Are You Expecting Too Much of Yourself or Your Horse?

We all want success and we want it now.  We’ve been taught to “reach for the stars” and set big goals.  As a result, sometimes we expect so much of ourselves and our horses that we are rarely happy with our results.

If you’ve ever said (even to yourself),

“I should be better than this!”

Then you end up feeling like a failure because that “I should be” is really a disguise for that self-defeating old mantra that whispers quietly  “I’m not good enough”.

Failure is not a fact

But what if you are exactly where you should be – where you need to be.

Maybe where you think you should be is simply wishful thinking.  Replace the phrase “should be” with “wish I was” …

  • “I wish I was better than this.”
  • “I wish I was able to …”
  • “I wish I wasn’t so …”

What are you basing your opinion that you “should be …” on?  Who are you comparing yourself to?

There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to riding.  Your results – where you are now – come from not only your physical ability, your competency and your confidence level, but also from your horse’s ability, level of training and confidence.

There is a reason that successful people (you know the ones at the horse shows that always seem to be in the top 3 placings and get Champion awards in not one but multiple classes) do so well.  They put in the hours.  If they haven’t done it themselves then someone else has put the hours into their horse so they can just sit up there, look pretty and – as long as they stay out of the horse’s way – win.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, people who become really good at something – really master it – have spent at least 10000 hours working on that particular thing.  Ten Thousand Hours!  That’s about 3 hours a day for 10 years.  So, if you have been riding for 10 years, but only 1 hour a week, you have only put in about 520 hrs (1 hr x 52 wk x 10 yr).  That’s being generous and assuming you didn’t miss a single hour in any year because of illness, injury, vacations, holidays, etc.

This is not to say that you need to put 10,000 hours into your riding to become good at it –  unless you want to be competitive at the highest levels of the sport.  But, it puts into perspective the amount of time needed to develop a particular level of skill.

Chances are slim to none that you will progress very far in developing mastery of any skill if you only put in 1 hour of practice a week.  Now lots of people enjoy a weekly riding lesson and are quite happy to spend that time in the saddle.  They don’t want or expect to achieve much more than the connection with the horse.

But, if you want to progress in your training – for personal fulfilment or to achieve ribbons, trophies and recognition in the show ring – the once a week hourly ride is not going to get your there.  Most people get discouraged when they feel that they aren’t making progress at the rate they “should” or that they aren’t as good as “her” or “him” or “them”.   We are certainly masters at comparing ourselves to others. We’ve all had more than 10000 hours practicing that skill.  Even if it doesn’t help us.

When our expectations are not in line with our reality ie. your other commitments  & responsibilities don’t allow you to ride 3 -6 hours a week, then you won’t be as successful in the show ring as “that other competitor that wins everything”.  Even if you are a pleasure rider, neither your riding skill nor your horse’s training will progress very far or very fast.

You can either be frustrated with  yourself, your coach and your horse and keep your expectations.  Or, you can adjust your expectations to match the reality of your situation. If the reality is that you can only ride once week, then focus on enjoying that one ride.  The choice is yours … should you decide to make it.

Your Turn

How do your goals & expectations affect your enjoyment of riding?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order from Lulu.com.
 
My paperback book is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

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Horse Training: Handling Your Horse Safely in Spooky Situations

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

It’s a bit delayed, but seasonal fall weather has finally arrived where I live in Southern Ontario.  One day it felt like summer and the next day it was definitely fall.  These sudden changes in weather, drops in the barometric pressure and, of course, winds can affect the behaviour of some horses.  Just leading your horse to or from the paddock or barn can be nerve wracking.

There are 3 common mistakes people make when their horses become anxious or spooky.

Mistake #1 – Anticipating that your horse will behave badly and becoming tense as a result.  Of course, we all want to be safe when we are around our horses.  They are, after all, very large, powerful animals that can hurt us without intending to.  But, as a herd animal who is very sensitive to body language, when you get tense, your horse picks up on that and his tension increases.

What to do instead – Recognize that there is the potential for your horse to be anxious and take steps to calm yourself before you take your horse out of the paddock or barn.  Breathing in calm, deep, slow breaths is the best way to calm your flow of adrenaline and release tension from your body.  It also helps you stay mentally in the moment.

Mistake #2 – Holding on tightly to or shortening up on the lead rope or reins.  It’s human nature to want to stop the horse’s movement.  Notice how often you are telling your horse to ‘stop it’ or ‘whoa’.  As a flight animal, feeling that his ability to move away from perceived danger adds to his tension and stress level.

