of ponies ...

I'll be publishing the whole story of Jumper and Blade in a chapter of my upcoming book (so watch for it!) - but in a nutshell, these petrified ponies had probably seen many of the herd they had been part of, decimated, chased and shot, so they have every right to fear any human!

Being a horse means many things, the most important of which is to survive and be safe - and that instinct is tightly embedded into the DNA of every horse. The most appropriate word to describe these ponies was 'petrified'.

Yesterday, after hours of approach and retreat, recognising and rewarding the tiniest try, lots of soak periods, careful timing and patience, I was able to approach, touch and unhalter/halter these little guys.

The challenge was largely in part to the environment in which I was working. A large paddock with wire and electric fencing that is boggy, muddy and slippery; windy, wet weather; a makeshift yard with one strand of electric tape and pigtails; ponies that have a reputation for jumping anything when scared enough or cornered; and fear so strong it was scary in itself.

Some would have said to corner, grab and manhandle the little guys into submission. While this may work - once - it is certainly not the Horsemanship with Heart way. The HWH Way is to work on oneself - in this case, myself - to convince the ponies that I understand them, will not hurt them and am worthy of their trust, confidence and respect.

My biggest ah-ha after all this, was really just a renewed belief in The Process. The Process being to believe and trust in yourself and your skills, to humbly ask a higher power for help, and to take each moment as it comes. It's an emotional process, and I cried with relief and joy when those ponies first reached out their little noses to smell my hand. They both jumped back when their whiskers brushed the back of my hand, and I had to smile through my tears, as we made that all-important First Contact, a mutual discovery of the most beautiful kind.

(You can follow more on Jumper and Blade on my Facebook page).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the Love of All Equines

I was reading the book of another trainer the other day, and something he said really struck me. He said that he always tells a student the truth about their horse... that if that horse is ugly or misshapen, he is direct and offers them some reality. It was his intent, he said, to not give false illusions to the human, but rather to have them see the truth. This all sat uncomfortably with me, because while I respect this trainer very much, I couldn't imagine how any horse lover could see ugliness in any equine!

Every horse I meet, I fall in love with. I see them all as God's beautiful creatures, even the skinny ones, the sad ones, the sick ones. My love and embrace extends to miniatures, ponies and donkeys. They are all splendid!

When you look into a horse's eye, you see something that is beyond us. There is a gentleness, an awareness, a knowing, something that stirs our spirit. While I don't advise anyone to go staring at a horse, which can cause the horse to feel uncomfortable (it's a human predator thing) there are moments where we get a glimpse of that inner spirit and deep emotion that is within those eyes. I get goose bumps thinking about it!

When I ask someone to tell me about their horse, what I am really asking is, What's your horse's Character? Most people I ask give me the horse's height first, then his colour, then his markings. They then launch into his breeding, his previous owner, and what they've been able to 'do' with him. While this is interesting and I do often request this information from students, it still doesn't tell me anything about the horse herself.

In my Horse Psychology and Behaviour Workshops, students are asked to discover their horse's Personal Character. They learn how to avoid anthropomorphising. Who is our horse, really? Are they a reflection of our goals and ego? As a sentient being, do they deserve more from us in the way of respect and understanding? I think yes.

A true horse lover has an unconditional love for our equine friends ... it crosses breeds, types, colours, shapes and sizes. And that's the Truth.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Eye Problem

Yesterday morning when I went out to see the horses and move them to their day pasture, I noticed something 'not quite right' with one of them. You know what I mean: even from a distance, you can tell when a horse isn't looking quite himself. It's the little things, like the way they are standing, where they are standing, who they are standing with, the angle of their head, their overall demeanor, their focus or gaze, their position to you. Walking closer, I could see that it was Esteban's eye that was troubling him, judging by the way he was angled against the morning sun and the puffiness that was evident, even from 30 metres away.

There are rules here at the ranch about calling the vet. And one of them is with eye problems: call immediately. I had a look as best I could - he was very light-sensitive, sore and inflamed, and then took him over to the stable. Rang our vet who said he'd be here in an hour. Great. I popped two dark flymasks on him (putting them on myself first to make sure he could still see!) and let him go back with herd to graze while we waited for the vet.

