Tag Archives: horses

horse obstacle challenge

Introducing Horses to Obstacles – Part 5

I’d like to introduce five of our Strategies for Success that we follow when we start working with horses on obstacles or anything new and unknown.

  1. We build it in the groundwork, then ride it in the saddle.
  2. We never force a horse to go on, over or though something they’re scared of. We do go forward when the horse is in release and following our focus.
  3. Find ground zero.  This is the position, proximity to an obstacle, or a maneuver that we know the horse can achieve.  We can always start successfully from our ground zero point.
  4. We define success as, “anytime the horse tries for us,” and reward and encourage our horse when he tries.
  5. We allow the horse the time he needs to investigate the obstacle before we continue to ask him forward.

In this article, we’re going to focus on #5.  You’ll need to read Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 first.

horses obstacle challengeOur fifth and final point is a great learning opportunity not only for your horse, but for you.  You’ll see a the process a horse must go through when he’s investigating whether something is safe or not.

Fear and Curiosity – What are they?

I believe that fear and curiosity are almost identical.  There are many articles you’ll find which discuss them as opposites.  But they’re really not that different.  The reason is that both fear and curiosity have an overwhelming factor in common – focus.

Here’s an example:

Bill is a gelding that has some trail time, but has always been scared of big rocks.  Whenever he walks by one on the trail, all of his focus goes to the rock and he’s scared to let it out of his sight.  His  rider is nervous about going out on the trail because she knows he’ll spook at rocks.  This is fear.  All of Bill’s attention is on the rock.

Jill is a mare that is new to the trail.  She’s young and bright.  When she sees her first big rock, she stops and looks at it.  Her owner notices her interest and allows her to walk over and check it out.  She spends a few minutes sniffing and looking at it.  This is curiosity.  All of Jill’s attention is on the rock.

The difference in thinking from the perspective of the horse would be:

Fear: “That might kill me so I’m outta here!”

Curiosity: “That might kill me…but…it’s not killing me right now...hmmm…”

horse obstacle challenge

Consider that fear, from a prey animal’s point of view, is an instinctual response to anything

they consider life-threatening, and anything unknown IS life threatening until proven otherwise.  Curiosity is an interest in something unknown.  However, both share the commonality of focus or attention.

Turning fear to curiosity isn’t that hard.  It requires two ingredients: time, and you.

Time.  Given time, a horse will realize that something they’re nervous about is not going to kill them.  This is closely tied to the distance to the object.  If you’re working at leading or riding your horse up to something he’s scared of, when you recognize his fear, let him stop.  Now wait.  The horse will, in short order, realize that at that distance, they’re not going to die.  When that happens, they’ll release tension and their focus may go elsewhere.  That’s the moment you can ask for forward again.  We covered this strategy in part 4.

You.  When the horse is confident in your leadership, he’ll be looking to you for an answer to whether or not this scary thing is safe.  Horses communicate in several ways, the important one here is empathic communication.  That is, they are aware of how other horses feel.  This could be fear, calm, energetically forward, or just about anything else.  It’s a survival mechanism – they can communicate “safe” or “run now!” throughout the herd almost instantaneously.  The important part here is this: how you feel about the scary thing is what your horse should be looking for, or picking up on.  To make this successful, you must project confidence and release any tension you have in your body.

Because this type of communication is so intrinsic to the horse, I like to capitalize on it by taking it one further step:  thinking that the object is the best place for our herd to be; the closer we get, the better it feels.  Now I have to reiterate – you can use this only if your horse is confident in your leadership. If your horse does not trust in you OR he thinks you are below him in the herd order, he’ll not believe what you’re “saying”.  Remember that trust is earned or built.  Your horse (or people, for that matter) will trust you somewhere between 0% and 100% depending on past experience.  Your job as a leader is to get that percentage higher.  We’ll explore this concept in a future article.

Note – people communicate this way too, we just don’t think about it.  Have you ever heard a news anchor ask a reporter, “How is the mood there?” in reference to a group of people?  Consider a mob or a group of people panicking.  Panic spreads through a group.  In contrast, consider the ability for a motivational speaker to instill positive energy into an entire group of people.  With prey animals we can clearly understand that their empathic ability is based on herd survival in a threatening environment.  As predators, science’s best guess at our ability to communicate this way stems from ancestral survival as a group or tribe, including hunting and gathering as a group.

Inspiring Curiosity – Eliminating Fear

That fear and curiosity are so closely related is a distinct advantage to us as leaders and a valuable tool in our horsemanship toolkit.  It’s really not that hard to flip the switch from fear to curiosity.  And when you do…mission accomplished.

When your horse moves forward, he’s demonstrating that he’s overcoming fear.  When curiosity takes over – and it will – you’ll see your horse go through a sequential list of steps:

  1. Sniff it
  2. Muzzle it
  3. Bite it and/or paw it
  4. Look away because it’s boring

When a horse does this in my obstacle course clinics, I encourage it.  It’s a clear demonstration that they’re engaging with something unknown, versus avoiding it.  This is the horse’s way of making sure that an item is safe.  It’s not bad, nor is it rude, for a horse to bite or paw something they’re unsure of.  In fact, it is critically essential that you let them go through this process.

Let him take all the time he needs to do this.  It might be 10 seconds, it might be 10 minutes. It’s time well spent.  We need to make sure that the horse does not have any lingering thoughts of fear.  If he does, and we add more pressure – for example asking a trot instead of a walk – you’ll see those lingering fears reappear, because we didn’t take the time to clean them up in the first place.

When you see their attention drawn to something scary or unknown, encourage them but do not force them closer.  Sometimes its better that you just let them do what they have to do.  When they’ve satisfied themselves, they’ll look up and left or right.  We’ve discussed in previous articles that a horse has a singular focus.  What that means is that their focus will be on the highest pressure (or most engaging thing) in their environment at any given moment.

Question: So when they look away, what does that tell you?

Answer: That something else is more important than the item they just sniffed or pawed.

That is a great, because it tells you that the horse is comfortable with the object in his current position.

I put the final words of the last sentence in italics for a good reason.  Once you’ve introduce a horse to something and he has gone through the investigative steps – and then turned away, it’s now time to ask him to follow your focus forward again.  Look ahead and ask your horse to move forward with you.

horses on obstacles

Click here to watch “Introducing a Horse to Obstacles” and “Zeus on the Obstacles – Episode 1” to view points made in this article.

Now something interesting may happen.  Your horse might stop, and go through all those steps again.  Remember at the beginning of this article I mentioned that distance was an important factor.  Just because a horse can be comfortable at 4′ away from an obstacle, does not in any way mean he’ll be comfortable at 3′.

 

There is one time when we might deviate a little bit.  This is the case for the horse that will not look at the obstacle or scary path.  The most interesting I’ve seen was a mare at a clinic of mine in 2018.  When faced with something uncertain, she’d turn her head right around to her hip.  She had a difficult time facing anything scary.  In this case, instead of focusing beyond the obstacle, we focus on the obstacle.  By doing this, we’re asking the horse to look at the object they think is too scary to look at it.  Simultaneously, we are communicating that this thing is not really scary at all.  At that point, they’ll likely investigate it.

In most other cases, however, you’ll see I’m always on your case to focus forward because that gives a horse a focus to follow.  He has to be thinking beyond the obstacle to go over it.  Focusing at it will cause him to stop.

