Tag Archives: horses

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

Bonds with Horses

Most, if not all of us, have horses that are, or have been, near to our hearts. For reasons that are generally personal, these horses endear themselves to us and we form bonds with them that are different and in many ways exceed the bonds we permit ourselves to form with other people.

Why is this?

I’ve spent many years working with groups of people and have had plenty of opportunity to observe how they interact with one another.  And my conclusion is this: humans are good actors.  We play the part to fit the situation.  For example, we can be in a bad mood, but show up at work and pretend to be happy.  When someone asks, “How are you?” ??we automatically reply “Fine, how are you?” without a second thought, even though we might not be fine at all.

In our interactions with people we’re continuously, and usually subconsciously, analyzing the reactions and expectations of the party we’re conversing with. We might not answer honestly, instead choosing to answer what the other person expects in order to steer a conversation in a certain direction.  We use sarcasm. We cause others to think, “What does he really mean by that?”

We act. What this means to me is that people are seldom 100% honest. We go through our lives playing this game. But without 100% honesty there can never be 100% trust. We question, suspect.  We talk about people behind their backs. We write things in emails and text messages that we wouldn’t dream of saying in a face to face conversation.

Humans, as social animals, are horrible!

chip and scott

Chip on his 3rd day in the world. Our close relationship has opened so many doors to fun, productive training and enjoyment for both of us.

Horses on the other hand, are like a breath of fresh air in a world stagnant with pretense. They are intelligent animals incapable of deceit. I know you’ll have some story about a dishonest horse. But think about it: a horse can only be a horse. A horse can only think like a horse. A horse can only act like a horse. So calling a horse dishonest, manipulative or my favorite: my horse has a behavior problem, is simply a method people have of personifying their horses to explain behavior they either don’t understand, or that they feel is amusing.

Horses are honest. As such their trust must be earned. Horses are capable of forming bonds with other horses and people which can be extremely close; you’ll find many examples in my writing to back that up.  What makes a horse honest is that he cannot act, pretend or fake a mood. A true and honest relationship with a horse extends beyond actions. It goes into a realm that is, in it’s own way, spiritual.

I had someone say to me recently, “Animals are so awesome, they love us unconditionally.” Generally, I disagree.  Most dogs I’ve ever met initially trust you until you give them a reason not to (predator-predator relationship). Horses are the opposite. They will not trust you until you prove you can be trusted (predator – prey relationship). There are obvious and overt conditions and actions that preclude a relationship with a horse. Additionally there are a multitude of subtle conditions that must be met before a horse will form a deep connection with a person. 

I’d like you to consider this.  People form bonds with horses because in the horse they find a trust and honesty that is pure.  And that bond must be mutual; if you are honest with your horse and provide leadership in the way the horse understands and requires it, you can have a lifelong partner. What makes this bond so special is that it requires effort to achieve; it isn’t given unconditionally. You can’t be a human actor around a horse and expect to have a true connection with him. Forming a connection like that requires that you understand what his mental needs are and provide them. A bond like this requires that you are able to feel your horse on a deep psychological level, and in turn communicate empathically with him.

A relationship this honest and open will never exist until you can let your guard down and be honest and open with yourself.

Learning a horse on this level is a journey that might take years, but the payoffs are profound, moving and generally life changing. At least they have been for me.

horse broken neck ty

The author and his gelding, Ty, beginning to ride again after he broke his neck.

Several years ago my gelding, Ty, broke his neck.  We went down a long road of rehabilitation; initially he could barely walk as his spinal cord was compromised. As the years went by, he progressed: I have worked cattle on him and ridden him to the top of a mountain.  We share a mutual understanding.  I know, without a doubt, that he is aware that I’m responsible for saving his life.  I see that in his eye.  I feel it from him.  In turn, that horse has taught me how to create a peaceful space for horses – an asset a herd leader must have – and a skill that I now employ when working with any horse.

Ty has taught me that faith, honesty and trust are real. Our relationship is deep.  Ty probably understands it better than I do because his understanding isn’t clouded by guesswork, philosophy, reasoning or personification. It simply is what it is, and it’s pure. It’s that purity that takes my breath away when he, or any other horse, shows it. When working with horses I find that purity is an addictive component; it’s exhilarating.  It’s energizing. It’s life.

But there are downsides to a relationship like that.  The potential for worry.  Loss.  Guilt.  On average our lives are longer than our horse’s lives by a factor of at least three.  I was told by someone once,  “If you care for that horse, she’ll die.”  Well, she’ll eventually die anyway.

So will I.

