Monthly Archives: September 2014

All about Photonic Red Light Therapy

Photonic Red Light Therapy, or PRLT, is a relatively new modality with some amazing properties. Its benefits were initially discovered by NASA while they were trying to grow plants in space and its use has grown from there.

What is PRLT?

As the name suggests, PRLT is a modality which involves the application of red light to the body. A specific type of red light is used, LED bulbs that emit wavelengths at approximately 660nm are ideal. It has been found that light around 660 nm is most effective for therapeutic purposes as it is most easily absorbed by body cells.

How does it work ?  After all, isn’t it just red light ? 

The short form of PRLT action is that as the light contacts the skin, it fragments, and causes IMG_7852molecules to release electrons. This creates a small negative charge and causes the pH to become slightly more alkaline. The change in charge allows PRLT to be used to stimulate acupoints and also reduces pain, as acid equals pain.

For those of you interested in the longer version, the science of PRLT is as follows.  When PRLT is applied, the wavelengths of light come into contact with the skin. This contact slows the wavelengths down and scatters the light particles, now known as photons. The photons decay into electrons via the photoelectric effect described by physicists Max Planck and Albert Einstein and thus, as mentioned above, creates a small measurable negative charge and causes the pH to become slightly more alkaline. The body cells function best when they are more negatively charged and alkaline on the inside. Therefore the slight charge and alkalinity created by the PRLT stimulates the cells membrane to draw in nutrients whilst simultaneously expelling wastes. This process excites the mitochondria, which then produce more ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecule of choice for the body.

We all understand that the nervous system is a main way of communication for the body, however there is another system of communication called the intraneural collagen matrix, connective tissue, extracellular matrix, or fascia. This tissue is mostly made up of a specific type IMG_7867of collagen, and surrounds as well as permeates every single cell in the body. Any time this tissue has a type of energy applied to it (temperature, pressure, movement), it distorts and creates an electrical message which can then by transmitted anywhere in the body. This system tends to be one of defense and repair, responding to pain, illness and disease by initiating healing.

The photoelectric effect of Red Light also stimulates the intraneural system, causing the body to release its own natural healing chemicals. A few others benefits include facilitation of protein synthesis, increased microcirculation flow, and increased cell growth. In fact, Biologists at the Medical College of Wisconsin have shown that cells exposed to Red Light grow 150 to 200% faster than a control group of cells not exposed to Red Light!  All of these effects essentially combine to produce healing within the body.

PRLT vs Other Light Therapies

The red light that is used for PRLT is a single color, differing from lasers which use compressed white light. This makes a Red Light much safer to use than a laser, meaning that a lay person is able to use a Red Light without the risk of causing harm.  PRLT also differs from infrared light in that it is visible and does not produce heat. An infrared light is only visible when a colored lens is placed over it, and it will get quite warm. The heat prevents an infrared light from being held on the skin, therefore a practitioner is unable to use it to stimulate acupoints effectively.

How is PRLT used?

Based on the above information, PRLT can be used in a fairly general manner.  This may include working directly on a trauma, wound, or area of soreness to reduce pain and speed up the IMG_7813healing process. One of the greatest advantages of PRLT is that it can be applied to an injury right after it happens as you are not applying any pressure to injured tissues; instead, you are further stimulating the bodys own natural healing processes.

PRLT can also be used more specifically, combining it with Traditional Chinese Medicine and used to stimulate acupoints.  Acupoints are areas on the skin which have a lowered electrical resistance and have a measurable slightly positive charge. A positive charge means a more acidic pH and increased pain sensitivity.  Due to the fact that applying PRLT creates a slightly negative charge and decreased pH, it’s application to an acupoint will stimulate it. This means that a practitioner using PRLT can influence a very broad range of imbalances in the body.  For example, you can work on a set of points geared towards improving overall health or you can use specific points that may aid in digestion, help boost the lymphatic system or support a particular joint. The advantage to using a red light to stimulate the acupoints is that it is non-invasive (you don’t have to puncture the skin with a needle) and it works much more quickly than stimulating the point with acupressure, needing only 6-10 seconds instead of a minute or two.