And thus, this is a repetitive exercise.  At this point I’ll sum up the entire article series:

  1. Start the exercise in the groundwork.
  2. Ask the horse to follow your focus forward.
  3. If he stalls or stops due to fear or uncertainty, you stop with him.  This is your ground zero point.
  4. Ask your horse to release.  When he does, go back to step 2.
  5. Now that you’re near the scary item, you’ll see your horse go through the investigative steps.
  6. When he looks up and away, go back to step 2.
  7. Remember to praise and encourage your horse every time he moves forward with you.
  8. Now you’ll be at or over the obstacle.  Success!

By using this article series, you’ll be able to calmly introduce your horse to anything new and uncertain.  By remaining focused, positive and encouraging, you’ll be building trust in your leadership with your horse.  And by doing that, your horse will be more apt to follow you in the future, because you’ve proven yourself.

December 2018

Scott Phillips

 

obstacle course

Introducing Horses to Obstacles – Part 3

I’d like to introduce five of our Strategies for Success that we follow when we start working with horses on obstacles or anything new and unknown.

  1. We build it in the groundwork, then ride it in the saddle.
  2. We never force a horse to go on, over or though something they’re scared of. We do go forward when the horse is in release and following our focus.
  3. Find ground zero.  This is the position, proximity to an obstacle, or a maneuver that we know the horse can achieve.  We can always start successfully from our ground zero point.
  4. We define success as, “anytime the horse tries for us,” and reward and encourage our horse when he tries.
  5. We allow the horse the time he needs to investigate the obstacle before we continue to ask him forward.

In this article, we’re going to focus on #3.  You’ll need to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

When a horse is fearful of something, there will be a certain distance he will be comfortable standing away from it.  It likely won’t matter what direction you approach it from, that distance will be the same.

In the groundwork or riding, you’ll notice that the closer you get to the fearful object – we’ll call it an obstacle – the slower your horse will go until he stops.  This is entirely natural.  Consider that, in the prey animal’s mind, anything unknown is potentially lethal.

There will always be an invisible line beyond which the horse may attempt to leave.  He might back up or move sideways.  If you’re on the safe side of the line, or on the line itself, your horse will be able to stop.  At this point you’ll be able to ask him to release.  When he does, you can ask for another step forward.  You’ll work through this until you’re up to the obstacle.  This might take several sessions over several days.  That’s the best way to do it – don’t force it or you’ll compromise trust.  We touched on that in Part 2.

Until the horse has released to the pressure of the obstacle at the point he can stop, do not ask him to go further.  Ask him forward only once he’s in release at that point.  This is tough for many folks because we get greedy.  We want our horse to do it now.  Be patient though, if you stay in a supportive role, the horse will come to depend on you as the answer to stress and pressure for all obstacles, not just this one.

Let’s dig into this a bit deeper, referencing the image.  A horse will stop at the point where his ability to handle the pressure presented to him hits a limit.  If we push him past this limit, then he’ll resort to instinctive behaviors: flee, freeze or fight.horse fear

There are 2 things that will get the horse beyond this point:

  1. You asking him to release and go forward with you (you’ll see that in this video).
  2. His own curiosity.  This will eventually happen and he’ll go forward on his own.  I see this often on items like stuffed animals or hides.

In the image, the horse on the left is comfortable stopping 10m away from the scary rock.  The horse on the right has hit the limit of what he considers safe, and is taking action to save his life.

I like to call any point on the green circle our Ground Zero Point.  This is the distance from the obstacle that the horse can always stand and not try to escape.  Our job then, is to make that green circle smaller and smaller, until it’s gone…without hitting the red circle.

Our first job then, is to find where that green circle is.  Let’s use trailer loading as an example.  The obstacle: standing quietly in the trailer.  We lead our horse up to the trailer.  At some point he pulls back and turns away.  This is the indicator that we’ve crossed the red line.  So we start again.  This time, we’re more attentive and notice when our horse starts to become tense.  His head might go up, his jaw tighten, etc.  At this point, we stop.

If our horse can stand with us, we’re on the green line.  If not, back up a bit.  We find where that spot is that our horse can stand without moving or trying to leave.

Once we’ve found that, we ask the horse to release (again, this is letting go of tension and following your focus).  Then, we clearly focus forward and ask the horse to come with us.  Once he takes a step or two, stop.  You’ll likely notice that he becomes tense again.  Now, we’re in the space between the red and green circles – this is where we need to play.  This is the zone – as with all pressure – where your horse is not comfortable but still willing to trust you.

Stay in that spot for a bit and ask your horse to release.  When he does you might try another step forward OR you might leave.  We don’t want to push things beyond his ability, however we do need to make that green circle smaller.  When you use this tactic, you’ll notice that the next time you lead your horse up to the trailer, he can stand quietly, closer to it.

Thus, you’ve established a new Ground Zero Point.  To see an example of this as it pertains to the trailer, watch this video.

You will be able to get your horse up to any scary thing in a quiet supportive way by following these steps.  The great thing is that the horse will learn to depend on you for anything scary, because you’ve kept the experience entirely positive.

And, each time he tries, we praise him for it…which takes us to our next article!

Scott Phillips

November, 2018

 

 

focus forward

Introducing Horses to Obstacles – Part 2

I’d like to introduce five of our Strategies for Success that we follow when we start working with horses on obstacles or anything new and unknown.

  1. We build it in the groundwork, then ride it in the saddle.
  2. We never force a horse to go on, over or though something they’re scared of. We do go forward when the horse is in release and following our focus.
  3. Find ground zero.  This is the position, proximity to an obstacle, or a maneuver that we know the horse can achieve.  We can always start successfully from our ground zero point.
  4. We define success as, “anytime the horse tries for us,” and reward and encourage our horse when he tries.
  5. We allow the horse the time he needs to investigate the obstacle before we continue to ask him forward.

In this article, we’re going to focus on #2.  It’s a good idea to read Part 1 first.

Someone rides their horse up to an obstacle.  The horse is afraid of it and tries to turn away.  The rider might kick to get the horse to move or jerk on the reins when the horse isn’t straight.  The horse still struggles, so he’s taken away from the obstacle and run in circles to make him think the obstacle is a better idea.

Frustration, fear of failure and ego cause us to act that way.  Looking at it from a leadership perspective, obviously the horse isn’t getting a good day here.  Let’s change it up and:

  1. Gain an understanding of how horses think and perceive fear, and
  2. Develop our leadership skills to help us work with horses.

Let’s work together to eliminate these unfortunate scenarios.  We’ll start by focusing not only on the success of the horse, but where we’re physically going (looking beyond the obstacle, not at it).

What we sometimes forget is that we’re always training the horse.  The lesson he’ll take away from this scenario is that when he’s scared, his human turns into a vicious predator.  A predator that is trying to force him into something that he believes will kill him.  Horses – like us – learn by repetition.  If our scenario plays out several times, he’ll quickly learn to expect the rider’s negative behavior and react in advance.  Clearly we want to avoid that.

You might be thinking, “Well, how am I ever going to get him over it if I don’t force him?”  As you’ve likely guessed by this point, there is a more positive and successful approach.  The secret is in the style of training.

Begin by realizing that the obstacle is simply a pressure for your horse.  The answer then, is to teach your horse – over time – to handle greater degrees of pressure.  You’ll find details on how to expose a horse to pressure in order to train him in this article.  Note that we do not want to train the horse to ignore pressure.  Any thinking creature can only ignore pressure to a certain level.  It makes sense than, that increasing that level your horse can handle is the correct option. We’ll teach our horse what to do with pressure; we’ll train that, when pressure presents itself, our horse releases to it and follows our focus.  This is a structured core component of my obstacle and trail clinics.