What to do instead – Send your horse away from you and, if you have the room, in a circle around you.  This requires giving him some more rope and that you aren’t holding your lead rope or reins tightly under his chin. Keeping him out of your space means he won’t be running over top of you if he panics.  Sending him away addresses his need to move which helps him feel less stress.

Mistake #3 – Getting in your horse’s ace.  This happens in 2 ways.  The first happens when you jerk or pull on the lead rope or bridle.  The second happens when you turn to face your horse ‘head’ on.  Both reactions also comes from our human nature to stop the horse’s movement.  The horse’s response is to feel more stress as he feels threatened and typically throws his head up resulting in increased adrenaline release.

What to do instead – At the first sign that your horse is stressed, take a steady, supple contact on the lead rope or reins.  With a gentle, rocking downwards pressure ask your horse to lower his head.  If he tries to raise his head, use blocking resistance.  Do not try to pull or force his head down.  If he’s too stressed to lower his head or pushes through your blocking resistance, then put some space between you (see previous point).  Lowering his head helps to bring down the level of adrenaline so that his stress level does not escalate.

If you slow down, breath and calm your mind, then you will be able to stay in the moment and be pro-active rather than reactive.  Your body language will communicate more calmness to your horse and help to decrease his anxiety.

Your Turn

Does the weather affect your horse?  Sharing your experiences or questions is simple.  Just leave a comment or share your thoughts below or through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Share this post to spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Enjoy your journey!

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For more practical and in depth tips on improving your Confidence and your Partnership with your horse, order my book “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order from Lulu.com.
 
My paperback book is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.com!

 

Interested in organizing a Confident Horsemanship clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you notify me and include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

Are You Riding Your Horse By the Seat of Your Pants?

Video

A new student has recently started taking riding lessons from me.  She has taken riding lessons before. In her other riding lessons, she was trotting and even cantered once – sort of on purpose.

In her lessons with me, she is on a lunge line (well – the horse she is riding is on the lunge line). In my riding lessons, students stay on the lunge line until they are able to steer and control the horse without pulling on the reins.

My new student is finding this very different from her previous lessons. She used to pull the reins to steer.  But now she is noticing the connection between her body and the horse’s body. How the horse’s body moves and how her body moves with his movement when she releases tension from her muscles and joints. How she can steer and control the horse when she uses her seat and her legs in specific ways that work with the timing of the horse’s movement.  How the horse relaxes when she relaxes.

She is finding how wonderful riding feels when it all comes together.

And when you learn to ride this way – with an independent seat and reins that only act as boundaries – you can ride like Richard Spooner did in the video above.

When Mr. Spooner knew that he and his horse were in trouble he dropped his reins, followed his horse’s movement and trusted his horse to get them out of the mess safely. And, his horse had enough trust, balance and self carriage to get the job done.

That’s what trust looks like.

That’s what partnership looks like.

That’s what good riding looks like.

What would happen if you dropped your reins? Would your horse stay balanced and listen to your seat?

I would love to hear what the greatest challenge is that you are facing with your horse right now.  What challenges have you faced and overcome?  Share in the comments below.

If you want to work with me live and in person to learn more strategies and techniques for increasing your confidence, improving your horse’s behaviour and building a stronger partnership with your horse, visit my website or contact me about hosting a clinic or workshop at your location.

Enjoy your journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship – Putting you and your horse in good hands.

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

Confident Rider #1 Tip ~ Breathe

The following post is an excerpt from my book ‘Confident Rider Confident Horse’:

“Breathe with Calm Focused Breath

I teach this technique to all of my students – and I use it myself.  When you’re stressed, anxious, or fearful, you breathe with short, shallow breaths, without any rhythm, and often even hold your breath.  This keeps those stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) going through your body.  This is what makes you feel nauseous, shake and sweat.  Your heart pounds and your body tenses.  Your head aches. You go “fetal” – tipping forward in the saddle. None of these symptoms of stress are fun – for you or for your horse.  Horses are incrediblyTip 1 Breath sensitive to the body language and energy of the people around them.  They even mirror your breathing.  This is why your stress and tension can affect how your horse feels.  As soon as you recognize the first symptom of fear, changing your breathing is the fastest way to help you to feel more calm and confident. Try this breathing exercise:

