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Old habits vs new habits: in horses and in people

Most of us are at least somewhat aware of our own habits. You probably recognize that you have a routine when getting ready for bed each night or the way you fold your cloths. We become especially aware of those habits if someone interrupts or changes them. Where did you learn that habit? How strong is the habit? What would it take to change it?

Successful peopleIn the last six months I have done more trail riding than I did in the last ten years. It was an interesting revelation in my old habits vs my new ones. I would have guessed that the rider I have become in the last 25 years would be the rider that hit the trail…but no. The rider I was as a teen when I logged most of my trail riding hours quickly showed up. Habits that had been lying dormant for many years quickly surfaced. My knees hurt after only an hour or so in the saddle. How could this be? I regularly ride for many hours a day in an arena. Same horse. Same saddle.

Different rider.

The rider I was years ago was more of a passenger on trail rides, not an active rider. As soon as I was aware that my old habit had shown up I was able to switch and become a more active rider again but the point remains; unless changed in those setting the old habits are still there.

It was a fun adventure every time I went out on a trail. The old habits meeting the new habits in my body while my mind observed it all.

I was recently working a horse that I believe already has some ‘habits’ that she has learned. Early on in her training she was allowed to be excitable, fresh and emotional during the first part of each work session. She would eventually come around but I now suspect that this has become a habit with her. The biggest clue is that the first ten minutes of a workout she is ready to come unglued. Almost anything can set her off; a bag, a pole, or simply lunging. She expects to be crazy. Day after day as I work her I see a horse that really isn’t scared of the bag or the pole…but expects to be emotionally out of control for the first 10 minutes.

I didn’t start her but if I could go back I would have changed the pattern early on. This horse is carrying on the ‘pattern’ even though she isn’t really excited. Interesting food for thought.

Can you think of an area where you have habits that you do, only because you learned them early on…even though they don’t benefit you now?

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Life, Thought provoking, Video

 

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With all the travel you’re doing has the climate change affected the horses?

“Stacy, With all the travel you’re doing has the climate change affected the horses any? Do you do or give them anything extra? I know from driving a truck you can be in shorts and 90 degree weather and in 24 hours be in sub freezing temps. It caused a lot of cold symptoms with me.”-Jeff B.

We haven’t had issues with the travel negatively affecting the horses. There are probably several reasons for this. We knew we were going to be traveling to a variety of climates with the horses so we began blanketing them in the fall. This has given us the ability to regulate their ‘coats’ easily. We have seen other horses that were hauled into the warm weather in Arizona that had grown full winter coats. At night the temperatures dropped and we put blankets on ours and during the day the temperatures were in the mid to high 70’s and our horses could be naked. The other horses didn’t have that flexibility. Does the reduced heat stress make life easier on the horses? My guess is that it did and may have helped us keep them healthy.

We have kept their feed consistent although we do buy hay along the way. It has been easy to get consistency in the hay because most of it is coming from irrigated fields and the bales are amazingly similar. We also transition any hay changes gradually.

Our horses were also accustom to travel before we began this bigger journey. They have been hauled to horse shows and other places to ride all of their lives. They are also young, four and six, which makes them a bit more like teenager humans…very resilient.

Another possible key is that we are making a s-l-o-w trip unlike what you described. We tend to work our way to one area and then stay there for awhile. If we do happen to make a bigger move, several days of travel in a row, we skip riding the horses and pay close attention to any changes we may need to make in their blankets, windows or vents.

I worried some before the trip began about how we would handle things if a horse did get sick and then it dawned on me that I would handle it pretty much the same as if one of my children got sick. A few years ago on a trip to Colorado one of my sons woke up not feeling well. We were on our way to see the four corners but we stayed an extra day in the hotel. One extra day turned into two and then three. We never did make it to the four corners…but our son got feeling better and we just skipped that part of our trip.

Below is a video of our horses having fun on a hot day last week in California!