While we do need to expose our horses to pressure in order to teach them how to handle pressure, we do so at a rate that allows them to progress, using pressures that approach but do not exceed their capability of handling them.  The technique is very similar to exposure therapy in humans.  Dr. Katharina Hauner (Department of Neurology, Northwestern University, Chicago) explains that fear is not removed instantaneously; instead working with fear requires conditioning over time.

And thus we work so with our horses.  Over repeated sessions, we can expose them to pressures, asking for the same action each time: release to tension (created by fear) and focus on / follow us.  As trainers and leaders, we will stay completely positive and encourage our horse, thus utilizing these sessions to support trust building in the best possible way.  The horse will learn that you are a trusted herd leader that makes good decisions about things that scare the herd.  They will come to depend on you to help them through struggles (instead of expecting you’ll lose your cool, or learning to avoid you altogether).

Conditioning a non-fear response can be taught for a single obstacle.  But that won’t help you with the next obstacle that the horse is afraid of.  You’d have to start all over again.  Again, the difference here is in the training style.  What we do is built a mechanism for all situations your horse might become scared or anxious.

When you can cause your followers to release tension, trust and follow you in stressful situations, then you can have a successful team.  Not only with horses, but with people as well.  Once we’ve got that going for us, then all obstacles stand a much better chance of success the first time.

Sure, the horse might have questions or anxieties about something new or unrecognizable.  They are a prey animal with limited comprehension and unable to make abstract associations.  Their actions and instincts have kept them alive for millennia, and you can’t expect that to change in the 5 seconds you give a horse in front of  an obstacle, right?  Right.  But when the horse knows that you will answer those anxieties with a positive, you’ve got it made.

Horses instinctively follow a leader.  The herd has a leader that is responsible for making decisions on what the herd should do when a perceived threat is encountered.   That leader must be you.   The extent a horse will follow your leadership is based on successful repetitive experiences.  Over time, many experiences and many miles, the horse can learn that you can be trusted in any situation.

We can certainly opt to leave experience to chance.  Mother Nature will supply us with challenges whether we want them or not.  That being the case, we can also opt to train for it.  And that is the basis of our Obstacle and Trail clinics:  we simulate those challenges in a controlled environment to provide the horse repetitive training (and thus earn your trust) and to allow you to build the confidence to handle anything.Saskia, a client that’s trained with me for several years, sent me this message after an extended trail riding trip:

We had 9 wonderful rides at Indian Graves! The first 3 days Sam was scared of everything and very reactive. It scared me a bit but we kept on repeating what you taught us. I kept on putting his focus on something else, stayed calm and he slowly built so much confidence over those 9 days. I felt so good and so much more connected to him 🙂 

What’s great about Saskia’s story is that she took all her learning to practical purpose in a real trail environment (this is also what our Trail 2 clinics are for).

 

So how can we handle getting a horse over an obstacle with no muss or fuss?  It’s a multi-step process that will always leave you and your horse feeling positive:

  1. The horse believes we are the herd leader – required before we can legitimately ask anything of our horse;
  2. We teach the horse that when he’s faced with something scary, the answer is to release tension and follow our focus.  When our focus is forward, the horse has a direction to move.
  3. The amount of pressure we’ll be able to ask the horse to follow us into or through depends on the amount of pressure we’ve trained him to handle – and that takes time, but it’s time well spent because it lasts forever.
  4. We ask the horse nothing more than to try for us.  And this – we’ll get into in the next articles in this series.

focus forward

The photo here is of me asking a mare to step up onto a teeter totter.  It’s a great example of asking a horse to release tension (note the SOFT downward connection on the lead-rope) and my clear focus on where our herd is going – to the other side of the obstacle.

Scott Phillips

November, 2018

Make sure that you have your free account on our website, then click here to watch the video.  Here’s another one to illustrate the point.

eye contact

Introducing Horses to Obstacles – Part 1

I’d like to introduce five of our Strategies for Success that we follow when we start working with horses on obstacles or anything new and unknown.

  1. We build it in the groundwork, then ride it in the saddle.
  2. We never force a horse to go on, over or though something they’re scared of. We do go forward when the horse is in release and following our focus.
  3. Find ground zero.  This is the position, proximity to an obstacle, or a maneuver that we know the horse can achieve.  We can always start successfully from our ground zero point.
  4. We define success as, “anytime the horse tries for us,” and reward and encourage our horse when he tries.
  5. We allow the horse the time he needs to investigate the obstacle before we continue to ask him forward.

Strategy #1: We build it on the ground, then ride it in the saddle.

Showing your horse something new by starting with groundwork offers many advantages in training and is an essential part of our horsemanship style.  Here’s some background:

Pressures are cumulative.

cirque du solielStress in our life adds up. For an example, let’s assign a value from 0 to 10, to each stress you have on a particularly crappy day: You’re a gymnast and have an audition for Cirque du Soleil first thing Tuesday morning. Here’s the scenario:

  • You sleep in because you forgot to set your alarm. Your stress level rises when you realize you’ll be late. 2/10
  • You try to put together a quick nutritious breakfast but knock the bowl on the floor and spill it all over. No breakfast for you. 1/10
  • You get a text from your mother saying a family member is in the hospital. 3/10
  • Your impeccable timing results in you hitting every red light. 2/10

So you’re already at an 8/10 before you even start the audition.

Consider these questions:

  • What if your ability to handle pressure caps at a 7/10?
  • What will your reaction be when another pressure enters the scenario, such as someone cutting you off in traffic?
  • In your present state, how capable are you to perform an athletic manoeuvre that requires an intensity of thought and focus?

We know that short-term stress can have a major impact on our ability to think critically, make decisions and perform basic tasks. In some cases, we might even make irrational decisions. In some cases we snap or lose it. Our ability to perform decreases measurably.

This is a reason people train and rehearse prior to an event or performance. Knowing that we’re subject to stress when we’re required to perform, we intentionally train to a higher standard so that when pressure affects us, we can still pull off a successful outcome. Another thing we can do when we train something new is to eliminate pressures so that we can focus on individual pieces.

Yohandling pressureur awareness that horses are also subject to cumulative stress is the key point here.  You might say that, as a prey animal, their lives revolve around varying degrees of pressure.

 

In order to support our horses, we can start by doing the following:

  • Teaching them how to deal with pressure.
  • Initially exposing them to only one pressure at a time.

Let’s connect the dots with a practical example:

We’ve done some groundwork having our horse walk across a platform (a pressure). It is going okay and our horse manages to walk over it.  We decide to try it in the riding. We find the riding is not as good as the groundwork; the horse refuses to even put a foot on it. Have you ever had a horse struggle with walking through something, only to find he’ll follow you through it easily if you get off and lead?

obstacle course

Scary Water Box

One reason is that, in the riding, the horse is subject to a higher degree of stress. Continuing with our example, let’s say that the horse can handle a 5/10 in pressure. The platform is a 3/10, so he can accomplish it when we’re on the ground. However, having a rider on his back is a 3/10 also.  Now you’re at a 6/10 – more than he can handle. A horse whose pressure level has been exceeded will likely resort to their instinctual behaviors: freeze, flee or fight.  And we’ve all seen that happen. The good news is that we can train them to another option: release and focus on us.

You might be wondering, “Why is having a rider on his back a pressure?” There are a few reasons:

  • Your mass is a pressure that can cause brace and affect balance.
  • Your horse now has a predator over his head that can cause him stress via hands, legs and complex emotions.
  • The horse is now going first (see What about Leading, below).
  • The horse has had previous negative experiences with riders or trainers and now expects a bad day when someone mounts.

The strategy here is to find the place the horse can succeed by eliminating or reducing pressures.  This is our ground zero point and we’ll chat about that in article #3 of this series.

