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Many of these blogs I wrote some time ago and appeared on my old website. Please ignore the date is says it was published. Enjoy. 

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  1. Many people who knew my horse Merlot when I first got him would have said he was a problem horse. I rescued him from a very abusive home. My sister even said “It costs no more to keep a good horse than a bad one.” A true statement for sure they cost the same to keep. The implication was to replace Merlot with a better horse. This was the hidden message. In the equine industry difficult and problem horses are often sold on, discarded, put on the scrap heap if they have a problem. Yes Merlot had all sorts of problems, rearing when led, biting, kicking, many ways to remove a rider etc. Traditional methods focus on fixing a problem not your attitude to the problem. Harsh abusive methods had been applied to Merlot by his previous owner to try to work through his problems with the result of the owners failing and wanting to sell him fast and cheap. Try changing your attitude to problem and see how everything changes and a totally different pathway opens up before you. Merlot certainly didn’t like, trust or respect humans so being handled, interacted with and ridden was met with a negative outlook and a range of behaviours most humans would rather not be presented with.  

    I have a huge pile of examples I could select to explain what I mean the problem is not the problem it is your attitude to the problem.  So here I will describe just one of Merlot’s problems to help you see how changing my attitude and thinking changed how I move forward to solve the problem. Merlot was not good to mount. To cover mounting issues in depth is a book. Here I offer some ideas to prompt re-thinking your attitude to the problem and approach. 

    Firstly I ensured Merlot was healthy and physically comfortable, vet checked and professional saddle fitting, dentals etc.... He was pain free, however I knew he was emotionally unbalanced, so I needed to factor in his emotional reaction into the training. With emotional balance, you can’t convince me horses are not emotional. An emotionally unbalanced horse is at least unhappy, at worst emotionally traumatized and dangerous. This allowance for emotional balance and factoring this as part of the problem for many is a different attitude to the problem. I go beyond this and ask why? I want to fully understand why Merlot says no to being mounted. At the start Merlot would refuse to be mounted, if you did manage to mount, he would shoot forwards or explode. The problem of mounting is not the problem, the problem was a tangle of issues:- fear, anxiety, stress, a memory of pain, confusion, poor past training, negative abusive past experiences. I worked on trust, our partnership bond and being respectful to him. Merlot’s memory of being ridden was un-enjoyable. This was the problem. All I had to do was observe and listen carefully. From this information I changed my position away from mounting to solving the reasons why.   

    So I invested in the relationship, the five foundation stones. I worked on emotional balance, with activities that were enjoyable, calm, relaxing. To make training effective I needed to recognize what is a meaningful accomplishment from Merlot’s perspective. Tapping into these strong internal motivational forces and using positive reinforcement training encouraged speedy learning. By making our activities positive, fun and enjoyable it motivated Merlot to learn. It helped him to see I would not abuse him, I was different to the previous humans in his life. I listened to understand him. I believe training that focuses on positive interactions leads to lasting positive memories in horses. (Positive reinforcement is marking with a bridge noise the desired behaviour / try followed with a treat). I also had to tip the balance of scales of his negative past with loads of positive experiences. Training was progressive and logical so each new experience was a natural next step. Success is paved with looking for a try, even the smallest try, rewarding and then giving the horse time to absorb the learning. With horses like Merlot with complex histories this requires industrial quantities of patience.  

    Merlot was a scared and emotionally unbalanced horse with complex issues when I got him, a fear aggressive. Mounting was just one of many places this surfaced. Equine empathy allows you to read and understand fear and emotion. With Merlot I accepted mounting issues would be part and parcel of a much bigger picture. So working on the bigger picture would be the answer to fixing the mounting issue. The mounting problem is not the problem changing my attitude to the problem enabled me to see it in full glorious three dimensional colour to see the problem that needed focus. 