At any time using PRLT on a horse, the practitioner needs to be very aware of the horses response to the light.  While some horses may be initially unsure of what the practitioner is IMG_7832doing, it doesn’t take long for most horses to relax. Horses that are familiar with the light may start to relax as soon as they see the light, or they may even present body parts that they would like the light applied to!  If the horse releases by licking and chewing, it is time to take the light off of that particular area. If using PRLT on a wound and the horse keeps moving away, the area has had enough stimulation for the time being and the horses innate ability to sense what it needs should be trusted. Forcing the issue may lead to the horse being unwilling to have PRLT applied in the future.

PRLT is a great modality and can be used alone or along with other techniques. The best part is it can have so many benefits, but there are no known negatives.

 

References:

http://www.jent-equine.com.au

http://missionignition.net/bms/led_heal.php

http://www.nasa.gov

Equine Photonic Red Light Therapy,?? Certification Course Manual 2013, Dianne Jenkins

 

Buying your first horse. Finding the right match for you.

Here is a scenario: You are established in your career. You are a parent. Your kids are all going to school or in university. You have always loved horses but just had to put that dream of owning one on the backburner for a few years. Now you have decided it is the time to follow your dream. Where do you start?

First off you need to have some great professional advice. Refer to my last article Great Trainers and Horsemen -How can you tell? If you are one of the privileged few to already be working with a great trainer you are off to a good start. A great trainer knows you and will be honest in finding the right match, not just make a sale.

Your skill level and needs.

Be honest with yourself on what you are comfortable with. Do you want to ride in an arena, hit the trails, work cattle or learn dressage? A horse with good experience is essential. Keep in mind that a competition horse who has a trough full of ribbons is not necessarily the right match??for you. Owning a horse is a big responsibility. Large amounts of your time will be spent training, caring and mostly spending positive time with your horse. Make sure this can fit into your lifestyle. This is a relationship that takes time to nurture and develop and is extremely rewarding when done well.

Budget.

Set your range of a purchase price, and keep an open mind – there are many considerations here. The horse with experience and a healthy mind and body will be more costly. The older horse is not to be dismissed as they are some of the greatest teachers and as such, are invaluable. A young horse will be challenging; a support group of educated horse trainers and caretakers is absolutely necessary to take this challenge on. The initial price of the young horse may be less but you will need to budget for training of the horse and yourself for the long haul.

Caretaker.

Who is that going to be? If not you, then this person should have years of experience in caring for horses well. Their understanding of diet, exercise and the herd mentality is absolutely necessary to the health of your new horse. The stable where your trainer works is a good start. If your trainer runs the stable, even better. Trainers and caretakers can be a great team and support to you and your horse. The property your horse will call home should be clean, fencing safe, shelter, ample water,hay quality good, pasture available and healthy herd mates for your horse to call family.

WP_001543

Viewing the sale horse.

Take your great trainer along with you. They have the experience in knowing if this horse is a potential match for you. They will also know what questions to ask of the seller and give you great feedback. Keep an open mind, listen to comments and conversation, and ask your own questions. This is a great learning experience for you – how to evaluate a horse for purchase – even if you are not the right match for this horse.

Try out period.

When you think you have a potential match, a try out period is essential. This can be in a lease agreement, a commitment to lessons or other contractual agreement. If leasing is not an option the next best thing is taking lessons with your trainer and new horse candidate. Horses have their own personalities as do we. It takes time to develop a relationship and find the right match.

Karma (4)

Purchase.

You have found the right match. Your great trainer is supporting you. Now its time to take the plunge and make an offer. The right partnership is crucial and a fair offer is necessary. Health records and a buyer/seller agreement are the next step to obtain. The seller may want to buy the horse back if you decide to sell in the future. Each agreement can be tailored to both parties. Get advice from a trusted source like your great trainer.  A pre-purchase exam by a vet is helpful information and a good idea for the first time buyer.

Congratulations on finding the right match for you. Now you have your first horse. Dedicate as much time as possible to learning and building a positive relationship with your new friend. The more you know your horse the better you can tell when things are emotionally and physically well – or not – with him. Your great trainer will encourage you to do lots of groundwork and can help you with this. Your life will never be the same. Enjoy!!