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, your back straight and your chest open.  Let your hands rest gently on your lap.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Put one hand on your belly (at your navel) and the other hand on your chest
  • Focus on your breath
  • Count to 5 slowly as you inhale and feel your belly expand and then your chest lift slightly
  • Hold your breath for a count of 3
  • Exhale slowly for a count of 5.  Feel your chest drop and your belly deflate moving back towards your spine.
  • Your heart may pump a bit more to start with as it adjusts to the new way you are breathing.  It will soon pass and you will feel more calm and relaxed.
  • Repeat several more times – inhaling for a count of 5, holding for 3, exhaling for a count of 5 – feeling the movement your belly out as in inhale and in as you exhale.
  • Practice this new way of breathing as often as you can throughout your day.  Anytime you feel stressed or anxious, take a few slow, CALM FOCUSED BREATHS and notice how quickly you calm down.
  • The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.

This way of breathing allows your mind to slow down and relax. When you are in a relaxed state you’re better able to see things as they really are because you’re not experiencing the cluttered thinking caused by your emotions. With practice, you’ll be able to calm your mind using your calm focused breathing exercise any time. This practice allows you to respond to stressful events with a level head, and you’ll find that your emotions are less in control of you.  The next time you feel anxiety or fear creeping into your mind, remember that you have a choice.  You can react from your emotions and complicate the situation or you can respond in a way that encourages you and your horse to feel more calm and confident. With calm focused breathing, and the relaxation it brings, you’re always only a few short minutes away from the stress relief you crave. Instead of reacting negatively when you feel anxious or afraid, you’ll look for solutions and feel more confident.  The choice is always yours. In the meantime, take a few minutes today to practice your calm focused breath, clear your mind of its worries, and relax. Do the same tomorrow and the next day. Like physical exercise, the benefits of this breathing exercise are accumulative. The more you practice, the more benefits you’ll receive and the better you’ll become at staying calm and building your confidence.”

Adjusting your breathing can also help improve your performance – even when you aren’t feeling nervous.  The authors of the book, Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath at a Time, interviewed people who push their bodies to the limits – professional athletes, dancers, fighter pilots, archers, astronauts, etc.   All of them use breathing techniques to focus their minds, keep their emotions under control and to get every ounce of performance from their bodies. 

Try the Calm, Focused Breath exercise and then share your experiences in the comments below.  Also, share any other breathing techniques you have found to be helpful in keeping you focused and calm, and enhancing your performance.

Enjoy the journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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How to Lunge Your Horse Successfully

This article was originally posted in August 2012.  But, I thought it was worth repeating because I see many people struggling with lunging their horses in a way that benefits the horse.

At a recent clinic, one woman had given up lunging her horse because he was so difficult to control.

Others are afraid of hurting their horses (or getting hurt themselves), because their horses behave ‘wildly’ on the lunge line.

And, then there are the people (like the one who sent me the following email) who are frustrated because their horses simply ‘won’t go out to lunge’ and always turn in to face the person.

                                                                                   

“I have a young Gelding who was broken in without any lunging experience. When it come to introducing this to him it seems like we are working backwards. I am really struggling to teach him to understand what i am asking of him. We get a couple of good circles which always follows with him turning to face me. Would really appreciate some advice on how to improve this in the correct way. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Regards Emma”

                                                                                   

“My horse won’t lunge” is a common complaint of many horse owners.  Lunging can be a positive and effective way of working with a horse when it is done in a way that helps the horse be balanced and relaxed.  Some of the problems people have when lunging their horses are:

  • the horse won’t go forward
  • the horse turns in and faces the person
  • the horse bucks, rears or bolts away from the person
  • the horse races around the circle unbalanced and counter bent

If your horse won’t lunge properly and safely then the problem just might be your alignment and where you are sending energy in relation to your horse.

When you’re lunging, you’re really just pushing the horse around you in a circle.  Since horses communicate through body language, they are super sensitive to your posture, energy and alignment to him.  Alignment simply means where your core hips and shoulders are aimed in relation to your horse’s head, shoulder and hips.

If you lunge using the traditional method I was first taught, you create a triangle with your horse as the base, you as the point and your arms as the sides.  Then you lead with your left foot (lunging to the left).  The problem with this position – especially for sensitive horses – is that the horse reads the line of energy coming from the left side of your body and that energy gets in his way.  Depending on your horse’s personality, he will either turn in to face you, refuse to move forward, or buck, rear or bolt away.