What about Leading?

Although leading first – in this case intentionally walking ahead of the horse to show the horse that if you can walk though it, he can too – can be helpful when you really need it, it can be unproductive for long term training.  Horses are born followers and can naturally follow another horse (or you) across something. It is, however, an entirely different perspective for them when they’re the one in front. And when you’re on a horse, they are in front, physically. Their head and feet will get there before yours.  So what’s the solution?  Here’s two suggestions:

  • Teaching the horse to handle a higher pressure; and
  • Increase your effectiveness in leading from behind. Can you send your horse across an obstacle?  If so, it’s more likely he can pull it off with you in the saddle.

 

Your observational vantage point.

When you’re on the horse’s back you are not able to observe his entire body. When working with particular exercises, such as establishing balance – it’s beneficial to see the whole horse from the ground. You can observe his shoulder, poll, back, hind end and footfall pattern easily. This teaches us how to communicate to the horse because we can instantly see how our actions affect changes in all parts of his body.

We can work with all of our aids on the ground as effectively as we can in the saddle. Showing a horse to move off your leg or releasing to the rein can be replicated very successfully on the ground. A side-pass is a great example; it generally only takes minutes to have a horse in a relaxed elemental side-pass in the groundwork.  The reason?  A horse was born being able to side-pass; it’s humans that need to learn how the horse balances and uses his body, so that we can ask it of him (VS force him to move sideways).  And once we understand the components and learn the feel in the groundwork, it’s easier for us to transition to the saddle.

Eye to eye contact.

In the groundwork, we can solve many leadership issues (for example, fear) by having the horse focus on us.

The retina is considered to form from the same tissues as the brain. You can think of it as part of the brain. It’s connected through a dedicated cable of nerve fibers: the optic nerve. The visual information we receive through the eye overwhelms our other senses.

Where do you look when you’re going for a walk?

I have observed that most people, when walking or leading their horses, look at the ground. My theory is that we do this subconsciously to eliminate as much visual information as we can so we can think about something else or concentrate on something particular. If you look up and forward, your brain is forced to process what you see and where you are going in the forefront of your consciousness. Therefore, if your horse is looking at you, then he is thinking about you. This strategy can be important when introducing a horse to a new pressure: we desire that when under pressure, the horse looks to us for guidance. If he looks away when we apply pressure, his body will soon follow and he’ll leave. We can train the opposite.

 

eye contact

Eye to Eye with Zeus

There is much said about getting the horse’s eye. Let me explain how this applies to our style of horsemanship. When people are scared, we’re taught to look them in the eye. By doing so, we can communicate sincerity, confidence, pride and comfort. As a communication tool, it’s huge. When someone looks you in the eye, it also indicates that they’re paying attention to you.

Tying this into horse training works like this: when you have established a leadership role, the horse will follow you empathically. This means that if you are scared the horse will follow you in that. If you are confident, the horse will follow you in that. But if they’re looking away all the time, this indicates they are not following you and are either considering which way to leave OR following another pressure which outweighs you. To assist, we can be in a position where the horse can look us in the eye. In this way the horse can follow our focus, energy and confidence.  For a horse that is very scared, we use particular focus exercises to cause him to believe that the safest and most peaceful option is simply to focus on us. It’s a guaranteed game-changer.

Safety

The saddle is not the place to discover what causes your horse to flee in panic or buck. Ending up in the hospital means there will be days or weeks where you can’t ride and that will suck. Let’s look at colt starting. I need to be confident that the colt can handle a level of pressure higher than having me on his back – before I get on his back. Doesn’t that make complete sense? And the ground is a perfect place to develop that. Let’s say we inadvertently create more pressure in the groundwork than the horse can handle and he bucks or runs away.  Don’t worry about it.  Stay calm (your horse needs that) and make a mental note of what that pressure was and start smaller next time. Then work him back up to that level, and beyond.

A horse will learn how to handle pressure in part by how we handle pressure, just like your kids will learn how to react to stress by watching what you do when situations take a turn for the worse.  We desire that, as a leader, the horse is a mirror of us. If we want the horse to release and relax to a pressure, then we have to do the same. When we get in the saddle, however, not only do we create a pressure for the horse, we create one for ourselves. If you’re not certain of what the horse will do, then you are experiencing anxiety and you will transfer that to the horse. Why not gain confidence in the task on the ground, first?

Groundwork isn’t only for the horse, it’s for you.

Tools and Toys

obstacle course

Starting with Groundwork

We can use a variety of tools and toys from sticks to pool noodles to ball guns to tarps to squeeky toys. In short, we can use whatever we can think of to stimulate the horse’s senses, his body or the space around it. In this way we can isolate specific spots that the horse needs help with. We can clearly teach the horse that the answer to pressure is always release to tension and follow me.

 

Because we can access the horse’s entire body from positions on the ground, it’s an ideal place to perform these exercises.

This is different than bomb-proofing or desensitizing. Those are methods that generally teach the horse to not move when pressure is applied. Just like us, horses can only ignore a certain amount of pressure – just because they’re trained not to move doesn’t mean they can handle the pressure.  Nor does it mean they can handle increased amounts of pressure. One of the horse’s instinctual behaviours is freezing under pressure, so these methods can play into the horses genetic behaviour instead of teaching him anything. Instead, our style is to show a horse how to handle pressure – anywhere and anytime. Once that understanding is in place we can increase the pressures because the horse understands how to handle them.

 

Do you see the connection to the obstacle course here?  An obstacle is simply a pressure.  If the horse knows the answer to pressure is to release tension and follow your focus you’ve nailed all the scary things on every obstacle course.

 

The benefit of groundwork in introducing obstacles and teaching horses how to handle pressure is that we can observe the horse’s response and manage the result in an environment where we can control the pressures. When first introducing the horse – and our clients – to pressure management, being on the ground is a requirement because of how we ask the horse to release tension in his neck and poll. In addition, we can learn to work with our tools in a very positive and beneficial way prior to doing it in the riding.

And that’s it for part 1!

Make sure that you have your free account on our website, then click here to watch the video.

Sir Isaac Newton and Horse Training

For every action…

…there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Sir Isaac Newton

So states Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion.

This is tied in to how you ride your horse in some very obvious ways that you likely haven’t thought about – but when you do it might change how you ride from now on. So lets explore!

Have you ever played the tug-of-war game? It’s a contest in which two teams, or two people, pull at opposite ends of a rope until one drags the other over a central line. We did this quite a bit as kids, and usually there was a mud puddle in between us!

Lets consider a hypothetical example: Jim and Bob are pulling on opposite ends of a rope. If neither Jim nor Bob is moving, then both are pulling exactly the same amount, but in opposing directions.  If Jim is pulling with 50 pounds of force, then Bob must also pulling with 50 pounds of force. It’s a stalemate. Follow me so far?

I want you to think of what is actually going on in our bodies to produce that 50 pounds, or the pulling force itself. That’s right – muscles (in combination with bones and ground friction, but we won’t get into that)! For us to push, pull or move involves our muscles activating. When muscle fibers are on, they tighten or contract. That is the only thing a muscle can do. Therefore, pairs of muscles are required to produce an opposite motion; one muscle in the pair will activate while the other muscle relaxes.

Still with me?

Lets say the rope between Bob and Jim is slack; it has no tension. Neither Bob nor Jim have activated any muscles yet. Now, Bob starts to pull on the rope. Immediately Jim matches that pulling force. So what just happened there? Bob caused Jim to activate muscles. We know that Bob’s desire is to move Jim. But the muscles that have activated are actually causing Jim to pull in the opposing direction! Remember, every force has an equal and opposite force. To prove that theory all Bob has to do is let go of the rope. Which way is Jim going to go flying? Backwards of course, not forwards (the direction Bob desires him to move).