Leadership and the Horseman

In the horse world, the broad scope of leadership finds its way into training, clinics, and even rehabilitation and motivational programs for people. It has been the subject of books, and rightly so. In an attempt to keep this article shorter than a full length novel, I have tried to pick out a few ideas that might help you focus your approach to working with horses.

You have to be the leader! This is something we have either been told or instructed someone else.
But what does being a leader really mean?

The dictionary definition of leader: The person who leads or commands; a guiding or directing head. This doesn’t say anything about how one conducts themselves as a leader; it simply states that the leader is the authority figure making the decisions.

In the human world there are many types of leaders. The captain of a hockey team.  Our Prime Minister for example.  Some think he is great. Others don’t.  So is he a good leader ? The answer is both subjective (personal opinion) and quantifiable (economic statistics). Thus leadership has a measurable component too; we can see the results a good leader can produce.

What then, makes a good leader? You can probably think of many things. A person that gets things done. A person that is good at organizing and delegating. A person who makes your workplace fun and productive at the same time. This person is a good motivator. Can you think of leaders in your circle? Most likely.  Think of someone who is or was a great boss at a place you worked.

Why were they great?

What we find difficult in the horse world is defining our personal role as a leader.  It is difficult because we are not horses; all of our comparisons and expectations are instinctively related to human beings. The horses reactions, learning ability and mental needs are so much different, however. Therefore our leadership style has to reflect that.

Horsemanship Leadership Trail Colt

On the Trail: Scott on Spud with Chip at 7 months old.

A good leader is someone people want to be around. They exude dynamic, positive and infectious energy.  Be that person for your horse.  I try to cultivate this thought in my horses mind: ? Oh, here comes Scott !  I want to be with him, because when I am, things are just GREAT!  It’s much easier to be relaxed, open minded and try for someone you have respect for.

Without question, we have to be the leader in the relationship with our horse.  The words team and partner are cozy words that people use to describe a good relationship with a horse. However those words  imply that you and your horse share the same herd status.  This isn’t, or rather, shouldn’t be the case.  If it is, then your horse is always going to be testing you to see if he is above or below you in the herd; your relationship will lack clarity. If your response to those tests is unclear and wishy-washy, you’re lacking the framework and structure that you require before you can really make progress with your horse.

This simply means that your relationship with your horse must be clear and concise.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be friends and have fun. I have heard people say things like this:  If you’re going to be a leader you can’t love your horse. No buddies. I don’t believe that is the case.  It certainly isn’t the case in a herd of horses; the herd leader has friends and plays like any other member.  But when it’s time to draw the line, that line is very clearly defined.   Just like being a parent, being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t have a dynamic and positive relationship.

Horsemanship Bridge

Chip’s First Bridge

Chip is a 4 year old that I have great fun playing with.  We have played and goofed around since he was born. He derives a lot of benefit from that: curiosity, comfort, courage, try and knowing what success feels like.? Like a lead horse, I can play with him and still be the boss. And when he has got a halter or saddle on, he knows we are going to work.  The tone is a little more assertive and we are both in a different frame of mind.  Under saddle he is generally more calm and relaxed, which is perfect. As a leader, having the ability to create this mindset for him opens up the door to learning and possibility.

We have established that you are not on the same social level as your horse. You are the herd leader, and he is a follower. So what kind of leader do you want to be? Let’s look at some qualities of a good leader as they pertain to the horseman.

Positive and peaceful.

Depression, anger and frustration have no place in the training ring.  If you are feeling any negative emotions and you can’t get yourself under control, then stay away from horses until you can. As a leader you need to communicate the positive.  What would the people of a country would think if their president was caught on video saying something like, I think this whole country is going downhill! You can’t fake your mood with a horse. They communicate with emotion and will pick up on that right away.

Think of things that are mental stressors for a horse. Food.  Fear of a predator. Competition or lack of clarity in the social order. I find visualization a great tool when I work with a horse. For example, to set a tone for training, I envision that we are under a dome.  Inside that dome it’s a bright sunny day, there is lots of grass to eat, there are no predators around, and the herd is at peace because their leader is.  Just like your horse can tell when you are nervous, he can tell when you are in a peaceful state of mind. Create a positive and peaceful space to work in with your horse.