The photo below illustrates the best position for lunging your horse.  My core or centre (where my belt buckle is) is aimed into the centre of the horse’s shoulder.  My left shoulder is open – that is pulled slightly away from  – the horse’s head.  My right hip is angled towards the horse’s hip. I am walking around a small circle with my right foot stepping slightly towards the horse’s flank and my left foot stepping slightly towards his girth.

Lunging Alignment

Photo credit – Deborah Wilson

One way to get a feel for this posture and way of stepping is to push a wheel barrow in a circle.  If you want the wheelbarrow to move in a circle to the left, you must angle your body slightly into the arc of the circle.  Your left shoulder (on the inside of the arc) will be open or slightly behind the right (outside) shoulder.  Your hips will be aligned with your shoulders.  Your right foot will step forward and slightly out of the arc.  Your left foot will step forward and slightly towards the outside of the arc.  Try taking the same position and stepping in the same way when you lunge your horse.

From this position, you can direct your horse’s forward movement while controlling where his shoulders and hips go by sending pushing energy to the appropriate part of his body.  You can talk to him through your own body – your hip, arm or core can all send pushing energy.  If necessary, the end of your lunge line or a lunge whip can be used to create stronger driving energy.  For example, to ask your horse to go forward, push into his flank with your nearest arm or by swinging the end of your lunge line or the lash of a lunge whip towards the flank area.  The flank is the “button” where one horse pushes or bites another horse to tell him or her to “go forward”.

Always bring the rope or the whip’s lash from the ground upwards towards the horse.  For more push, continue with this movement increasing the RPM’s (rounds per minute) of the lash in this circular movement.  You don’t need to hit your horse with the whip, just twirl it faster.  This movement is much less aggressive to the horse than snapping the whip.

Correct lunging alignment

Walk around on a circle – core aimed at your horse’s shoulder. In this photo, the woman is bringing the whip towards her horse’s hip to push her hindquarters out of the circle a bit more.

The photo above (taken at a recent clinic) shows how you can use the same technique to send your horse’s hips or shoulders away from you.  For example, if your horse is pulling out of the circle, you would push his hips out which will bring his front end in If your horse is turning in towards you, you would block or push his shoulders out.

Once you are working with the correct alignment between yourself and the horse, and pushing the right “buttons”, your horse should go forward in a relaxed, willing and cooperative way.

Click here to watch my video showing the correct alignment for lunging.

Try adjusting your alignment when lunging your horse then share your experiences in the comments below.Enjoy the journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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Horse Training Through a Child’s Eyes

“That horse looks angry, Mummy.” That was a statement made by a 6 year old child watching a popular clinician work with a young horse at a recent expo.

The bleachers were crowded  and overflowing with people enthralled by the demonstration.  This was day 2 of a 3 day series in which the popular clinician was starting a young horse under saddle.  Each session was an hour.  The horse, he had told the audience, before coming to the expo had been living a quiet life in a field and, although he had had a rider on his back a handful of times, he had not been worked for months.

On day 1, Popular Clinician, had done some ground work with the horse, saddled and bridled him and worked him at walk, trot and canter.

On day 2, he did the same.  P.C. worked with the horse before his session and the youngster was huffing and puffing as the session began.  His tail was clamped (a sign of fear) and he was showing obvious signs of stress – to be expected for a horse who was taken from a field and put into a small ring in front of about 1000 people.  After the work he did in day 1, you can bet he was feeling some sore muscles.

As P.C. worked the horse, he explained his training philosophy, talked about his travels and had the audience laughing with his funny stories.   The audience didn’t seem to be concerned about how the horse was feeling about what was going on.  But, the 6 year old noticed.

The 6 year old noticed because she wasn’t paying attention to the man in the middle of the ring.  She was watching the horse and she noticed how the horse was feeling because she noticed his body language.

There are many ways to train a horse.  Some trainers like to get the job done fast. Some prefer to take more time.  At expos, the sessions are often about keeping the audience entertained.

There are times in any training session when a horse might express fear or anger.  But, it is my belief that those should be ‘moments’ and there should be very few of them – especially if I want to earn the horse’s trust and respect, and build his confidence.  A sort of respect can be gained through fear.  But, that comes from ‘learned helplessness’ and it’s not the type of ‘respect’ I want to have.  Trust is never gained through fear.

As the horse sees that the trainer is not a threat to his safety, then he will give more expressions of calmness and relaxing.  The horse will feel good about what is happening.  He will feel safe.  He will give his trust and respect to the trainer.  He will even enjoy the work he is asked to do.