Times like this, how glad I am that I have desensitized all the horses to having their eyes handled. If you wait until there is a problem and your horse is worried and in pain, examination would be difficult and possibly dangerous. While your vet will sedate your horse to properly examine an eye, it's very valuable if your horse is calm and accepting of the exam. I've seen even sedated horses throw their heads in the air and push forward, fearful and unsure about what is happening.

Every morning and every night it is part of the routine to check every horse over - including eyes and noses. With spring winds and dust and pollen, there's a higher chance of eye problems. Our vet said yesterday that people need to call immediately when they see an eye problem, as it can quickly turn into something serious. He said, (I quote) "you wouldn't walk around with pus running out of your eye, so why should your horse?"

So Esteban was a perfect gentleman while he was examined, with and without sedation (to inspect under the 3rd eyelid, sedation is necessary when dealing with something as delicate as the eye). His buddy Corbello stayed with us, rubbing his bum on anything and everything, and generally trying to get us to focus on him instead! Diagnosis is a small ulcer, likely caused by local trauma such as a tree branch (we have no wire that the horses can hurt themselves on) which will heal quickly with medical treatment. Good news.

Putting the ointment into his eye is a breeze. Because we have assumed 'the position' so many times in our regular eye care routine, there is nothing worrisome about it, and everyone is relaxed and happy. Handling your horse's more sensitive areas is an important part of the Friendly, Getting to Know You Game, and times like this, just drives home that philosophy. (In all my clinics and lessons I demonstrate how to handle the eyes in a way that builds trust, confidence and respect.)

One of the things the vet commented on was how my breathing and the Gershwin tunes on the CD player in the stable really seemed to make the mood lighter and more relaxing for everyone!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Moon Walk

On nights where we have a full moon, I like to take a late night walk to visit my horses.

It is cold out there tonight, but still and clear. I pull my gumboots on over my PJ legs and put a warm jacket on over my dressing gown, then a beanie on my head and I'm ready for anything! It's a good look, you've got to admit ... but wait, there's more! The outfit wouldn't be complete without a bright orange scarf (this will help someone find me, just in case I slip down the muddy embankment, bump my head on a pile of manure and pass out in the undergrowth under the fence at the bottom of the hill).

Suitably attired, I traverse the dewy lawn and climb through the fence (not easy in this outfit) to go say hello to the herd. I quickly do a headcount; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ....... where's 8 and 9? I wander amongst the boys, who are standing about quietly watching me with mild interest, some are munching on their hay, others are just staring off into the next door paddock, where a few kangaroos mill about. I stop and give each horse a scratch and a kiss on their velvet muzzles, which are soft, warm and slightly moist from the damp grass.

Numbers 8 and 9 are further along the hill, over a little crest, munching on some hay that the others may not have discovered yet on their nightly exploration of the paddock, looking for the hay that I scatter about in piles every evening. This is Zorro and Sharif, my black arabians, who melted into the dark, despite the moonlight. They stop eating to enjoy my caress, and smell my ankle-length robe and PJ's with interest. Sharif explores the possibility that they might be edible.

I squat down on the pile of hay and listen to them chewing. Both boys edge closer to me, suddenly wanting the hay that I'm sitting on, whiskers touching my cheek.

From my perch on the hill, the town lights blink and sparkle, like alien morse code on a faraway planet. There's nothing between me and the huge night sky except the air that I breathe. It's magical. Zorro and I let out a sigh at the same time; contentment reigns.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unseasonal warm days and your horse

Driving around the Yarra Valley today going from lesson to lesson and home again, I saw over 100 horses (yes, I counted them, just out of curiosity!) standing in the sun wearing winter rugs, with over 3/4 of them in 'combo' rugs (where the neck is all rugged up as well). My car's temperature readout said it was 20 degrees celsius (around 70F) outside, so I had to wonder why these poor horses had been left to sweat all day in their eskimo clothing? Plus, many of them without shade .... They stand alone or in little clusters, unmoving, heads down. Who can blame them for not moving - movement would cause even more heat, especially for those horses on hills. Last night I checked the weather website, so I knew what we were in for today (unseasonably warm weather) and so this morning my troughs were topped up in readiness for thirsty horses! I would hope that horse owners make a regular habit of checking weather forecasts too ... for extremes of weather, warnings, etc. But many, it seems, only care if the weather is suitable for riding ...