Moving Cows

Moving Cows

Obviously some activities such as competitions or chasing a cow – may seem anything but peaceful. By peaceful, I don’t mean lazy or slow.  I’m referring to a calm state of mind. This will allow you and your horse to focus clearly on the job at hand even if that is running barrels.  It is no secret that successful athletes know how to manage anxiety and maintain concentration. Your horse will come to recognize you as a source of positive and peaceful, and this goes a long way to creating a mental framework where you will find success.

Recognize a Good Try.

Just like you, your horse is not always going to get it right the first time.  He might not quite understand what you want –particularly when trying a new exercise and he will respond with an attempt at doing something.  Don’t get frustrated or upset when his attempt is not 100% correct.

For example, if you are asking a horse to back up for the first time, think of how that motion occurs. First, he must shift his weight backwards.  Then he must lift a leg. And so on. So if the best your horse can do initially is shifting his weight in response to your body, then stop and reward him.  All horses know how to back up,  they do it all the time. What you are teaching him is how to respond to you.  He is learning to associate what you are asking with a movement.  And when he gets it right, he needs to know that. Now you have something to build on because he knows what you are looking for.  It’s a tiny building block, but it is a building block. In contrast, if you lock your forearms onto the reins and pull back, expecting a backup,  you might get it, but I guarantee you will get resistance. And that is the last thing we want: to teach the horse to brace against us.  We want to teach the horse to be soft and giving every time we put a feather weight on the reins. To do this you must recognize and reward on the TRY.

I recently had a conversation with someone who told me of a recent session he had with his horse, trying to get him to step up on a bridge. “He made me so mad! I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t do something so easy. He’s stepped up onto things before! Well, I tell you, we had one heck of a conversation and I finally got him up there.”

Horse Training - Bridge

Scott letting Spud explore the bridge.

Unfortunately this is a common scenario.  We expect the horse to be just like a person and do what we say. If we think it’s easy to step on a bridge, then surely, it must be easy for a horse!  Think back to when you were in grade school.  Lets say the teacher asked you to multiply 234 by 978 in your head. You’d either sit their dumbfounded or say, “I can’t!”. And lets say after your response, the teacher made you run 10 laps around the school. When you got back to your desk, sweating and a mental mess, she asked you the same question again. Still can’t come up with the answer? OK – another 10 laps around the school.  Surely, by now, you should be able to figure it out.

What kind of leader would this teacher be?

Motivational and Inspiring.

If it seems that your horse just does not get it when you’re trying to ask him something, then minimize the difficulty of your request.  Don’t fall into one of these traps:

i) Increasing the pressure in the hopes that he will understand. That is akin to raising your voice when speaking to someone that doesn’t understand English.
ii) Picking at him if he is not understanding, doesn’t repeat the same request in the same way over and over. Like people, horses learn by repetition; what are you teaching him if you repeatedly set the same exercise up for failure?

If your horse is struggling with something, then break that thing down into smaller pieces, make each one a success, and then build back up to the original exercise and be cognizant that this could take days or even weeks. But those successes will motivate your horse.

DO NOT punish your horse because his response to your request is something you perceive as wrong.  This is called negative reinforcement and there are many reasons why it doesn’t work in the end. Being told that you are wrong all the time is neither good motivation nor inspiration. Be careful to use your hands only to support your horse’s movement, not to tell him, “Wrong, wrong, wrong…”

If you consider his actions an attitude issue, then you as a leader need to show him how each piece is an incentive to relax, focus and yield.  Maybe the attitude you are getting is born out of your over-expectation for an action, mixed with your unclear presentation and a confused and frustrated horse (or trainer). Don’t go down that road. Inspire your horse by showing him the better way and the rewards he gets when he is on that path. Don’t make the common mistake of rewarding his success with a more complicated request.

Be positively energetic in your presentation to your horse.  Feel proud – and let him know it – when he does something right. Set every situation up so that your horse has a very good chance to succeed.

Adaptable.