Next time you’re watching a popular clinician or a local horse trainer, try observing like a 6 year old.  If you’re watching their videos on YouTube, turn off the sound.  Pay less attention to what the trainer is saying and put your attention on what the horse is saying.  Do you like what you see?

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
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Helping the Horse with Separation Anxiety

Aside

Question: “I recently adopted a horse from a rescue. She is kind, but nervous and gets really anxious when taken out of her paddock. She has had some down time at the new farm and has settled in with the herd she is turned out with. I’m not sure what to do and now I am getting nervous about handling her.  I am not very confident, but I do want to win the trust of this mare.”

Answer: This is not an uncommon scenario for anyone who has adopted or rescued a horse from the race track, a rescue facility or an auction. Giving these horses time just to adjust to the new environment and routines is as important as any training you do with them. There are so many adjustments they have to make in their new lives.  Horses coming from these types of situations may have had multiple owners or trainers, and may even have suffered from neglect or abuse. That is a tough life that does not engender much trust, respect or confidence in people or unfamiliar situations.

For the first few weeks (even months), simply focus on building a bond with your horse. All of your interactions with her should be centred on building mutual trust, respect and confidence between you. Having this bond will help resolve any herd separation anxiety.  By focusing on bonding with this mare through ground work – grooming, hand walking, lunging, long lining etc. – you can change this dynamic so that she feels as safe with you as she does with her herd mates.

Initially, to keep her stress level as low as possible, work with your horse where she is still close to her herd. This may be in the paddock (if it is safe) or just on the other side of the fence.

  1. Encourage her to come into a calm shape.  When a horse feels calm, her poll is level with or lower than her withers.  Picture a horse dozing or grazing.  You can change how your horse feels by changing her posture.   With contact on your lead rope, gently rock her head side to side with downwards pressure – be careful not to pull her head down.  Keep contact on the lead rope but don’t pull or jerk on it.  Jerking or pulling will make her feel more anxiety, cause her to throw her head up and keep adrenaline running through her system.
  2. Respect her need to move when she is anxious.  Remember that horses are flight animals and asking her to stand still will only cause her more stress.  Direct her movement by calmly sending her around you in a circle.   Having a long lead rope or even a lunge line allows you to send her a safe distance away from you if she gets too rambunctious.  
  3. Protect your personal space by keeping clear boundaries about how close you allow her to come to you.  Ask her to bend around you by massaging her girth just about where your leg hangs when you are riding.

Click on this link to watch a short video showing how this technique was used to help a mare with separation anxiety in the barn.

When your horse is able to maintain this calm shape, then gradually expand the distance from her herd. If either of you get too stressed, move back to your comfort zone where you can both exhale and regain calmness. This process might take several sessions, but is well worth the time and effort in the long run.

When you adopt a horse from a rescue, think of that horse as a foster child who has been passed from home to home and has never developed a trusting relationship with a human. He or she needs time to adjust to the new environment, de-stress physically and mentally, and build trust, respect and confidence in the new situation.  With consistency and calmness, your horse’s behaviour will improve and she will feel safe with you.   Enjoy the journey.

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My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”.  Click here to order.

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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How You Can Improve Your Horse’s Balance

A follower on my Facebook page recently sent a message looking for an answer to her mare’s head swinging at the trot.

“I own an appaloosa/quarter horse mare since May 2012. Ever since I’ve had her she has had this problem with her head where she will sort of lightly balance it from left to right (at the trot only) with or without tack or a rider. We have been wondering since the beginning what could be causing this but no one has a clue. She seems very healthy, if it would cause her pain, I tell myself I would have been bucked off a long time ago.”  

Here is a video she included with her message (shared with the sender’s permission).


What I see causing the horse to move her head about is imbalance.  There are 3 factors that affect your horse’s balance.

1) Bio-mechanics  – Horses use their neck and head to balance.  As the horse moves, the neck and head swing over each front foot as it comes forward.  So, as the right front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing to the right.  As the left front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing the left.

Humans use our arms to balance.   When we lose our balance, we throw our arms about to try to save ourselves from falling down.  Horses do much the same with their neck and head.

2) Alignment – There are 3 areas of alignment that are necessary for both you and your horse be balanced and relaxed:

a)      Spine:

  • You – the straight line from your “ear through your shoulder through your hip through your heel”.
  • Your Horse – the horizontal alignment from his nose to his tail.

b) Rectangle of Shoulders & Hips – this is the same for both horse & rider.  The hips and shoulders are lined up with each other creating a rectangle.