While I lean toward the No Rugs camp, I'm trying not to be judgemental when I see horses in the above scenario. A person who agists their horse in a paddock alone and who only visits on a Saturday afternoon, would be at the mercy of the weather, if they choose to rug their horse. When I talk with clients like this, they tell me they put rugs on at the first burst of cold weather (mid autumn and take them off mid-spring), worried their horses will be cold and also to avoid the criticism of their fellow agistees who accuse them of being 'cruel'. Now, I agree, if a horse is standing all alone in a treeless, shelterless paddock, in bitter wind rain and cold, I wouldn't feel good about that either. Obvious thing is to ensure the horse has a shelter (one he will use, ask me for a design) as well as plenty of hay (warms them up in winter) - and a buddy (for many reasons).

I have a student who hails from Germany, and she is constantly amazed by all the rugging of horses we do here in Australia. While we all admire the sleek coats constant rugging produces, we must admit (once we know and understand the scientific facts about how a horse regulates his/her own body temperature) that it's probably not the best thing 24/7 for a healthy, well fed horse who has shelter and friends.

It is a part of the horse owner's responsibility (challenge!) to tend to their horse daily, and where possible, to allow their horse's body to breathe, get dirty and feel free. In short, to ensure their horse feels comfortable. Some horses will try anything to get their rugs off, hence the tears and rips ... but we've fixed that, with electric fencing, special space-age fabrics that won't tear, and miracle strappings that won't budge even with 500kgs leaning on them!

So whatever your position on rugging, please do what you can to help educate someone who doesn't understand how their horse may be feeling (ie: very hot) and do your best not to fall into the trap of leaving rugs on during warmer days. And just for fun, put your heaviest full-length winter jacket on, and stand out in the sun for awhile - will give anyone a whole new perspective!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best of Friends

Meet Harry and Rebel, two good buddies who are part of a herd of five - see their changing moods in this series of photographs! Their play is mock-fighting and doing what comes naturally to them, along with just the pleasure of being still in each other's space.

These two enjoy a gambol in the arena too ... after all, the arena's for them too, right? The fun of the firm sand under their hooves in the middle of winter when the paddock is wet, muddy and slippery can provide additional joy ... so let 'em loose, sit back and enjoy the show!

You know how it is to have a best friend ... someone you have a special relationship with, someone you joke around with, share things with, and simply enjoy each others' company! If you are a horse lover, you probably already know that horses develop special friends too.

It's not good enough to be 'over the fence' from your friends! Buddies like Harry and Rebel do best and are much happier when they are allowed to live naturally, ie: in the same pasture.

In the Horse Psychology and Behaviour Courses that I'm running this winter, we talk a lot about the different needs of horses (Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual) and a horse who has most of her needs met are happier and have less 'issues' than those whose needs are not being met.

Studies have shown that Wild and feral horses develop special friends too ... loyalties and preferences being a part of herd life.

A horse alone in the field is one of the saddest sights of all ... always provide your horse with a friend and if you have a herd who run together, know that you are providing a natural social environment that is healthy for your horses, the added bonus being great entertainment for you when the mood's right!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What season are you in?

Did you know that a smile is truly real when you do it when you are alone. What makes you smile when you are alone? Thinking about my horses playing and being 'cheeky' always puts a smile on my face, along with remembering moments that have brought me joy, and thinking about fun things I am planning for the future, along with the kindness and thoughtfulness of my dear friends.