If you go into a training session with your horse and have a list of very specific things you want to accomplish, well, you might want to think again. Horses don’t work that way.  Approach each training session knowing that the horse for a large part is going to dictate what YOU do in the training. I’m not saying that the horse should make the decisions for everything that happens. I am saying that you must be cognizant of where your horses mind is at all times and adapt your plan to fit.

If an exercise is not going well, don’t continue to force it, particularly if the outcome is increasingly negative. Instead change it to something you can succeed at and revisit the original exercise later. Work on a more elementary exercise that supports what you originally intended to do. Adapt yourself to the situation to get his mind (and yours!) back on a positive track. Let each session with your horse end in some sort of success for him.

If, at the end of your session, you have a tired, sweaty horse that looks like his mind has just been crushed and we have all seen this, then you haven’t been adapting to the responses from your horse, you have only been considering your personal goals. A leader prioritizes his followers, not himself.

I’ve seen a lot of horses with good riders; the horses might be dripping with sweat at the end of the session, but there is a gleam of life and pride in their eye that just says, Hey !  I did good!

That’s how you want to finish up.

Assertive.

In the horse world, assertive goes hand in hand with clarity. Clearly present to your horse what you’re asking, in a way that a horse can understand it.  Assertive does not mean rough or demanding or mean. It simply means that you are clear about what you are asking, and ensure that you get a change of some sort. A change means that the horse has acknowledged your request.  The change may not be 100% what you wanted, and you have to accept that. Always question yourself:

Why didn’t it work ?

Why did it work? ?

Did I present it incorrectly?

Is the horse ready for this step yet?

horsemanship pressure

Using the saddle pad to pressure Ponkey to come towards me.

Being assertive often means using pressure with a horse.  Pressure does not mean being spurred, whipped or hit. Pressure does not always mean ‘move away’. It can mean ‘come to me’ or ‘I want your attention’.

Pressure can be energy within you, it can be a light tap, it can be a click or a kiss. I often tend to smack my leg with the lead rope or rein to make a noise.  I’m trying to get his attention, not cause him pain. Be aware of the level of pressure your horse requires and don’t use any more than absolutely necessary. If it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect, switch it up, but don’t use the same pressure with increasing force.

Your goal is this: be clear in your presentation when you ask for something. Ask with your space and energy. The ultimate goal being that the pressure you require is less and less, because you are offering him the opportunity to get it right.

Trust, Faith and Commitment.

In order for you to be an effective leader, you must believe in what you are doing.  If you don’t , your lack of commitment will be obvious to those you are leading.  In the case of a horse, you must also trust in his ability and senses, and trust in your own abilities. Through time, the horse will learn to trust you to learn that you are the key to his success and a good mental place.

He’ll  learn to trust your decisions.

You must have faith that you, and he,  will succeed as difficult as the road may sometimes seem. Some days you might feel like you are not making any headway. Don’t let that get you down; end the session on a good note and try again tomorrow. Have faith that tomorrow will be a better day.  Sometimes all it takes is for you and your horse to sleep on what you did.

A good leader openly displays commitment and can cultivate trust and faith in those that follow him.

Knowledgeable.

Leaders are knowledgeable people. They can use that knowledge to adapt when the situation changes, and understand why things do or don’t work. Knowledge comes with experience. The more we work at something, the more experience we get and the more knowledgeable we become. We all have resources to draw on: clinicians, experienced friends, trainers, instructional videos, books and articles online.

No single person knows everything about a horse. Recognizing the limitations of your knowledge and seeking out help and answers is a true leadership quality.

bill dorrance

Many horse trainers have been influenced by great horseman such as Bill Dorrance.

The other thing to realize here is that not all horses are the same. What worked with one horse may not work with another; you must accept that this is a fact. In those situations you have to try something different.m Ask for suggestions and be humble. If you are working with a horse, keep a journal of how things went. Spend some time analyzing why something did or didn’t work.

A good leader is always learning.  A bad leader is someone who thinks they know more than they do. Even good clinicians take clinics and learn from others; they try different things and are always adapting and open to new methodologies.

 

Patience.

If there is one thing horses need way more than people do in the learning process, it’s time.  They don’t learn the same way or at the same rate humans do.  It’s worth the effort to spend the extra time and get it right.