  • You – your shoulders stay over your hips.
  • Your Horse – his hind feet track directly behind his front feet creating 2 tracks.

c) Horse and Rider – You and your horse should be aligned to each other

  • Your belly button aims between your horse’s ears
  • Your shoulders align with your horses shoulders;
  • Your hips align with your horse’s hips.

3) Riding the Bend – A horse with a left bend will be balanced turning left or leg yielding right, but will be unbalanced turning right.  With a right bend, he is balanced turning right or leg yielding left, but will be unbalanced turning left.  

In the video above, the horse is often counter bent.  As the rider turns her body in the direction they are traveling, she loses her alignment with her horse.  This puts her horse off balance and she moves her head to try to re-balance.

If the rider reads her horse’s bend and adjusts her position to stay aligned with her, they will both be more balanced.

The following is an excerpt about bend from my soon to be published book, “Confident Rider, Confident Horse”)  

“Do not assume that because you are going to the left your horse has a left bend.  This is the number one cause of misalignment between horse and rider.  Practise reading your horse’s bend by looking at his neck from the withers to his ears.  Keep your belly button aimed between his ears so that your spine and his spine are always aligned to each other.  At the rising trot, adjust your post so that you are rising as your horse’s outside shoulder is going forward – that is the shoulder that is on the outside of his bend not the shoulder closest to the rail.  You may have been taught to “rise and fall with the leg on the wall” – meaning that you rise as the shoulder closest to the rail is going forward.  However, this teaching assumes that the horse has a true bend.

In order to turn and remain balanced, your horse’s bend must match the arc of the turn.  A stiff, unbending horse’s hind quarters will swing out.  If he is over bent (sometimes also called over flexed) through the neck, his shoulders will fall into the turn if his nose is tipped out of the turn or they will push out if his nose is tipped into the turn.  A counter bent horse will be unbalanced.

‘True bend’ and ‘counter bend’ are terms used to describe the horse’s bend relative to the direction he is traveling.  True bend means the horse is bent in the direction he is traveling.  So, if you are walking on the left rein (counter clockwise) and your horse is bending around your left leg so that his spine is mirroring the line you are walking, then he is in true bend.  If he is bending around your right leg when you are on the left rein, then his is in counter bend.  In order to help her horse feel balanced, calm, supple and relaxed, it is important to be able to read which bend he has at any given moment.

When talking about ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aids I am referring to them relative to the horse’s bend.  So, regardless of the direction you are traveling, the inside leg and inside rein are on the inside of the bend.  The outside leg and outside rein on are on the outside of the bend.  If your horse is bending right, your right leg and rein are the inside aids; your left leg and rein are the outside aids.  When bending left, your left leg and rein are the inside aids; your right leg and rein are the outside aids.

Encourage your horse to bend around your inside seat bone and leg by keeping your leg just behind the girth or cinch of your saddle.  Push his barrel over as you feel your inside hip drop.  Help your horse to keep his hip in line by putting your outside leg back slightly and pushing his hip over when you feel your outside hip drop.  If the inside shoulder is dropping in, push it over by using your upper inside leg as your horse’s shoulder moves forward.  The horse can only respond to your push when his weight is off the leg you want him to move.

When working on improving your horse’s bend from your seat and leg aids, recognize when he tries a little.  Stop pushing him and reward him with a wither scratch and a short break before asking again.  Remember to reward yourself as well for a job well done.”

Click on this link to see a video showing how I use bend to bring my mare into a relaxed and balanced frame.

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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Is It My Horse or Is it Me?

I received an email the other day from someone asking for help with one of her 3 horses.  She has ridden and owned her own horses for several years and has no problems with the two geldings she started with.  But, the gelding she recently acquired has her frustrated and looking for answers.

Trainers have told this woman that she is too passive with her horses and that she ‘lets them get away with too much”.

The frustrations and challenges this woman has with her horse are common – especially with a new horse.  I’ve shared her email below to give you her full story.  Then I’ve focused on 3 points that stood out to me and gave me a good idea of what’s happening between her and this horse.

“My two geldings I’ve had this entire time have never challenged me. They’re pretty laid back, low-ranking horses.  I just got a new horse that’s a whole different story and he has exposed me. The trainer who sold him to me said he is going to take you to another level.  He also told me he was a “in your hip pocket” kind of horse.  So when he first start nudging with head and nipping when I pet him, I just thought he was being playful and friendly.  My other two horses don’t do this.   I wasn’t prepared.  It was subtle at first, then got worse and worse.  Then one day he literally ran over me trying to get in stall and push another horse out. That’s when I Googled for answers and discovered my horse had lost respect for me as his alpha horse and he was now the leader.