Consider this in the use of the lead rope. Again, this is something obvious that we generally don’t consider: if you pull forward on the lead rope and the rope becomes tight, it is tight because you have caused the horse to engage muscles to oppose that motion. You have caused the horse to pull in the opposite direction that you intended! Basic physics at work. If the horse was not engaging muscles to pull opposite your intent then the lead rope would be slack and the horse would be moving with you.

Watch the video!

Now consider one more part of the equation: the harder we pull the more difficult we make it for our horse. Again, this is makes complete sense when you think about it. Let’s say you’re pulling on that lead rope with 25lbs of force. We now know that means your horse is pulling the opposite direction with 25lbs of force. So in order for him to move, he has to release 25lbs of pull! This is quite a contrast to the tension that should be in the lead rope: about the weight of a pencil. That is easy for him to release to.

Pause for thought:

A horse can cause another horse to move in any direction without even making physical contact, in fact, by barely moving at all. And so can we when we learn to communicate with them. So why, then, do some we resort to pulling and yanking on a lead rope or rein? Here’s a two part answer.

  1. We have arms. Because of this uniqueness, we are used to being able to move things by pushing and pulling. But most of the time, those things are inanimate. They don’t think. They don’t have fears. Like a grocery cart or a sled. Pushing and pulling to move those things is a no-brainer. But with a horse, an animal that thinks, we need to cause him to want to move instead of try to pull or force him.
  2. When we don’t understand how something works or lack the skills to communicate in another language, humans typically turn to control. As in, “I don’t understand it, but I can certainly control it.” You’ve heard people say, “Control is an illusion.” This is true, but in the case of a horse, who may get scared or isn’t doing what we want, we sometimes resort to force to accomplish our goals. Its never a winning game. Lets step in with some positive leadership instead, and find ways to assist him. Consider your role that of an athletic coach.

I’ve helped more than one person who has had the complaint that “The horse is pulling on the reins.” In order for the horse to do that though, you need to be pulling with exactly the same amount of force. And I mean exactly. Because if the rein is not moving then the horse’s muscles are engaged to exactly the same amount yours are.

Alright. Quiz question! I know you’ll get this right.

What’s the solution to prevent the horse from pulling on the reins?

You got it – don’t give him anything to pull on! A tug of war can never happen if only one team pulls – because the rope will never have tension. In the context of Jim and Bob, think of it this way: Bob picks up the rope. As soon as Jim feels that rope move a tiny bit, he steps forward. When he does this, he releases any tension in the rope before it gets tight.

This is really important because, as we know, the primary function of the rein is to support the horse in using his body athletically and in balance by asking specific muscles to either release or engage. In the context of this conversation, we’re asking the horse to release muscles in the top part of his neck, which connect to the poll. What we see when the horse releases those muscles is in most texts referenced as movement of the jaw or poll.

Tightness in the rein will prevent this from happening. Continued work with a tight rein forces the horse to move through brace (mental and muscular tension) resulting in some very undesired consequences, including injuries that require therapy. Not only that, but the horse will learn that the lead rope or rein can produce pain. In that case he’ll learn to brace before you even pick the rein up. I’ve helped many a horse like this so the good news is that we can certainly fix it. These amazing animals will give us a second chance.

Our style of horsemanship ensures that the training experience for the horses (and owners) is positive, so that they learn to trust and let go of fear and tension – and in that state we can produce the highest degrees of athleticism – far beyond what you can attain through forcing a horse into submission and obedience.

It’s not a big undertaking, either. A simple understanding of how horses think and how their bodies work might take you a few hours. We go through the basics in all of our clinics. The problems we have with horses typically stem from one thing – not understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Our perception of problems is exacerbated by misinterpretation and generally personification – trying to explain what the horse is doing by comparing him to a human. That is natural for us, in fact, it’s a known psychological phenomenon. You can read more about that in this article. When we put effort into understanding the horse, things get easy. The horse is a very simple animal once we understand him.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Explaining Resistance.

Have you ever heard of resistance training? It’s a type of strength training where resistance is used to build muscle. A Bowflex is a good example – you build muscles by pulling on cables attached to flexible rods. As the rods bend, they provide resistance – pulling against you. This causes your muscles to engage, giving you a workout and building muscle.
Guess what? The rein can be a Bowflex too, because as soon as the rein is tight – the horse is turning on muscles to resist you. You are not only building your own arm muscles but building muscles in the horse – muscles that prevent him from moving athletically.

Now that you’re aware of this, here’s a tip – if anyone asks you to pull harder, yank, take excessive contact or the like – you now know better. Your best option: simply take 5 minutes to explain this basic theory to them. Refer them to this article or to any equine practitioner or trainer that understands horse physiology and can explain the why, not just the how.

Light on the Reins.

We all desire a horse that is light on the reins – that is, he is able to respond to the slightest feel of a rein. That goal can never be reached if we don’t give him the chance to do so. If the horse isn’t responding to the rein, pulling the rein harder is not a good solution. It might seem like it is, after all for us humans, if something doesn’t move, we just push it harder, right? Not in the case of a horse – remember, he’s a thinking, feeling animal.

There are several reasons a horse will not respond to a light feel: fear, leadership issues, not knowing how to respond to pressure, expectation that he’ll get his face yanked on or distraction.

Ever see a horse that jerks his head up or rears? It’s a trained behavior. Horses that have been yanked on learn to pull. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, remember? Sometimes it can be tempting to jerk on a lead rope to get the horse’s attention, but the negative consequences of that far outweigh any momentary fix we might get.

The point is, we DON’T want to teach the horse that the lead rope or rein will cause him discomfort and pain. We DO want to use the lead rope or rein to cause the horse to release muscular and mental tension.

What is the better way?

There are a few important pieces which go into the answer. We’ll look at two fundamental requirements:

  1. FOCUS. We train our horses that when there is stress or distraction, that the answer is always to focus on us. When they do, they can then follow our focus. But before that can happen, we must be presenting a focus [read more about this here]. We also learn how to use pressure as a positive cue, and teach the horse that the response to pressure is to release tension and focus on us. Many times our problems result due to a lack of focus. This could be because another pressure has drawn their attention (like a deer jumping in the trees) or because they have been trained to ignore us (very common scenario in lunging / round-penning exercises where thought is given to the horses body but not his mind).
  2. LEADERSHIP. We need to be the leader in a herd consisting of us and our horse. We often have a grey area in our leadership agreement with our horses. Even I find myself having to detail that agreement once in a while – we’re all human and we get sloppy. When we are the leader though, we can work with both a dominant horse and a fearful horse the same way. We touch on all those details in every clinic but get really into it in the Progressive Horsemanship  and Liberty to Riding clinics. The point being, that when the pressure is on, the horse will defer to following the leader – you, versus another horse, or himself.

When these pieces are in place you’ll find that you no longer have a need to get tight on the rein or lead rope.  Here’s a little example of what I’m talking about.

When things are not going right.

If you feel you’re in a position where you think you have to pull or jerk on a rope or rein, first of all, DON’T (unless your life depends on it). Take a deep breath and evaluate the reason. It’s likely one of the following:

  1. The horse is focused on something else,
  2. The horse is scared and thus fleeing or freezing,
  3. Or the horse feels he is above you in the herd and therefore you should be following his lead.