I was listening to a motivational speech a couple of weeks ago, and this particular guru said something I found rather profound ... that 'everything has a season'. At the time this struck a chord with me, as I remembered again that the whole of life is made up of seasons, not just the weather! And as surely as Spring follows Winter, so it will be with life ... tough times, easy times, fun times, sad times, it's all part of life's tapestry.

What's this got to do with horses? Lots! When on your horsemanship journey, there will be highs and lows. Some days everything goes perfectly and exactly as we want, others we feel challenged and maybe frustrated. Some days our horse seems 'off' (are we 'off' those days too?) and others they seem calm and happy.

What I've learned is to take things in my stride ... not to beat myself up for any mistakes I might make, and don't get too complacent when things are going great!

My program of Natural Horsemanship with Heart is just as much about your personal development, as it is about your horse's development as a wonderful, willing partner for you.

Accepting the seasons of your development will build your strength, your focus and your belief in yourself, and the journey will be a lot more enjoyable!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dirty and Loving it!

You may not think that a muddy, filthy horse is a pretty sight, but from a horse's point of view, it probably doesn't matter much!
Who hasn't moaned when they've just put their best elbow-grease forward to get their horse looking clean, and that horse has gone and rolled in the nearest muddy patch? Their horse has a good roll, really getting the mud into their mane, all over their face with as much body coverage as they can manage - then they have a quick shake and run off happily, emitting a loud fart in your direction as they run off to show their buddies how great they look!

I love to groom my horses for their (and my) pleasure. I'm probably more practically-inclined than appearance-inclined. This morning groomed 2 of the herd, as their hair was all matted from a couple of days of rain. They appeared to enjoy it, standing still without restraint, now and again indicating where they would like more scratches. End result they were much cleaner, their coat fluffed up again, and I was filthy!

Sometimes I hear from people that their horse 'doesn't like' being groomed. If this is you, ask yourself if you think you are touching your horse in a way that they find pleasurable. Every horse is a little different, and you might have to experiment with different strokes, pressure, brushes etc.

It's not just a matter of 'wham bam thank you mam' when it comes to building the relationship through touch and grooming - touching your horse is an Art. And brushing them is an extension of that Art. (My DVD Touching your Horse with Your Heart explains how to do it.)

If you have to restrain your horse to brush her, if she is trying to bite you, walk off, kick you or any other things that suggest she is not happy for whatever reason, then you owe it to both of you to see what you can do to change the situation. Firstly, it could possibly be soreness, so have your horse looked at by a Professional Equine Chiropractor or other qualified equine therapist. I liken tying up your horse to brush them to tying up your partner to kiss them!

Of course, if you are forgetting that your horse may like being dirty, and welcome a chance to get that way (at least sometimes), that could explain some fidgeting behaviour too! Remember being dirty is natural to a horse and you might be depriving them of some good clean fun by denying them this pleasure!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Brave Society

Thing is: all this natural horsemanship 'stuff' really does make a positive difference ... to you, your horse, your life! Ask anyone who has embraced a natural approach to their horse, and they will nod their head in agreement - being natural with horses Changes Lives!

Of course, most people don't expect this to happen to them ... they get involved mainly because they think their horse needs 'fixing' or they have problems that are soaring out of control and they haven't done so well with a 'traditional' approach.

The personal development side of things (for the human) often comes as a complete surprise, and wow! when that occurs, all sorts of magic happens!

You see, being natural is a way of Being, not just a few tricks or techniques that you employ when the going gets tough or that you incorporate into other ways of thinking. (I have a favorite phrase, and that is: "You can't be a little bit natural, just like you can't be a little bit pregnant. You either are, or you aren't".

I hear a lot of people talk about trainers who 'do some natural stuff' - and what they really mean is that some techniques (and maybe some principles) have been adopted that they find work for them. While that can be a good thing, what's really important is the thinking that drives those techniques ...

It's true that it takes a certain amount of Bravery to learn to Think Like a Horse (which is the basis for natural horsemanship) - others may not like it and ridicule you - put you down and snub you. So it takes some guts to stand up for what you believe in your heart.