I start reading all I could on what to do to regain his respect and assume my role again.  So I basically started “herding” him in every situation I could.  I “free lunged” him in the arena and did the join up and had the licking of lips, yielding hindquarters, all that.   Even when I go out to feed twice a day I herd him to his feed instead of letting him walk behind me like I used to. But still, I felt like there was still something missing.  

The “willingness” to follow me or be my partner is not there. So I found myself still searching because I feel like his attitude is “I will move because you are forcing me to, but I don’t like you and I’m not doing it because I want to.”

I guess my question is, is this something that is going to come in time, or am I possibly being a bully by not understanding that even standing in the wrong position while herding him or using the lunge whip could be sending the wrong vibe?  Geez, this is so complicated to me.

Just when I think I have it right, by being lots more aggressive, I see that maybe I’m bordering on being bullying, causing him not to trust me, and still not getting the desired relationship, which is one built on respect and trust.  I just know that even after I lunge him and he licks his lips and follows me all around, if I attempt to rub him on neck or head, he will still nudge and semi-nip, like he is annoyed.

I am having trouble leading him as well.  I read that a horse is more confident following while being lead, so I tried that, but he is constantly trying to bump into me, plus it feels like he is “pushing” me, so I don’t think I should do that. Then when I lead him from shoulder, I am constantly having to bump my elbow to keep him out of space and he gets all wide-eyed and acts all offended.  

I am so discouraged right now.  I just want to get something right.  I feel like I can’t touch him, pet him, reward him, because when you give him an inch, he takes a mile. I will take any advice you can offer.  You have made the most sense to me than all the other articles combined!!! Thank you!

As I like to say, “you don’t always get the horse you want; you get the horse you need”.   But, I have good news for you – it may be simpler to change your relationship with your horse than you think.  I’ve picked out 3 points from the email that stuck out for me and give a pretty good idea of what is going on in this relationship.

1) “So when he first started nudging with me with his head and nipping when I pat him, I just thought he was being playful and friendly.  If I attempt to rub him on neck or head, he will still nudge and semi-nip, like he is annoyed.”  

Your horse is telling you that he does not like his face and neck being touched.   This is an ‘intimate’ area for horses and we need to earn the right to be in there.  I relate it to meeting someone you have just met or someone you don’t know very well who assumes to give you a great, big bare hug. It’s not a very comfortable feeling.  Some people just stand there politely and tolerate it.  Other people might have a more ‘volatile’ reaction – from stepping away to put some distance between them and the other person or even pushing the person away.

Humans greet each other face to face.  We share this trait with our dog and cat pets because it is a predator based behaviour.  Watch how horses approach each other when they are being passive or friendly.  They extend their lowered neck and head softly towards the other horse (or human).  The other horse extends his/her neck and they exchange breath. If they are bonded, they come closer bending their bodies away from each other and share in some mutual grooming – generally on the withers or along the back.

Only when horses are challenging or telling another horse to move out of their way do they approach with a high head and strong energy.  Going ‘head to head’ is aggressive, bullying body language in horses – picture 2 stallions fighting.  This is what colts and geldings are mimicking when they play halter tag.  Predators also approach the head and neck.

When you want to pat your horse, approach with softened body language (just soften the energy coming from your core), and walk in an arc to his shoulder.  Rub or scratch his withers (horses don’t pat each other).  This is the sweet spot that all horses like to have scratched.  Make sure you are standing with your weight away from his head/neck.  By that I mean, don’t cock your hip towards his head.  Try this with your horse and let me know how it goes.

2) So I basically started “herding” him in every situation I could.  I “free lunged” him in the arena and did the join up and had the licking of lips, yielding hindquarters, etc.  Even when I go out to feed twice a day I herd him to his feed instead of letting him walk behind me like I used to.  

Only horses that are bullies herd other horses all the time.  Instead of constantly asking him to move, enforce your personal space boundaries.  Carry a whip or a rope with you if necessary and just use it to extend your arm.  Keep it low – pointing at the ground and only bringing up as high as your waist if your horse needs a stronger message.  Move the whip back and forth to define your bubble.  Some horse’s are sensitive enough that just pointing the end of the whip towards them will get them to back off.  Others might need a stronger energy coming from twirling the lash. Always bring the lash from the ground up towards the horse because this is less aggressive than bringing it the other way.