In my clinics we focus on each of those three things. We discuss use of the lead rope and rein and how exactly to use it to assist in building softness and athletic ability. We explore the bio-mechanics of the horse and exactly what goes on in his body (and mind) to produce the motions we desire – and how the rein, seat and legs assist that. This knowledge is a fundamental part of riding.

The fantastic part of this is that these principles apply to every discipline and every horse in existence. The reason is this: the horse is a horse. His mind and body work the same way regardless of the discipline he’s ridden in. Once we have this basic understanding and some practice, we can apply it to whatever we do – with lasting success.  Hats off to Sir Isaac Newton!

 

Scott Phillips

July 2018

When your horse is RIGHT – Part III

This is Part 3 in a 3 part series. Make sure you read Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Now back to our original dilemma. You’re riding your horse and planning on a left turn. Your horse starts to, or has turned to the right instead. What are you going to do? I received some great answers on the forum and email with thoughts from folks.

Here’s what works for me. Lets look at the solution through the possible scenarios:

  1. The horse has already turned right. Sorry, we’re too late. Even though we may not have picked up on it, his thought of turning right was there before he actually turned and we missed the cue. That’s our leadership error and not his fault so we can’t reprimand him for that. In this case we make his turn our turn: since the horse has already turned right, we take leadership of the right turn. Then, repeat the exercise noting the point where the horse was drawn to the right. Now proceed to step 2.
  1. We feel him being drawn or pulled to the right, but he hasn’t committed yet. If the horse has previously turned right (1) then we present a forward focused energy to the left with greater intensity and clarity than we did the first time. If your energetic direction outweighs the pressure drawing your horse away…done! If that isn’t enough, the proceed to step 3.
  1. In (2), we will sense or see our horse’s focus change from following our path to his desired path to the right. The moment that happens, we need to signal our horse to follow us. When a horse has a thought that turns into action, it happens in this order: mind, eye, head, body. We want to catch this at the ‘mind’ stage – if we wait until the head or body stage, we’re back in step 1. To correct this – BEFORE we pick up a rein – we need to signal him to follow our FOCUS to the left. That might be as simple as a tap with your foot, a cluck, a tap with a crop, or – if you need to create a larger pressure – wave a flag by the right side of his head.

 

The reason this happens is easy to understand and based on a known principle of how the horse thinks: The horse is always drawn to the highest pressure. It’s a prey animal survival instinct. Your horse is turning right or thinking of turning right because what is over that way is a higher pressure than your current focus or presentation.

If we have done our job in teaching a horse that pressure means, “release and follow me” then adding a correct pressure to signal our horse in those moments will cause him to release his other thought and change to following our focus.

I have to be very very clear here – this works great only when your horse understands that pressure is a cue to release and follow you. We teach this as a basic function of our leadership in all of our clinics and lessons. It is a fundamental, primary and immensely powerful tool in your horsemanship toolkit.

Our intention is that we produce a horse that can follow our energetic focus so we are not reduced to steering him with the reins like a mindless robot: an attempt to control the horse because we haven’t acquired the leadership skills to have him follow us. Energetic direction is a primal communication method that horses use continually. All we need to do is polish our ability to speak it.

Watch the Video

Want to learn more? Join us for a clinic or lessons and take your relationship with your horse to a new level of athleticism.

Christmas 2016 – Horses and Relationships

Merry Christmas to you, your family and your Horses!

Christmas is only days away. It’s that time of year I pause and reflect on the previous twelve months. 2016 was the first year of full operations at our Amazing Horse Country location. It’s been some time in the making, starting with purchasing a property that was a 1920’s homestead complete with…well…a lot of things that were left behind over the years that had to be rebuilt. There is a lot of work to be done.  But I love the place. It’s convenient to get to and easy to find. Our camping/guest horse area is large and surrounded by trees. There is history here including an old barn that likely dates to the 30’s. It makes me think about all the Christmases that were celebrated here with families gathering together for good times. And really, we’re continuing that tradition at every clinic we host with evening campfires where folks can unwind, meet new friends and share stories. And it’s home for me and my herd.

I wanted to share a little about a video that I posted on Facebook a while ago. You can watch it here. This is a short clip that I shot on my phone while training at Josh Nichol’s a couple of weeks ago. I believe that an integral part of horsemanship is our ability to be honest and open. So here goes: I have been riding this mare for over 10 years. I trust her like no other and she’s saved my bacon a couple of times out in the mountains (read: mountain lions!) She’s my go-to horse when I want to ride and not worry about training.

Zeus over Belle

Zeus stands watch over Belle

But sometimes when we’re close or intimate with someone, we don’t spend the time to nurture that relationship. We take it as a given and are content with that. And because I believe we were both content, I’ve never really dug into working with Belle to the same depth that I would work with a client’s horse. Until recently. And with Belle the results are amazing me. Our feel has always been fantastic, however my error was my focus on the technical with her when we trained. We always hit a plateau because in 100% technical there is 0% feel. Without that connection to her heart – unlike many other horses – she’ll simply quit trying. Good on her, because darn it, that horse still has lessons to teach me.  I thank her so much for that opportunity!

This little video clip doesn’t look like much, but for me, it speaks volumes. Belle was started before I bought her and her initial training was robotic (push-button) in nature. She tended to that type of thinking whenever we rode in the arena. I wanted her to release, move and follow my direction, not wait for a button to be pushed. What you see in the video isn’t a trick or anything I taught her. It’s basic energetic communication between a horse and a rider. Just look at her eyes and you can see it. It’s a blend of feel and technical. Without the feel, she’d just leave. Without the technical I’d be unable to direct her energetically to position herself. What’s great is that we enjoy that in the riding now, maintaining the connection, but blended with technical elements. What’s even better – she loves it.

Chip in the Mountains

Chip’s first real mountain ride.

That is a big part of horse training. It’s a big part of riding. It’s in all of us to produce a relationship like this. And when we go down that path, we find that what’s required of our hands and feet is very subtle. You’re part of the horse and the horse is part of you. Riding takes on a new dimension because the horse follows you energetically – they want to be with you and they want to try for you. The converse is not communicating with the horse at all, in which case riding is reduced to pulling a rein to turn and kicking to go…you get the picture, and that’s obviously a frustrating place to be for both horse and rider. So we don’t go there!

And there are so many parallels to the human world. In fact I don’t they’re inseparable. For example: how we respond, think and behave in a frustrating situation with a horse won’t be any different than how we deal with a frustrating person or a frustrating computer! The reason is because we’re the same person. And isn’t this a great opportunity for us?  In our school, we learn how to communicate with horses and create an environment of support, we can give wings to that and work up to very complex maneuvers with a horse using his body and mind free of brace. At Amazing Horse Country we use the obstacle course extensively for building relationships with horses and people. You will never see a horse being kicked or pulled over an obstacle – because it’s completely unnecessary. Once some basic leadership and communication has been learned, obstacles are not a big deal!

Bailey

Beautiful Bailey.

Not only is it therapeutic for a horse to be ridden this way, but the pride you feel in your horse and yourself is a reward in itself. And it’s no different with people. The relationship I had with Belle was like a couple content in their jobs and kids and home life–they know each other so well, they simply accept in their contentedness. But there’s always a way to enhance, after all Belle is young and we’ve got YEARS to explore! And like human couples, things don’t always go perfect. Our response in those situations is our choice. We can get upset, or we can take a step back, evaluate and figure out the best course of action. Same with horses; it’s totally up to you – no one but you can dictate how you feel.