 
13 Comments

Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Life, Members Question, Video

 

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My horse is tossing her head when I ask her to slow down or stop. What can I do?

“Hi Stacy! I have been following your blog for almost a year now and I love the knowlegde you share. I have a coming on 4 Year old filly who recently has gone to tossing her head lately when being ask to slow down or stop. Sometimes I almost feel hard on her mouth when she goes to jerking the reins when tossing her head as I am already applying some pressure. What could I do to stop this behavior? I wouldn’t like her to turn this into a habit everything I ask her to slow down or stop.”-Heather J.

As I haven’t seen you or your horse I am going to tell you some of the more common reason I have seen for this behavior. You can then determine if any, or a combination of any, fit your situation.

The first thing is the disclaimer on physical causes specifically teeth. Horse under the age of five are shedding baby teeth and all kinds of crazy things can be going on in their mouths. I have written several blogs about this topics so I won’t go into great detail here.

  • Inconsistant hands: Developing great hands as a rider involves the ability to move smooth and fluid. My mom told me to pretend I had ‘a little birdie’ perched on my hand and I didn’t want it to fly away. If that image doesn’t work then try imaging your hands carrying water. When the weather isn’t freezing cold try actually carrying water, or try my Egg & Spoon game anytime.  When your mare pulls you can also imagine your arms are rubber bands, they will give some (like a band stretching) but they smoothy return to their original position…which should also be where your mare finds a reward.
  • Straight and stiff: Horses are less likely to pull and toss their heads when they are bending. When I am training, as you saw in the Jac series, I teach a strong foundation of bending and counter bending. This is important because straightness and softness is more difficult to train. I didn’t say impossible, it is the end goal, but it is more difficult. Go back and watch the progression of Jac as he learns to counter bend and answer the question: Does my mare counter bend as well as Jac did at the end? Practice, practice, practice.
  • Stopping power: The stop shouldn’t be coming from only your hands at this point. If it is then you are likely using your hands for too much and your legs for too little. As a horse begins to understand the riders ‘body cues’ (such as leg cues and the rider shifting weight, etc) they shouldn’t need to be stopped 100% by the reins. It is possible to teach a horse to back up from leg cues. As you do this your horse will not require as much of a rein cue. Check out the video below to see how important the leg cues are in the stop.

The methods I teach on my Basic Body Control DVD as well as in pieces of the Jac series will show you methods for holding your reins during the bending and counter bending that are incredibly helpful for retraining your hands while still training your horse. Work your downward transitions on the four leaf clover pattern (shown in both places listed above) because you are more likely to have success there.

Also remember that training, and riding, a horse is like learning to dance together. It takes time and practice to become a strong team. Consistency in the number of days per week that you ride as well as the methods will also play a part in determining the outcome.

Video example of the importance of legs and stopping:

Video that shows Stacy and Jac still working on counter bending:

 
 

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What about dismounting from your horse, mounting block or not?

“What about dismounting? Mountaining block or not?”-Kim M

This question came in after my blog, “What is your opinion on mounting blocks? Is it easier and better for the horse?”.

In general I think proper dismounting is an under discussed subject. Dismounting without pulling on the saddle is just as important as mounting without pulling…but thankfully it is generally easier. I have had several equine chiropractors tell me that they believe much damage is done during dismounting improperly.

To dismount properly, in your mind, picture a rider who is dismounting after riding bareback. The rider would lean forward, swing both legs to one side and then slide down or push away from the horse. Most english riders are taught to dismount in a similar fashion. Riding in a western saddle is no excuse though. The saddle horn makes laying your belly down more difficult but it is possible to use your arms to support your weight directly over the horse. In the video below I love that my husband quickly warns our son about not pulling the saddle off during dismounting. This advice is a little ‘gem’ hidden in the rest of the video.