And that said, there is a window of opportunity where our lives intertwine, intersect and even merge to an extent. It’s up to us how we use that window because it is of finite duration. It truly is an opportunity if you choose to take it.  It’s  an opportunity for us to explore, to learn.  An opportunity for us to feel and experience the uniqueness of the horse that extends so much further than just riding, competing or working.

Careful, though, this is an addiction. But it’s a healthy one. It’s also not for everyone. People involved with horses run the gamut from those that put 100% priority on the horse to those that put 100% priority on themselves. The former are horsemen who are content to let the horse speak for their skill. Their efforts are reflected in the obvious connection they share with their horse, who is smooth and fluid and entirely content – no matter what the task. The latter would be people for whom the horse is a tool to advance them to a certain competitive level. They might employ a trainer for their horse and seldom interact with the horse between training sessions or shows. Most horse people will fall in between somewhere. Hopefully you find a spot where both you and the horse realize mutual and lifelong benefits.

The reason that I’ve been contemplating these thoughts is that several days ago I almost lost Ty. And it’s caused me to think about not only how special he is to me, but how much potential all horses have. They have the potential to be our most trusted friends. Our most honest friends.  Whether we compete, trail ride or train, we are always building and exploring our relationship and commitment to each other.

While I was away, Ty was discovered by my house-sitter.  He was lying on his side, unable to get up. He was shivering.  She put a blanket over him, and called me and the vet.  While the vet was on his way, I called him to discuss Ty’s previous neurological injuries so that he had a basis to treat him. Not being at home and not being able to provide help and support was a sickening feeling.

 

The vet asked me over the phone, “Is this horse special to you?”  Meaning: I don’t like the look of this. I can euthanize him right now, if that is your choice. My response was simply, “He is.”

jody and ty

Jody works on Ty after a mishap this summer.

The vet was able to get Ty up and with the aid of good friends, put him in the round pen and treat him for colic. I now know that he didn’t colic and go down – he went down and colicked because he couldn’t get up. When I returned home the next day, I immediately called Jody – an incredible equine therapist and a good friend of mine. Jody spent an afternoon working on Ty and found two vertebrae and four ribs were out. Subsequently he was in a lot of pain. To compensate he was using his body in such away that he appeared to be a neurological disaster.

However, after treating him, and with subsequent daily treatment from me, Ty is getting noticeably better. Are we out of the woods?  Not yet. But I can see the edge of the trees from here. In hindsight, what strikes me about this episode is that I feared the worst. Watching my equine mentor struggle to move and get up. Watching him lose his balance and fall over, but just keep trying…it was hard. I wasn’t going to give up until I had exhausted every possible attempt at helping him. Inside, though, part of me was preparing to say goodbye to a beloved friend. Ty however, had no intention of giving up. He is a source of strength to the herd and also to me.

Part of my mantra for life is: I will never have regrets. Part of ensuring living with no regrets is taking every possible opportunity, exploring every avenue, and more than that, I’m realizing, doing something to enrich the lives of others. I think that is a basic human instinct – probably instilled in us to preserve our species. With horses, I am convinced that is my purpose: through training and working with them, I can enrich their lives. The results speak for themselves: horses have more confidence, ability and freedom in motion. They realize success and reward, peace and contentment. They develop an attitude of try and want to work for you, no matter what your discipline or event.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide those things to another living being. Oddly enough, now that I think about it, they have given me the exact same things.

When Ty eventually passes, I know that I will have done all I can to make his life the best it could have been. I know that he is aware of that. I will have made the best of that window of opportunity: we have learned from each other, and we have helped and supported each other. We have existed in a space of peace that we are able to create and share with each other. One look in his eye tells me that.

 

Ty in 2014

Ty in his typical pose in the fall of 2014.

It’s difficult in our lives to devote enough time to the things we care about. It’s also easy to take something or someone for granted. And it’s understandable: we are busy with jobs, raising families, maintaining the farm or any number of countless tasks. It’s so easy to spread ourselves thin. In our busy lives it’s important to find valuable time to spend with our horses. To learn from them. To share with them. To give to them. They’re not dirtbikes to be used at an event and then put in the garage until the next race. They’re living, thinking, intelligent beings that have many many lessons to teach us.

Lessons about how to be a human being.

If you’re open to allowing yourself to make positive changes in your life – a horse has a wealth of information to show you how to do that.

It’s right there waiting for you. Make the most of it.

Scott Phillips, November 2014

Need a Bridge Moved?

Need a bridge moved? We get some fun opportunities here at Alberta Carriage Supply, but the chance to move a bridge into the back country with horses was one we were happy to take on.

David Farran with Dick & Duke, Terry and Linda Bailey driving Leroy (LeRoy) & Lulu, and myself and my wife Marsha drove Hank & Pete.

The Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBCTA) is a purely volunteer group of Bragg Creek residents that are working hard to design, build and maintain trails and pathways for the benefit of residents and visitors of Bragg Creek.

The group had pre-built a bridge and needed to get the pieces to the construction site for re-assembly. That’s where we came in.

Being a flat-lander and not knowing the trail, I overloaded the gear. We got stuck in a bog on a hill and had to unload a portion of the load on the side of the trail and pick it up on the second trip in.

We did get the job done in three trips though, 6 power poles (32 feet long) and all the small pieces as well!

If you are interested in volunteering or donating, check out their website www.braggcreektrails.org

Dale Befus

Mail Attachment-5 Mail Attachment-2 Mail Attachment-1 Moving a Bridge Mail Attachment-18 Mail Attachment-15 Mail Attachment-13

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

 

Kindness Matters

Through the years I have been inspired by many horse people, some well known and some just “average” people. My desire to be a better horse person has also been inspired by a young person who wasn’t involved in horses at all. She lived life with many health challenges but did so with an uncommon joy and positive outlook. Her motto in life was “Kindness Matters”. She showed me that the essence of all things good (like happiness, peace and laughter) came not with WHAT we do but HOW we do things. Through kindness in her day to day actions she brought a vibrancy that motivated others.

My daughter and Kahlo

My daughter and Kahlo

Remembering that motto when I work with my horses is like a key that opens doors in building a partnership with them. I have on occasion seen people interact with my horses who are impatient,frustrated and punitive in their responses to undesirable behavior by the horse. It seems to me that those undesirable behaviors only increased in frequency and intensity as a result. I have also seen other people interact with my horses who can set clear boundaries or expectations of behavior but with patience, tolerance and encouragement which then snowballs into more and more desirable responses and positive motivation by the horse. Acting with kindness seems to be an investment in future behaviour.

In his book, “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell explores the relationship between those in a position of power and those without. Although he is examining human relationships in a political sense, the analogy to the horse human relationship is an easy parallel to draw. In 1970 , Leites and Wolf published the paper “Rebellion and Authority: An Analytical Essay on Insurgent Conflicts”. It basically outlines that those in power don’t have to worry about how the powerless feel about their enforcement as long as the enforcement is severe enough to make the powerless reconsider any further acts of defiance. This belief system explain why some humans feel that punitive measures are useful in horsemanship. I’ve heard the remark after a horse receives a physical punishment for an undesired behavior, “well, he won’t try that again!” History in human conflict proved that this viewpoint had flaws and limitations, just as most horse people will relate a story of a horse that simply will not respond to punitive measures. A new “Principal of Legitimacy” has emerged to promote peace in conflict. Gladwell summarizes this as,”When those in power want obedience from those without, it matters primarily how the powerful choose to behave. Peacefulness exists when those asked to obey feel that they have a voice, the authority must be predictable and the authority must be fair.”. I have found that allowing my horses to explore their options in response to requests, to be consistent in my expectations of their behaviors and to be fair in my attempts to teach them results in a far more peaceful relationship.

Simply, even in horsemanship, Kindness Matters.

One of my favourite horsemanship authors is Mark Rashid, who has also made the connection that Kindness Matters. “it is my belief that becoming aware of how we participate in the world on a daily basis and how we perform our everyday, mundane (and or not so mundane) throughout the day all add to our ability or inability to ultimately develop the kind of awareness and sensitivity it takes to be really good at working with horses….it doesn’t begin with working with our horse. It begins by doing all those everyday things with as much feel and awareness as we possibly can, and then bringing that awareness to our horse.”. I feel the awareness and sensitivity Mark talks about are found within kindness.

I think my friend discovered at a very young age that infusing kindness in how she went about her day to day actions was more important than simply getting them done and embraced it on such a deep level. She has inspired me to find a deeper understanding of it in life and with my horses. She recently lost her battle with her health challenges, but she has inspired many to carry on with her motto “Kindness Matters” and I humbly ask you also to consider how it may apply to you and your horsemanship.

Horses and Kids

Several years ago my neighbor, Chantele, called me. Her good friend, Denise, had recently lost her baby in the final days of her pregnancy. She was understandably distraught, and Chantele thought that a visit to my horses would be a therapeutic distraction. Little did she know, it would be an amazing experience for all of us.

The three of us were soon standing at the rail fence watching my horses. Chip, two months old at the time and always intrigued by visitors, bounded over to us. When he neared Denise though, his playful attitude evaporated. He slowly walked closer to her, and sniffed her.

Lowering his head, he nuzzled her.

The unspoken thought was in all of our minds: He knows you’re a mom.

She put her hand out and touched his neck. He closed his eyes. The communication between the two of them was instinctive. Electric. Emotional. There were no dry eyes.