I had the opportunity to put this all to the test this year. Chip – who is out of Belle, and a…um…character to say the least – rode with me in the mountains this year.  Although he was out there as a baby, this was his first real mountain ride.  And he stunned me with how awesome it went.  It was proof in the pudding of our horsemanship style. The bratty little tyke pulled it off ! Yahoo !  It’s very rewarding to see him finding purpose and pride in the work that we do.

Christmas is a time of relationships. We visit with folks and family that we don’t get to see often. We communicate via cards, email, social media and phone with more people than we do at any other time of year. Why? We’re nurturing relationships, and it feels good. We’re building and maintaining positive. We’re opening the door for continuing relationships and communication. Sometimes we heal old wounds; we forgive and forget and move forward together in a better place.

Chip - the class clown.

Chip – the class clown.

My horses and I share very unique relationships. And I’m as guilty as anyone at being content in what we have, that’s not a bad thing, right ?  But we have the potential for so much more. I’m beginning to really focus on where each horse is at and what steps I can take to get us to the next level, whether that’s the first time saddled, working a cow, a beautiful piaffe or cantering over a suspension bridge (yes we have one!) The progress that my own horses are making now is very satisfying. And it’s funny because I can’t do it without comparing that to the relationships I have with people…with family. What can I do to make those better, too?

Horsemanship is a unique exploration for every person. It’s life enriching. Our work with horses is intertwined with our lives in positive ways that extend way beyond the horse world and branch through all of our experiences and relationships. There is such great potential here – let’s explore it in 2017!

To all of our friends and clients – THANK YOU for all of your support and camaraderie – we hope to see you in the coming season! Have an AMAZING Christmas!

Scott, Ty, Belle, Spud, Chip, Ponkey, Bailey, Zeus, Ditch and Cody

Horses and At-Risk Youth

For the past several months I’ve had a great opportunity: working with a group of teenagers; showing them how to train, work with and ride their horses at a ranch operated by the Poteet family in west-central Alberta.

at risk youth

Brielle Poteet works her horse.

This is a great group of kids who enjoy having fun and learning with horses. The work that I’m doing is no different than I teach in my clinics or individual lessons. We focus on clear and concise leadership, learning the language of the horse and then having fun with our equine partners though the connection that we build.

Coralee Poteet explains their operation and discusses why they chose to integrate horses into their program. “We are a specialized foster home working with at-risk youth. We run a live-in program that works with teenage girls to give them the foundation for a healthy life. We teach life skills, self-care, healthy social patterns and help each person work through family of origin behaviour patterns and belief systems so that they can form their own healthy style of living.

at risk youth

Learning the basics of space and energy.

Originally we chose horses because we were working with a number of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Kids with RAD have trouble forming attachments and maintaining even superficial relationships; however, there have been many studies done showing that if a child with RAD can form a connection with a horse they can then use that connection as a bridge to form attachments with people.”

Well these girls are certainly forming connections with horses. What I’ve witnessed in the past few months is that they’re also growing in other ways: developing leadership and experiencing pride in their accomplishments with the horses. A few students tended to hide within themselves when in the group with horses. But I don’t see that anymore. Those that were staring at the ground and shy about coming out of their shell have found internal strengths and leadership skills that really work for their horses…and undoubtedly other facets of their lives.

at risk youth

Scott demonstrates with one of the school horses.

When horses experience concise, positive and consistent leadership, they love it. They’ll relax. They’ll lick, chew and yawn.

Why ?

Because we’ve addressed and answered their questions and concerns about the herd and where they belong in it. Muddy and grey interactions with humans drive them nuts, because the herd dynamic isn’t clear.

The great benefit is that the students can SEE and FEEL these amazing results in their horses and KNOW that they are the ones that caused it.

Wow.

As a trainer and instructor, nothing makes me more happy than to witness students realizing that what they have done has taken their horse to a new level of peace and athletic ability.

Coralee adds some other understandings regarding the relationship with horses. “We have taken many different training courses that highlight the benefit of regular interactions with horses. at risk youthThey are a somatic reconditioning agent- their breathing, heartbeat, and electromagnetic field are so strong that they can influence and regulate people and animals standing within a 15 foot radius. Horses are a mirror for what’s going on internally- they reflect whatever mental and emotional process is going on inside the person that is working with them, and their responses to their worker’s requests directly correlate with what the trainer believes.”

at risk youthThis is really the essence of leadership isn’t it?We desire that our followers emulate us. In order to have the occur with a horse, we have to present ourselves – both physically and emotionally – in the way we want our horses to follow. We want our horses to be a mirror of us. My most recent article on leadership speaks to this as well. I find it not only intriguing, but refreshing, that the training that the Poteets have received so closely

mirrors our style of horsemanship.

at risk youthCoralee explains, “Since working with Scott it’s become easier to see the relationship between the inner process of the human and the outer response of the horse. Everyone involved is learning how to be a supportive, compassionate, and firm leader; and understanding that it’s not about getting the horse to be perfect, but to do everything well- even fear, frustration, and anxiety- is reflected in the way that our girls treat each other and themselves.

at risk youth

Pass the ball!

Our horses are also more relaxed. They have more try and more to give. They are better and more clearly understood by the people working with them, and I think that promotes an atmosphere of calmness and forgiveness on the part of the horse.”

at risk youthOne of my fundamental principles of horsemanship is that our job as trainers and riders is to focus on the success of the horse, not the success of ourselves. In developing our skills and producing successful horses, we realize incredible benefits: we hone our leadership skills. Our timing becomes more precise. We truly learn how to communicate with a horse and we progress to higher levels as a result of a real connection that we’ve produced through our own efforts.

at risk youth

Shaelynn Poteet navigates her horse through an obstacle.

at risk youth

Coralee Poteet and her horse.

This is a fun dynamic group to work with.  The girls are progressing in leaps and bounds. We’ve recently started introducing obstacles and games to our training.  Just like our clinics, it’s great to develop these essential horsemanship skills, but putting them to practice in a way that produces fun and success for all is truly the icing on the cake.

Here’s a big “WAY TO GO” to the Poteet family, their girls and their horses!

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and share in your success!

Scott Phillips, May 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

“Peace on Earth, good will to men…”

Peace. Good will. Sharing. Giving. Selflessness. Joy. Fun. These are all things we associate with Christmas. I just got to thinking that they’re all things I associate with horsemanship as well.

Christmas season is a beautiful time of year when giving is in abundance. We consider our friends, family and children. I know many people that extend gifts to their pets and horses as well. There’s just a good feeling in that. There is a difference, however, between gifting and giving. This time of year my inbox is full of emails capitalizing on gifting. Last minute Sale or Black Monday extended until 2016 with 0% interest for 6 months and a free Toaster Oven if you order in the next 5 minutes offers flood the internet.

Amazing Horse Country - Original 5In recent years it’s become obvious in our family that none of us need any more stuff. My parents recently moved and downsized. My barn is full of tubs of items that I don’t have room for in the house. So gifting is difficult. As an alternative to spending money on items I’d much rather spend time with family and friends…go on a trip somewhere or simply go to a movie or out for dinner. Instead of swapping gifts, why not pool our resources and do something fun? Enjoy each other’s company and make some good memories. It’s easy to hand over a gift. It’s much harder in our busy lives to commit a day or more to spending time with those that we might not see very often.

Regardless, I consider giving a root of horsemanship. In my clinics we learn that if you focus on the success of the HORSE vs the success of YOU, the results will be much more profound. This practice extends to many facets of our lives. Consider a hockey team. If the only thing I ever focus on is how I’M going to get the puck in the net, I’m not an effective team member. To be successful I need to consider the other players so I can make a pass or set up a play so that our TEAM can score a goal. The old saying holds true: There is no I in TEAM.