The true difficulty in a proper dismount is the landing. Sliding off a 17 hand horse and having a ‘perfect’ Olympic-gymnist-type landing isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially if your knees, hips or ankles have any issues in their past. Again, the age, size and athletic ability of the rider will play a part. Learning how to properly bend your knees to absorb the impact is the key. If this is physically a challenge then you need to get creative.

If you think you will pull while dismounting then feel free to use a mounting block or whatever other safe object is nearby to decrease the need to jump or pull on your horse.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on January 22, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Video

 

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After an accident with a horse how can I get over my fear? How can I make the process easier?

“Hi Stacy, I am in Australia and I have watched your videos and read some of your posts. I have also heard a lot about you from friends. I was wondering if you have any advice for a horse lover who is terrified of horses. When I was 12 I had an accident and fractured my skull and was in a coma. I was not permitted to get back on for a year. My mum was riding with me and broke her leg saving me. She was in hospital longer than me. We never rode for a long time, which is probably part of the problem. Mum rides sometimes now and is more confident than me. I have had some lessons but circumstances create big gaps between lessons. This means I start over all the time. I can’t remember the accident. I can now be near them it shake and feel sick when I lead them or ride them. How can I make this process easier?”-Kate A.

Overcoming fear is often like starting over again. Where would you start with a child and a horse?The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Start small, mini small.”

Then I read your question again and saw that even leading them causes you stress. I was reminded of how my boys, in a matter of days, dramatically increased in confidence after we got our mini’s. The interesting part was that the horses they had always handled were trained better than the minis…but the minis were small, less intimidating and made us laugh.

There are many ways that you could work through this. The biggest red-flag that I see in your question is that you have had circumstances that create big gaps between lessons. It isn’t ‘wrong’ but as you have already identified the lack of consistency will cause you to repeat more than if you were able to be consistent.

I wrote a blog titled, “After an accident I have lost my confidence, what do you suggest?” that discusses a similar topic from a slightly different angle; you are interested in getting confidence around any horse and she was interested in confidence around her specific horse. It is still worth reading as the answer is still what I would recommend to you.

Listen to this advice that was posted as a comment. She sums it up beautifully and offers great advice:

“Your confidence can be and – in my opinion – should be regained! It would be a tragedy if you allowed an adverse incident like this to set a pattern for you of avoiding anything that has scared or hurt you. I know what you’re going through, ’cause after the accident (my bicycle vs. pickup truck – bike loses, bigtime!) There’s nothing like lying in bed with the “tape” of the accident playing over and over in your head to scare the willies out of you….) I did three months in hospital and over a year in a rehab center! I was lucky; I had been a horse person since I was little and KNEW that when you fall off you get right back on before you get scared and lose something you love. Neither you nor I had that option, but I was riding a bike (nervously!) as soon as they put a knee joint in my cast; my horse (with stirrup removed on the cast side) as soon as I could swing my leg over his back.

If you are in an auto accident will you never ride in a car again? If you fall on your kitchen floor will you never enter that kitchen again? Or even never walk on a linoleum floor again?

Stacy is exactly right in saying that more groundwork and more exposure to strange happenings will lessen the chance of this occurring again with your horse – in whom you have a lot invested and I don’t mean money!) You might consider, also, a few sessions with a counselor to help you work on your fear, and a few lessons at the local riding academy on the horses they put the LITTLE kids on. You knew this kind of thing could happen before you started riding in the first place; horses are big, dumb prey animals with a very rapid flight response. You loved them anyway. You still do. Let your love – and your determination to be emotionally healthy! – rule your life.

With sympathy – and tough love, Annie G.”

 
14 Comments

Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Inspiring, Life, Members Question, Thought provoking

 

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Newt conquers standing on the box…but what motivates my horse?

When I set up the video camera on day seven of teaching Newt to stand on the box I didn’t know exactly what I would do with the footage. I did know that I was spending a lot of time laughing at my horse…and I was really enjoying watching him learn. As I stood there watching Newt, it reminded me of watching my children when they were young and were playing on the playground. What age does a child start climbing to explore their surrounding? How many mistakes do they make while they learn about gravity, their body and their surroundings? And how do we respond as parents?