Being part of the Brave Society is empowering and gives you a wonderful feeling of self-worth. I mention all this because my background in (human) Personal Development and Motivation has had a huge impact on my life, back before it was quite 'fashionable' to embrace The Secret and other fantastic inspirations.

Being natural with your horse is about developing yourself, above anything else - and this is can be a challenging prospect. However, the rewards for you, your horse, and your life, can be so dramatic, it could change your life! Enter the Society of the Brave!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Woken by the Wind

It is 4 a.m. and I've been awake since 3 a.m. when I was woken by the howling wind. Then the rain began, and sleep became impossible! Now, several cups of tea later, am working at my desk, trying to block out the racket and the mental image of the horses out there in the gale force winds and horizontal rain.
Ask any horse person about the storms in their life, and you'll hear some pretty wild stories. BH (Before Horses) I didn't think much about storms (I was a city gal at the start). It was only SH (Since Horses) that the weather became of such interest. 'Batten down the hatches' didn't mean much back then!

My first big storm was while living at Tilba Tilba, on the NSW south coast in Australia. Tilba means 'wind' in the aborigine Yuin language, so I guess Tilba Tilba means double windy, and it was! A beautiful isolated spot with a tiny population, the area earned it's name, and being close to the ocean, nature unleashed some pretty spectacular storms. One winter's night I was up there alone (hubby away on business) and the old timber windows and doors of the stone cottage on the hill groaned and moaned and the wind whistled and the rain rapped at the glass like a mad visitor. Thunder and lightening came in sudden bursts, and of course I couldn't sleep, worrying about my newly acquired horses, Olé and Fez, outside in that deluge. So as any dedicated horse person would understand, I donned my Driza-Bone coat over my nightie, pulled on my gumboots and a beanie, grabbed a flashlight and ventured out into the night to check on my boys.

Needless to say it was an act of insanity, as these horses had been living on those hills for years before I came along, and tonight had wisely sheltered in the gully. I was probably in much more danger than them as I traipsed about on that treeless hill, calling into the wind, determined to 'rescue' them and guide them up to the barn shelter. Bless them, without halter or leadrope, they followed me back up the hill, their heads bent low against the wind and rain, but staying by my side. I could barely stay upright, and finally had to hang onto Olé's tail and he helped me up the hill. They didn't object when I closed the gate to their shelter near the house, where it was windless and dry, and their manger was full of hay. I dried them off with towels and stayed with them until they stopped shivering. I could have stayed in there with them all night, if I hadn't been so cold. The coat had kept me mostly dry, but my wet hair and frozen, stiffened hands needed to get dry and warm ...

I'll never forget how it felt to have the trust of those two horses as they came with me that night, walking with me through the wind, rain, thunder and lightening. While no doubt I was anthropomorphising (and it's still hard not to, all these enlightened years later, during a storm like tonight!) my horses' obvious comfort made the whole trek worthwhile.

There have been other such nights over the years, one during which the wind actually picked me up and carried me for several metres as if I was a rag doll, and another, where the herd followed me to their stable through the bush in the middle of a black night, and my flashlight battery died, And how they stopped and waited for me after I fell flat on my face in the mud (fell over a log jump in the dark), and how the guided became my guides.

And the night I slipped and fell into the water trough ... wearing my dressing gown, gum boots and Driza-Bone (coat didn't keep me dry that time). Of course pulled myself out (I think I said something like 'Oh dear', before continuing down to check on the horses) ... the insane gene at work again!

So at first light this morning, I'll be out with all the other horse people, checking on the herd, seeing that the 100 kph winds haven't done any damage, and negotiating the slippery mud! While storms are a part of nature's order, and can be fascinating and spectactular as well as scary and damaging, I'll be glad when it's calm and the sun's shining again!

Above: That's one of the shelters we made for the horses at Mansfield, note the drop down 'windows' and the open sided design - plus they could stand in there and still see the house, and all the comings and goings. And I could look out the kitchen window and see them too! :-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The biggest lesson of all

Trust, Confidence ..... then Respect. It keeps coming back to this. I'm developing a couple of thoroughbred fillies and daily, I am reminded of this. Too much energy from me at this point, even as I enter the paddock, and the trust gets shaken around a bit.