And so it holds true for our horses as well. As much as we strive for personal success, focusing on success without the consideration of the horse will ultimately limit the amount we can achieve.

Amazing Horse Country - Spud and PonkeyI’ve learned through experience that the success derived, the pride felt and the goals attained are directly proportional to the amount of time given to, or invested in, the horse. Our time, patience and understanding. Pondering what worked, what didn’t and why,  and then setting up situations that support the horse so that he can try and succeed. Our focus on helping him succeed yields far greater results in the end – and much less frustration. Just like giving a meaningful gift to a person, horses appreciate it. It’s true: they learn by repetition and will come to expect that you can provide for them a feeling of success, pride and ultimately peace, when they try.

Not only that, the more you commit to the success of each horse, the more you learn about horses. The more you increase your knowledge base so that you can apply what you’ve learned in training, riding or working with other horses. It’s a recipe for success: You give wholeheartedly to the horse and in turn you receive incredible benefits. A win-win situation, so to speak. A gift exchange, perhaps?

scott phillips and belle

The author and his mare, Belle, at Hole In the Wall, WY

My mare, Belle, has taught me some huge lessons over the years. Years ago, a friend observed us and declared, It looks like you’ve found your soul mate.  In that connection we achieve so much. But it’s not always easy. When I’m focused on a technical element, it’s very easy to forget that I’m sitting on an animal that is thinking, feeling and trying to comprehend what I’m doing. And if I neglect that aspect, then Belle stops trying. This last year I was training with Belle and made the comment, We’re renewing our vows this week!  We went back to the roots of our connection and concentrated on taking it forward into ground work and riding. We reached new levels because she was aware that I was caring for her. The experience was incredibly moving.

Sound familiar? A marriage requires devotion to your spouse. Raising children requires your attention to their thoughts and needs. They are aware when you are truly sensitive to what they’re thinking and feeling.  Horses, also, are very perceptive on that level.

With a horse then, particularly when working on something new, we need to be conscious of that. We need to mix feel and technical in a balance so that we can elevate and maintain our feel within the technical. It requires that we always be alert to what he’s thinking and feeling and that we support that through and within his movement. Not simply before and after, but during.

It might seem that giving that much to a horse is the long way around to achieving some specific maneuver or exercise. In fact the converse is true. It’s the way to build a base of achievements, learning and knowledge…enhancing and adding to our horsemanship repertoire. Showing a horse the way to success, repeatedly, paves the path for trust, pride, effective leadership and so many other great things. Developing these skills can extend past our equine endeavors and enhance our lives and even our relationships with other people.

I consider myself blessed with the horses I own and the opportunity to work with the horses of others. Each one of them continues to teach me so many things. My gift to them is my time. My patience. My desire to understand and support them. My commitment to their success. I extend to them good will…and peace. The product is not only a more capable horse, but one that recognizes me as a good leader, a provider of success and pride…and a true companion.

In turn this yields the best Christmas present I could ever hope for from a horse: that look in his eye that simply says, I like to be with you. I trust in you. I believe in you.

Christmas Horses

Merry Christmas from Amazing Horse Country

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the family at Amazing Horse Country.

Scott Phillips

December 2015

 

 

Christmas – 2014

Seasons Greetings from Amazing Backcountry !

No doubt everyone is familiar with being busy this time of year.  I recently spoke to someone who dreads this time of year because it becomes hectic; malls are crowded and people are, for lack of a better word, intense.

But stress isn’t what the season is about. The season is traditionally about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and in that we celebrate family, friends and togetherness. In my sometimes naive way of thinking, Christmas is like Thanksgiving. In the eight hours I put on the highway the other day hauling horses in two different trailers–both of which were loaned to me, I had plenty of time to contemplate what I was going to sit down and write this morning. Invariably my thoughts kept drifting to the people that have helped me out this year.

I was in fact, almost six hours late on my drive home. Given the events that delayed my departure: truck troubles, trailer troubles and an impromptu three hour horse training session, I was prepared for another disaster or delay on the way home. Bring it on, I thought.  But I had a smile on my face; I was heading home. My drive was uneventful, save for a highway closure (police all over) and some patches of dense fog. Thinking of hungry horses and a dog in the house whose bladder was probably aching, I called a friend of mine who lives nearby. He didn’t hesitate to drive all the way over to my place and take care of things.

horsemanship obstacles bridge

Groundwork with Spud on the new bridge.

This past year has been busy but exciting.  Amazing Backcountry has big plans to restructure in 2015 to offer some great new services to members, including 2-day horsemanship / obstacle course clinics in the summer…but more on that later. The home ranch is coming along with new fences and paddocks, landscaping, a new roof on the barn, a new horse obstacle course, an arena, new flooring in the house and of course…more horses! Given the age of the property, renovations take much longer; starting one project inevitably means the start of many other projects which must be completed before the project of your original intent can even begin.

If you’ve renovated an old place, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

vintage barn

Vintage barn with a new roof.

The construction zone, which basically covers the entire property, is also my home and home to all my horses, boarded horses and horses in for training.  It takes a bit of coordination to keep all things flowing smoothly.

More than that, it takes help. There is no way I could have accomplished the things I did this year by myself. I would still by hanging fence rails, pulling old barbed wire out of the bush and pounding fence posts if it wasn’t for the support I received.  I’d be using my cell phone as an internet modem if I wasn’t able to borrow a bucket truck to mount the dish on the barn.  My sheds would still be leaking if I didn’t have help re-roofing them.

But it doesn’t stop there.If you read my last article, Bonds with Horses, you’re familiar with how poor Ty has struggled this year. Honestly, I don’t think he would be around if it wasn’t for the folks that supported me in his recovery: rushing over to provide emergency therapy, offering guidance and supplement suggestions.  Not to mention the folks and the vet that attended him when he was discovered on the ground. Nor the long list of veterinarians, nutritionists and therapists that have supported us over the years.

horse playing with hat

Chip is ‘re-purposing’ my toque.

And as I mentioned above: trailers.  My trailer has decided it doesn’t like me any more. Now that I think about it, I believe it made that decision 10 years ago when it rolled out of the factory. Twice stranded in Athabasca, I’m only home with the horses I was hauling because of some great people that were willing to lend me their trailers to get home.

And I think that is a key word: home.

I was smiling during the long drive because I knew what awaited me: a dog jumping around with joy at my return, sharing space with relaxing horses that simply ooze peace and contentment  save for Chip, who, when I’ve been gone for a while wants nothing more than to play with me.  But that just makes me laugh; he’s a character, and quite possibly an equine mirror of me. Those animals make our home a warm, comfortable place.

kananaskis powderface horse

The year also welcomed some great new friends, and great mountain riding.

I’ve been on the new property now for a year and a half. I’ll probably be the new guy on the block for the next 30 years, but when I went into the local hardware the other day I realized that the staff and I know each other on a first name basis.

I never leave that establishment without sharing a coffee and a joke or a laugh.  It is comfortable, and little things like that makes home, well–home.

In the end, it comes down to horses.  Ty, Belle, Spud, Chip, Ponkey and Bailey provide the framework that I exist in. If it wasn’t for those horses, I’m really not sure where, or what, home would be. Of course the new property and all the construction is part of a business plan, but it also provides a needed home for those horses. Their safety, comfort and well being are, and will always be, at the top of my priority list. That work pays off because on a daily basis those horses provide hope, understanding, fun, play and laughter, trust, faith, joy and peace.

And that’s a fairly accurate description of Christmas too, isn’t it?

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas,

Scott Phillips

December 2014