    I shifted my intent from mounting to helping Merlot not to be fearful, anxious, tense, and to be balanced emotionally. It totally shapes a different approach and frees you from worrying about fixing the expression of the problem. I knew once I solved the route cause, Merlot wouldn’t have a problem with being mounted. Horsemanship is about building a strong relationship and confidence. Merlot was often tense and anxious. He was frightened, emotional, tense and anxious and in this state he could not effectively learn. To teach Merlot to be calm and relaxed, to overcome fear I had to recognize his comfort zone, where he felt safe. Go at the pace he could cope with. I used a graded approach and retreat technique reinforced with targeted rewards. This plus allowing Merlot time to learn and reflect that things are ok. He had to learn there was nothing to fear. In the early days our mounting training never took place at the mounting block or involved mounting. Never consciously did I ever think in terms of how is our mounting training going. I accepted it was part of a much bigger picture. As time passed and our relationship developed I saw huge differences in many areas for Merlot one of which was his mind set on mounting. This was achieved with a combination of working on the relationship, helping Merlot grow in confidence and self-esteem, find security and emotional balance, and to learn horsemanship ground games. It is essential you also consider what is in it for the horse when we ride. I did a lot of work on thinking about how to make being ridden as meaningful, enjoyable, rewarding and fun for Merlot. And to seek his permission to be ridden. Plus I had to be a trusted, respected, calm, confident, consistent, positive, thoughtful partner who communicated sensitively. The horsemanship ground games are only one aspect, they enable control of your horse in any direction backwards, sideways, forwards to pick up selected hooves and to place. Master this and you can position your horse easily at the mounting block. Compliment this with positive reinforcement and the horse will be motivated to present and wait at the mounting block. We need to get all aspects right for our horse to look forward to being ridden and to give us permission. I cannot remember when we fixed our mounting problem, it just disappeared. I do remember however a huge turning point when one day I arrived at the field and Merlot left his herd at full speed to be with me. In his mind being with me was better than grazing and hanging out with his herd, wow. I valued our relationship as the most important aspect. I would never ever compromise this for anything or anyone. This and my refinement of my horsemanship enabled me to have an incredible magical connection with him. I earned this from Merlot, he was a fantastic teacher. It is true when the pupil is ready the teacher will arrive. Merlot taught me so much, this complex, plain little bay horse had layers. Every day he taught me something new. Again I remind you the problem is not the problem it is your attitude to the problem. My attitude was I was open to learning, trying something new, listening and learning from my horse. I also viewed problems as opportunities in works clothing for personal development.  I hear you ask - So how did it work out re mounting? Fine, he would happily present at a mounting block, or if directed go in a ditch so I could mount from the bank, or if I climbed on a fence or gate he was happy to come alongside for me to mount. Permissive riding is what matters. 

    merlot p finished

  2. It's a tricky word "ownership". I have one horse Kez. My horse is part of our family. Yes we are responsible for Kez and are his guardian. The relationship I have with him is a partnership and friendship. So thinking of how the word ownership could impact on the relationship is tricky. However if someone was to try and steal him I would be right away claiming ownership. 

    For sure it is uncomfortable to think of ownership of another sentient being. However guardianship, ownership whatever you want to call it is about stepping up to the plate of responsibility for the equines in our care. Many of us who own horses it is about a high quality of life for our equines that is compassionate and ethical. There is a growing tide of us who see a spirit and soul in our horses and we seek the very best for our equines, mentally, physically and spiritually. The relationship is at the heart of everything we do.  

    Sadly in the UK we are in the grip of a horrific equine crisis and there are many equines who have no caring, loving, compassionate guardian. I think we all need to reflect upon the issue regarding equine ownership and what it means for horses. Horses have very little legal protection from neglect, abuse and a poor quality of life. I don’t have the answer to this crisis. However I do feel passionately that all equines deserve the right to a good quality of life. This is down to humans to provide. I feel for the greater good and welfare of all equines it would be good practice to have a working system of accountability and tracking. Humans are the guardians of the equines in their care and sadly many horses are being failed by the system.

    Currently legal ownership of a horse isn’t always easy to prove. Even though equines by law should have a passport, and be chipped this is issued to aid identification of an animal not provide proof of ownership. Many breeders operate outside this system and plenty of equines have no passports or chips. Even horses with passports legal cases are common around ownership of equines. So when the equine is suffering who does the buck stop with?

    We have an overbreeding crisis, along with an upsurge in welfare concerns and prosecutions. Welfare charities have limited scope to act, they are full to bursting and reliant on donations to fund their work. We need to remember they are not state funded. So donate, be it time, money, fund raise and join campaigns for change. Councils and police have very little funds and resources to tackle the matter either. Its collective pressure that may influence change, sadly lots of horses will suffer before this happens. Solutions are being collectively explored and pressure is being applied to get this on the political radar. One aspect to the proposed solutions is accountability of ownership.