When the wind is up, they are more inclined to move, so I ask them to join me at a canter when I run around the paddock away from them (as I'm trying to buck and rear and pigroot in play!) They're not too sure at this stage what this all means, but heck, they figure - it looks like fun, so let's join in! There's no one around to laugh at me (or take photos) so it's all good, uninhibited fun and at the end of my antics, they both trot over, and stand quietly near me, watching me carefully.

After we've caught our breath, I bring out my communication tools. They're trying really hard to offer me their trust, standing still, with front legs spread, while I play around with my sticks and ropes. They start out with a bit of a worried look, which disappears as their confidence grows, and they even close their eyes, relaxed. Then they wonder if all this stuff is edible, so the rope chewing begins, and they pick up the stick between their lips and shake their head up and down, mocking my skills! They even try to pull the rope out of my hands .....ahhhh, this is where I can ask for some Respect! This is a good time to stand my ground and gently ask them to back away from me ... in effect, moving their feet (not mine!) Just remember it all begins with Trust and in the early stages it can be fragile, so develop it slowly.

I love all this sort of play (and it's a fun part of the education I offer to horses) as it really does help develop a bond between horse and human. And if you think it's crazy stuff, don't knock it till you try it! I've seen many students roll about on the arena sand, and run around gleefully with their horses, and the horses want to be with them all the more, running to them and leaving their horse mates to do it!

All this brings out our child-like play drive, and release your endorphins. And studies show that you need at least 12 good laughs a day to be healthy! So let your hair down, have a good roll, a run and a laugh!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Everything is Energy!

Whether you like it or not, a lot of what happens between you and your horse is based on something simple and undeniable: Energy.

Above, that's my Sharif, he of 'exuberant' energy!

As Oprah so passionately said it, in her final show: " ALL LIFE IS ENERGY, and we are transmitting it every moment. We are beaming it...little tiny signals, like radio frequencies, and the world is responding in kind."

During a lesson yesterday with a long-time student of Horsemanship with Heart, I made the comment that every time you go into the paddock to greet your horse, you need to ask yourself about the energy that surrounds you, because as we all know! - horses will pick up on that energy and respond in HONEST terms to that which we put out.

With my background in human personal development and motivation, the energy stuff is not new to me ... and it has helped enormously in my teachings with humans and their horses!

Oprah said: “You are responsible for your life. And what is your life? What is all life? What is every flower, every rock, every tree, every human being? Energy! What kind of energy do you have?"

If you were your horse, watching you walk into their environment, what sort of aura would surround you?

An interesting case
I have a student whose horse was quite happy to be with her, be petted and brushed when standing free in her paddock, and the human was in her regular, non-riding clothes. Think about the energy that human might be putting out on a sunny day with the horse in the paddock, with no ropes or bridles or saddles or anything to say that she wanted something from the horse. All she hoped for was some acceptance of her love and affection. And the horse was calm and responsive.
Then, when she put on her riding outfit, and went to 'catch' her horse, it all changed. The horse did not want to be with her (ran away) and when she finally was able to bring her horse into the mounting area, she had all sorts of problems, having to tie the horse short to be able to brush, saddle and bridle. The horse would try to bite her if she didn't tie him up.

The student called her horse a Jeckel and Hyde.

What seems apparent to me is that the human had two sides to her, as well. And the energy she emitted was completely different in both cases. Which energy worked for her horse?