That last question is a biggie. All parents should protect their children. Some parents protect too much, restricting anything that can be perceived as dangerous…even if the real risk is low. Other parents allow so much freedom that their kids appear to run wild. It is obvious that there is a wide view out there as to what children should be allowed, encouraged or restricted from doing.

I believe that a horse can learn responsibility and that they learn it in a very similar way as children. It is our responsibility to challenge them but to also set them up for success. I show my horse the answer several times and then allow him to find the answer…then repeat. Mistakes are allowed but the risk is reduced because I do the training in small steps. Last year Newt crossed a man-made ‘bridge’ at home similar to one that would be found in a trail class. Now he is learning to carefully place his feet as he stands on this small box. Maybe next week we will be walking the ridge of a canyon…

I didn’t intend to use the audio from this video when I was filming it but many of you asked to see more of Newt and the bridge. This video is from day ten and is the first day that Newt stands on the box. I left the original audio where I am talking to my husband, Jesse, and Newt. Yep, I talk with my horses when no one is watching.

If you watch nothing else, watch from the four minute mark until the end. What was captured on film in that minute and a half was a total accident…but is hysterically funny!

If you would like to see some of day seven: click here. 

If you would like to know WHY I am teaching Newt this: click here.

 
19 Comments

Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Thought provoking, Training, Video

 

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“Stacy-After an accident I have lost my confidence, what do you suggest?”

“Dear Stacy-Recently I had a bad accident with my potential world contender horse. We had been showing for about a year and doing very well on the local circuit. She spooked at the last show I was competing in and went up. I fell off and she lost her balance and landed on me. I was in the hospital & rehab about 1 1/2 months. I am now trying to decide what to do with her as I am not comfortable riding her. She is a western pleasure mare with a great bloodline and a nice mover. She has lots of potential but of course I have lost my confidence. My trainer in Ocala wants her back and has offered to continue showing her. I feel she needs to start over from the ground up which is not what a lot of breed trainers do. What would you suggest?” -Beverly M

We all know that accidents can happen with horses, the decision you need to make is whether this was a freak accident or if there are holes in this horses training. There are a few ways to make that decision. First you need to review mentally everything that happened during the accident. For example, did a dog run under your horse suddenly which caused the horse to rear?…or…Did the horse spook, and when you collected or redirected her, then over react by rearing? There is a big difference.

What reason do you have to believe the outcome will be different next time?

What reason do you have to believe the outcome will be different next time?

In order to build more confidence I would need more answers. I would need a reason to believe that this was not going to happen again. Again, I would examine the situation that lead up to the accident. If the horse spooked because someone tripped and fell down the bleachers then I would recreate a loud noise to see if I could trigger the same response while doing groundwork. If I thought that the horse reacted to the riders hands than I would do some ground driving to help determine if the horse is being reactive to the bridle.

You are correct when you say that many breed trainers would not consider starting over. It is common for ‘show’ horses to lack the same foundation that a non-show horse would have. The mindset seems to be that the focus should be on the specialty and as long as the horse is good at that…then they are willing to live with the rest. Many don’t see the point in training a horse for life outside the pen when they could be spending that time on the sport specific needs.

I recommend training for both. Showing in a specific class is great but I also want them trained like someone might do crazy stuff with them like ride them through a kiddie pool or wrap them up in a tarp. The irony is that it makes them better show horses in the end because they have a broad view of life and have learned to handle stress in various situations.

I hope you heal up well. The mental part for you will be big because you need a reason to believe things have changed.  It is also fair to discuss with the trainer what they think happened and to ask them to demonstrate what has been done to correct the situation. There is a quote that says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” You know your horses history, you are asking great questions and you seem to have your horses best interest in mind. Remember that as the owner you have the final say and you should listen to your gut.

Check out these videos:

 
10 Comments

Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Members Question, Training, Video

 

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