Kids meet the new horse.

Kids meet the new horse.

Parallels

The human world has many parallels in the animal world. This is understandable, considering we are just another animal species. Parallels manifest themselves in many areas, but one obvious and understood by all is the relationship with infants.

Take, for example, a colt in a herd. He can kick, bite, jump on and basically be a pain to every other horse around him. He is exploring his world, and is permitted to do so. He is engaging behaviour patterns that, although entirely and instinctively horse, allow him to learn through a feedback process: what happens if I do this? Sounds like a human child, doesn’t it?

The herd understands on an instinctive level that the actions of a colt are non-aggressive. If he becomes too annoying, they let him know. But they don’t respond as they would to a rival. They understand he is not a competitor in the ultimate herd order; at least not yet.

Similarly, both colts and adult horses know the difference between human children and adults. It is a beautiful part of nature’s poetry. And one we can capitalize on.

Horses understand kids.

Instinctive understanding

In the Company of Children

My paint horse, Spud, finds his way into many of my articles. Spud is the most mentally active animal I have ever experienced. When I climb on his back, he is aware that it will be an exploration in learning for both of us. He is in a different mental state because he knows he will be put in a position to think through a decision. When he isn’t sure if his decision will be the right one, he worries. Through our training he is learning to trust his decisions, and learn that even if he acts counter to my expectations, that I will coach him on the right path and he will feel great at the end of our ride.

With Spud I must be exceptionally cognizant that all of my actions are positive reinforcement.

Conversely, when a child is on his back, he is immediately in a different mental place. He is happy and calm, with his head down and his eyes half closed. They can pull on his mane or play with his ears. He is totally fine with that.

Why?

It’s because Spud knows that he’s in the company of an infant. And just like a colt, he’s attuned to their innocence. Like a colt, a human child has no ultimate motive or intention – no goals. They are simply full of wonder, play and awe. Sometimes infatuation. As easily as a horse can sense nervousness in an adult, they can sense innocence in a child.

Horses sense the innocence in children

Sensing the innocence

Spud is my first pick when taking a kid for a first ride. He’s the last horse I would put an adult on. My cousin, Deb, recently brought her daughters out to visit. I introduced them to all of my horses, then asked who they wanted to ride. Ashley picked Spud. I wasn’t surprised.

 

 

Capitalize on the Connection

Many of us have stories of children and horses. Sometimes those stories start with, I remember when I was a kid…and go on to relate some tale of a bareback bridle-less canter through the back pasture. We climbed on that horse because it felt right. We didn’t have an agenda for what to accomplish in the hour we allotted to be on his back; all we cared about was having fun with the horse. Do you think the horse knew that? Absolutely.

So as adults, where do we lose that innocence and intrinsic trust? Can we get it back? Can we make use of it? I believe we can.

Zara and Ponkey

Your head is bigger than my whole body!

Our adult lives seem forged in goals, motives and to-do lists. We need to have to have our horse ready for that competition on a specific date, no matter what. A pattern of schedule, competition, pressure and personal agenda. In this rush, we forget about the horses mind.

As adult humans, however, we have the ability to climb above instinctive emotions caused by pressure or fear. We have the ability to fall back on that child-like innocence. We can choose what emotions we feel. And we can use it to our advantage because a horse will sense it.

Spud has been my greatest teacher. If I focus on the mechanics of a physical maneuver I expect him to make, he becomes tense. However if I’m relaxed, smiling on the inside and enjoying the moment; if I’m not focussing solely on his response to my aids, but on our mutual goal as a single unit in the bigger picture, he picks up on that right away. To me, it feels like taking off the padlock and throwing away the chains. My understanding is that it feels the same way to him. My mental state creates a happy-place for him. In those moments we learn, accomplish and succeed.

Try this at Home

Saddle up your horse, climb on him in your pasture or paddock, and do nothing but enjoy the moment. Don’t ask anything of him. Enjoy him. Relax. Use all of your senses to feel him. If he moves off, let him. Just relax and feel what his body is doing. Get in tune with it. Smile a big smile. Think back to when you were a child, and give your horse a treat for a minute: be that kid. Fill your mind with innocence and fun; with awe and love and respect for that animal you are sitting on.

This is a very powerful state of mind. Capture it like a picture on your smartphone. File it so that you can use it again when you need to: Before a show when you’re nervous. When your horse is stressed because he is having trouble comprehending what you’re asking. When you’re frustrated.

Once you have achieved that mental state with your horse, then introduce the exercise by asking your horse to follow your body, not by driving him with your hands and feet.

Your horse might be wondering who this new awesome person is on his back. And you might be surprised at the results.