The energy we put out is directly related to our relationship with our horse. It is this energy that we need to learn to control, through consciousness of that energy. What an exciting thing this is! (Thanks Oprah, for the inspiration!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nature's Paintbrush

I sat on the patio near my horses this morning, as it was quite balmy out there (for late autumn, anyway) and watched their antics as they vied for the best place nearest me (just in case, I guess, I produced a tasty something).
They look quite feral at the moment - all windswept and muddy and fluffy. Grey Corbello looks like he's had an eyebrow transplant from Karl Marx and Esteban who is also a grey, has artistic chunks of mud scattered over his whole body along with a particularly artful dab on the top of his generous rump.
The brumby looks like happy and tough and protected from the cold and wind, accessorised with his mud locks, the arabs are dancing about with dreadlocks and twigs in their manes, and the rescue standard bred, Bonanza, has leaves and hay growing out of his tail!
Poncho's cute face has all but disappeared under his generous forelock, and his chunky little body is as a shetland's should be: covered with a thick coat of insulating hair, protecting him from cold, wind and rain (like on the Shetland islands, from where the pony breed originated). Being on the hill as exposed to the elements as we are, I've worried about the horses coping with the rain, wind and cold, as the stable hasn't been ready for them to shelter in. (I know, risk of anthropomorphising here!) There were a few pretty miserable nights where I rugged nearly the whole herd, aided by loyal friend and student, Vicki, who is a bit of an expert when it comes to rug fashions!
I still feel that a run-in shelter still is the best solution for me, as this rugging business is a full-time job! - not to mention the storage space needed, the drying space required and the cleaning time!
There are some issues with the whole group sharing the shelter. Having a dominant stallion in the herd, he tends to take over the stable with the greys, as their own private palace and everyone else has to stand out in the rain! So my solution is to split the herd up when the weather is very rainy and windy. The first group is The Dominant Ones, and the second group are The Easygoing Ones. They'll take turns being in the paddock with the stable. The ones that don't have access to the stable will use the trees and I will rug them, while the ones that have access to the stable won't be rugged. They can all easily see each other from their respective paddocks, and everyone gets a turn to be inside if they want to. Little Poncho is welcomed wherever, so he gets the best of both worlds, if he chooses!
Which brought me to do a little research about the Shetland Islands where Poncho came from originally: it rains there more than 250 days a year, the temperature ranges from 5-14 celsius (over 21 is rare), it's windy and rugged and the flora is dominated by Arctic-alpine plants, wild flowers, moss and lichen. The harsh climate and scarce food developed the ponies into extremely hardy animals. Shetlands have long thick manes and tails and a dense double winter coat to withstand harsh weather. When I read all this on Wikipedia, I felt comfortable leaving Poncho naked (though would definitely help him out if he was ill or cold).
The tourist information says, "The Shetland Isles, a unique place of peace, pure air and wide open spaces". Sounds good!
There's something about the image of a horse on an open range hill, the wind in his mane and tail, that seems somehow natural, wild and worthy of a picture!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mutual Trust

Standing behind your horse, in their blind spot, requires that there is some mutual Trust, Confidence and Respect in place!

We've always been told not to 'go behind' the horse and for many people, it is an instant heart-racer when they go 'back there'! Years of conditioning have caused people to feel fear, which of course the horse can sense. And when a horse senses fear from his human, he doesn't necessarily think the human is scared of him (he doesn't think he's scary!), he could be wondering what is back there in his blind spot that has his human so terrified!
Fear will cause him to potentially move his feet, which means he will shift his hindquarters to see what's going on back there, and sometimes this movement can be sudden, which of course scares the human even more!

I spend lots of time at the rear end of horses. It's a demonstration of 2-way trust, confidence and respect. To prepare yourself and your horse for this (please do not do this without preparation and understanding) may take a little time, and your safety is always my #1 concern.

While to many of my readers, this may not be a big deal, as their horses are relaxed and comfortable and love bum scratches! But some horses (and you never know when you are going to meet one of those ones!) may associate you being at their bottom with veterinary examinations etc., not altogether pleasant!
Above, I am with Squeeky, who has been experiencing separation anxiety for many years (she still lives with her mum) - getting very animated when they are apart, even with a fence between them. In this session we are building mutual trust and I am establishing my leadership to where she looks to me, not her mum, for guidance and direction. Things are coming along really well after a couple of sessions, with her human now able to take her for a walk without mum, and all is confident and relaxed.