When you put a new horse in with a herd, there is usually a bit of running for a few minutes.  But, soon everyone settles down and one horse (usually the 2nd in the herd hierarchy) takes on the job of keeping the new horse out of the herd.  She decides how close the new horse can come and as soon as she crosses the line, #2 chases her out.  Once she is outside of that line, #2 leaves her alone.  This is simply defining personal space. Eventually, that space gets smaller and smaller until the new horse establishes her place in the herd hierarchy.

3) I constantly have to bump my elbow to keep him out of space and he gets all wide-eyed and acts all offended.  

When you have established your personal space with your horse in the field, you may find that it is much easier to lead him without him crowding you.  There are two other things that might be causing this problem however:

i) If you are standing in just in front of his shoulder when you lead him, you are in that sensitive head/neck zone.

ii) If your core (belly button) is aiming towards his head/neck.

Both of these things relate to your alignment to your horse and can cause him to turn his head away from you which then causes his shoulder to push into you.  So you are constantly fixing what you are inadvertently causing.

When you lead from his shoulder, your hip should be lined up with the middle of his shoulder.  Your core and his spine should be on parallel tracks.  So, if there were laser beams coming out of your centre and your horse’s nose, they would look like train tracks in front of you.

The photo below shows me leading a horse from the shoulder with correct alignment.

Image

When establishing a relationship with your horse based on mutual trust and respect, don’t mistake being a ‘leader’ with being a bully or being a ‘friend’ with being a push-over.  The ideal relationship should be more like that of a bonded pair within the herd.  Although one horse will yield to the other, there is rarely any aggression between them and they enjoy hanging out together.

Isn’t that what you want with your horse?

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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Overcome Your Fears By Becoming More Curious

I believe a great tool for overcoming fear is developing more curiousity.   When you get stuck in fear, you create barriers that fill you with anxiety and prevent you from moving forward, from learning and from growing.  You stay stuck in the same place or on the same path.  Fear closes you down.

Curiousity, on the other hand, opens you up.  You are filled with anticipation and excitement.  You ask questions.  You learn and you grow.  You try different paths.  It becomes an adventure.

Your emotions come from the things that you focus your mind on.  Allow your mind to focus on negative thoughts and to create stories about possible negative outcomes and you feel fearful.  Give your mind something else to focus on and you change your emotions.

For example, you can focus on the ‘what if’s’ of a certain situation.  What if my horse bucks

Rearing Horse

Fear says “Oh no! I’m going to get hurt!’
Curiousity says “What caused him to behave this way? How can I make him feel calmer? What does he need from me?”++–

or bolts or rears or kicks me?  Your mind will try to protect you by warning you not to put yourself in danger.  It will create the worst case scenario – if you let it.  But if you ask a question like ‘how can I’, you change your mind’s focus. You’ve given it a problem to solve in a more positive way.  Your mind wants to give you answers – that’s its whole purpose.

So, try this.  What is the ‘what if’ question that your mind usually asks when your fear is triggered?  Write it down and then write down all the things that flow through your mind.  Don’t censor yourself.  Just let it flow and get it all down on paper (or your favourite electronic device if you prefer).  Keep writing until there is nothing left to say.  Notice how you feel while you are doing this exercise.

Now, ask yourself a question about ‘how can I ….?’  For example, how can I make sure my horse isn’t going to buck?   Write it down.  You might have to sit with this for a while.  Be patient.  If anything comes to mind, write it down.  If your mind tries to go back to ‘what if’ just calmly tell it to stop and focus on ‘how can I’.   Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an answer write away.  Carry on with your day.  You’ll probably get an answer when you’re not thinking about it.  Write it down whenever it comes to you.  Notice how you feel when you are focusing on the question and when you get an answer.

When I was working through my own fear issues, I became more curious about my horse’s body language – were there any subtle cues he was giving that I might have been missing.  I paid closer attention and developed more awareness.  I became more curious about what was happening in my mind and body when my fear was triggered.  I became more curious about what triggered my fears.  I kept peeling away layers, learning and growing.  I developed skills to help manage my fear.

What would happen if you replaced fear with curiousity?  I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
www.facebook.com/ConfidentHorsemanshp
Facebook Group – Horseback Riding Solutions with Anne Gage
www.twitter.com/AnneGage

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