If there is one thing that is hard for us all, it’s controlling frustration.  You will get frustrated working with a horse.   It can be like trying to speak English to someone that only understands Chinese.  Frustration is guaranteed. How you deal with it is another thing entirely.

Teach yourself how to relax. Practice this on your own, away from your horse.  Make this part of your life.  If, in your non-horse activities, you let frustration get the best of you and act out in anger, or exude negative energy  you WILL do this with your horse.  It is simply how you have taught yourself to respond to pressure.

So change it. Anytime with or without horses you feel yourself become frustrated, cause yourself to relax.  Think clearly and re-approach the situation with a positive attitude.  Practicing this all the time, particularly away from horses – will lessen the odds that you will blow your top when you are around your horse. And don’t worry if it takes you a minute to relax, your horse is more than happy to do nothing for a minute.  And during this minute you’re teaching him something vitally important: how his leader (you) reacts when things go wrong.

Good listener.

If you don’t think you need to listen, then your leadership style is dictatorship. There are many things that prevent us from being a good listener when we are with a horse.  Things like personal goals, fear and ignorance.

When working on a particular exercise with your horse, be careful not to fall into the trap of focusing 100% on the result of what you are asking.  This is an easy mistake to make, but it means that you’re not listening to him anymore. You have to be very open to feeling and noticing the subtle responses from him. Take in the big picture.

Fear causes us to become tense, and when we become this way, we are not able to feel anymore.  Our minds become narrowly focused, our muscles tight. It’s not possible to be open to listening in that state.

Ignorance seems like a bad word, but all it really means is that we don’t know something.  We can’t all know everything about a horse.  However, we can theorize, practice and learn. And in our practicing and learning, we must be very aware of the horses response.  This can be something as obvious as pinning ears or a swishing tail. It can be as subtle as feeling your horse tense a leg muscle or give ever so slightly when you pick up a rein. Learn what to expect.

Being a good listener with a horse involves much more than just visual input.  You must be open to his emotional state, be relaxed enough with him that you sense the changes in the space and in his body.   Again, this only comes with experience. A lot of it.

Accountability

This is a two way street.  As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for your horses actions and your mutual success.  Here is a way to put this in perspective for you. Instead of thinking, My horse isn’t good at this!, my horse always does this but I am asking for that !  Bad horse!

Consider rephrasing that and accepting the responsibility: I haven’t properly shown my horse this. Or My horse is having difficulty understanding my request. How can I change it up ?  It’s a simply shift of thinking that just might cause you to open up some options you not have considered.

On the other side of the street is the fact that the horse has accountability too.  If your horse is proficient at a movement, you have an expectation of the same. Hold him accountable for it. This doesn’t mean punishing him if he doesn’t do it.  It does mean that if you set up the conditions for him to succeed at it, you should expect a good attempt. This is a fine balancing act that involves components of assertiveness, knowledge and judgement.  Simply being more assertive may cause your horse to think, I really didn’t feel like trying there, but I see that Scott means business. I will give it a shot. Your expectations will also vary depending on the experience of the horse and his age. I would expect more out of a 15 year old seasoned ranch horse than a 3 year old.

Ultimately…

… you get out of horses what you put in.  The amount of dedication and effort you put into that journey dictates how much of a horseman you are or can become. Good leaders ensure that there is something in it for the horse. Good leaders are always learning, always listening.

Ty - Leading the Herd

Ty – Leading the Herd

My horse Ty broke his neck over 4 years ago.  Since that incident I have ridden him up mountains and worked cows on him. He and I would not have been able to accomplish that without exploring all of the qualities I have mentioned in this article, and of course a solid commitment to success however long it might take and through whatever obstacles might present themselves.  I am currently working on a book about his life, our experiences together and all the people that have made such a positive influence. In the book I touch on how much he has taught me about compassion, listening, trust and faith, not to mention horse physiology.  I am a different person because of Ty, and he a different horse because of me; we have improved each other’s lives immensely.  In writing about that, I came up with this postulation that I’m using to focus my own approach to learning and horsemanship:

A true horseman, a true leader of horses – is a person who can show a horse how to be more of a horse, and at the same time, allow the horse to show him how to be more of a person.

Scott Phillips

September 2014