Trust is earned, for both members of the horse/human partnership. Taking the time it takes (to borrow from PP) will pay off Big Time - and remember, a prepared horse is a Safe Horse!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Extraordinary Friendships

Of all the goals and dreams that people have with horses, the most popular one I hear is the one of a true partnership, an extraordinary friendship.
That invisible 'connection' that warms the heart ... that feeling of oneness and synergy ... where our horse seeks us out, stays with us without the constraints of rope or yard: it's a reality for some, an elusive dream for others!
Creating that special bond begins with the human: building trust, confidence and then respect. Whenever I see human and horse looking 'disconnected', I go right back to the basics of touch, of how we stand, breathe, look at our horse. I look for that tiny little indication that we are 'engaging' our horse and retreat a little, happy with the smallest step.
It's like loyalty: you can't buy it or demand it - you Earn it. You earn your horse's love, trust, confidence and respect. You do this by thinking of how life appears to them, putting their point of view, their feelings, First.
It can be a challenge for the human to do this! In our instant world where everything is so fast paced and time-focussed, this approach is often hard, as it requires patience, a slowing down of our expectations, a perception that is beyond most people (at first).
But ... developing yourself into a human that your horse will offer their extraordinary friendship to, will reap you benefits beyond your imaginings ... the joy you will feel, the peace in your soul, and the love in your heart ... it is quite different to anything else!
It is from this friendship that extraordinary things develop: it is the foundation of Everything with your horse - and, when you think about it, it's the same with your relationships with people: it's all based on friendship first, including mutual trust and respect.
Mmmm, more of life's lessons from our horses!
Above: Horsemanship with Heart student Mia, with beaglier Disney and the sweet Sharif at a recent student demo!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Beautiful Dance

A horse's movement can be gorgeous ... and we all love seeing a horse that is naturally elevated, a spring in their step, their self-carriage unhampered by a rider ...

Here is student Mia with my egyptian arabian gelding, Sharif, in their first freeplay session yesterday, Sharif elevated and with his attention focussed on his young friend!

One of the ways that you can see and feel this, on the ground, quite early in your activities together, is to develop your 'come to' with your horse. Teaching your horse to trot toward you - at Liberty - while you are 'trotting' backwards is an awesome feeling!

Having a good 'come' is essential for this exercise! Taught on line first, this is essential to this game. Then, developing your horse's focus and being able to 'engage' them is the next ingredient. You can start with a walk backwards, then with more energy, lift your 'life' and start trotting! Don't fall over, select a space with a firm, flat surface, and some room to move. Maybe you could practice running backwards without your horse first! Great exercise for your legs!

Your body language is all-important - knowing how to beckon, draw and release (we don't want them running on top of you!) - so essential also is your horses' respect for your space!

Freeplay is one of my most favorite activities with my horses, and it always puts a smile on my face and a joyful skip in my heart!

If you would like to get started with this, you will find my Essentials Ground Skills dvds helpful! Just go to my website shop to have a look.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Express Yourself!

When I think about what puts a smile on every horse-lover's face, it's got to be when they get to watch the antics of their horses galloping around, bucking, pig rooting, rearing and generally expressing themselves! (Of course, this is happening when they are NOT on top of them or have them on a lead line!)
The nature of horses is to be very expressive ... and by confining them in small areas etc etc we can see less and less of this expressiveness. Horses LOVE to play and will cavort around quite wildly when motivated to do so - you could even say (without risk of anthropomorphising) that a horse displays happiness when doing any of the aforementioned, as Rusty is doing in this photo!
Who doesn't love to see a herd of horses, running free, their untamed manes and tails flowing as they gather speed ... it's enough to cause horse lovers to stop in their tracks, as if spellbound, by the spectacle.
I know well, as my office window overlooks the 10-acre paddock that my herd are in, and as soon as I hear those pounding hooves, I stop whatever I am doing as if somebody pressed the Pause button, and I press my nose to the glass, just enjoying the vision of the horses in full flight, usually just for the fun of the run!
Preparing for the upcoming Horse Psychology and Behaviour Course I am giving, which starts in 2 weeks, one of the topics will be Horse Expressiveness, sure to be a favorite segment! To know more, just email