    We must celebrate and showcase excellent horse ownership. We must be proactive. We all have a voice, so promote good practice. I for one give up a lot of my time, expertise and resources to make available horsemanship resources for FREE. I feel the time is now to take on board the issue of horse ownership / guardianship and celebrate all good practice in all its’ rich and diverse forms. This is for the greater good of all equine welfare. We must not shy away from this challenge because we are uncomfortable with the word ownership. Now is the opportunity to shape what is great horse ownership. This modern world is a harsh place for horses without good guardianship and protection. Many suffer. We are not just the guardians of our own horses we have the potential within ourselves to share what is good practice, promote it and celebrate it. When was the last time you shared a bit of good practice or knowledge with others? My one voice alone will not impact the bigger picture. It may help individuals on their journey with their horse. The more individuals who then pass on good practice the wider the message is heard and felt. The ripple effect is amazing. It is the power of the collective, if we collectively raise the bar for equines it filters out far and wide. Let us collectively be the voice for change. If you have insights, expertise, knowledge, experience share as widely and as freely as you can. Promote what you love and the good practice out there and resist the urge to bash what you hate.   

     kez eye

  3. There is great merit in practice to refine your skills, but don’t confuse this with chasing perfection. It is fine to aim for the stars and to recognise by doing this you will achieve great heights but targeting perfection can be unrealistic. It can set you up to fail and erode confidence. I meet people who regularly beat themselves with the perfection stick. They feel they are letting themselves and their horse down by not being perfect. Remind yourself all any of us can offer is our best, to strive to improve your best and that refining our skills is a journey not a destination. Recognise too that this is all your horse can offer too. Yes you and your horse will make mistakes and at times let each other down. These mistakes are part of the learning journey. Give yourself and your horse permission to make mistakes and you will enrich your learning. 

    Perfectionism fuels the inner critic, providing constant nagging reminders that you are not good enough. Left unchecked this erodes confidence quickly. It's the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing, a villain masquerading as the good guy. It can cut your self-confidence to shreds, kill your motivation and send your performance down the tubes. Perfectionism will suck every ounce of enjoyment and satisfaction out of your horsemanship.  

    Part of the cycle of loss of confidence can be setting your-self unreasonably high standards to be executed perfectly. This undermines confidence, because whatever you try to do is not good enough. You find it hard to focus on the positives as you tend to focus on what has gone wrong. When building confidence it is about stepping outside your comfort zone, expanding your world, trying something new, doing something unfamiliar or even trying something that is scary.   

    Think for a moment...

    • How is it possible to do something perfectly when it’s something new or unfamiliar?
    • How is it possible to do something perfectly when it involves uncertainty, anxiety or fear? 

    This sets you up to fail. Perfectionism for confidence building isn’t a great tool to use as it does nothing to encourage ‘giving it a go’ or giving your-self permission to learn from mistakes. And if you do give it a go, the outcome is bound to be a disappointment and the whole exercise is probably never repeated. The only way to build self- confidence is to actually ‘do something’ and experience that amazing feeling of success and achievement yourself. So you can see just how damaging a perfectionist attitude is to building confidence because it discourages taking action. 

    Another thing about being a perfectionist is that the little things often don’t count. They’re just not important enough to matter and not worth doing. Even if they are worth doing, they’re certainly not significant enough to warrant any credit. So you don’t experience that all important sense of progress and achievement. 

    On the other hand, the big things are way too scary to ever contemplate and are best avoided too. Even when you do attempt them it’s often a step too far, and with unrealistic expectations the outcome is bound to be a disappointment. Small manageable steps are the way to go for building confidence, with plenty of recognition and self-praise every step of the way, no matter how small. 

    Having unrealistic expectations will guarantee disappointing outcomes. That does nothing to inspire confidence and encourage perseverance. The key to good self-confidence is therefore, having realistic, achievable standards and expectations.  Swap perfectionism with a burning desire to better your best. Accept mistakes are part of the learning process and view them as golden opportunities in works clothing.  Use better your best to motivate you and to push you outside your comfort zone.

    This is just one small nugget I am sharing with you taken from the confidence building workshops I run. If you find yourself holding the perfection stick I say burn it, dig a hole and plant a tree on top, chuck it over the hedge.

    riding

  4. The relationship with any horse requires good foundations. In an ideal world these are laid down right from the start, the right way using the language of the herd.  To engage in a true horsemanship partnership the opinion of our horse really matters. 

    Sadly this is not the experience for many horses that I meet. And the starting point with their new owner can be from a negative starting point. Some have been discarded by their previous owners, sold cheaply and as quickly as possible. Some are labelled as naughty. Some have passed through many hands. Some are misunderstood. Some dislike humans because of prior abuse or trauma.  

    What we all share is a personal equine dream. That’s why we want horses in our lives. Many people seek a close magical bond and partnership. The road to success is paved with interspecies communication. When you use horsemanship training based on the language of the herd with the relationship coming first you can be a winner in your horse’s eyes and heart. This fuels passion and unlocks potential. The five interlinked foundation elements of horsemanship are: - Bond, Trust, Respect, Time and Focus, Enjoyment. Sadly many horse’s point of view on these five elements are shattered with a very negative view. 

     

    Bond. Horses are herd animals that require companionship that makes them feel safe, provides meaningful social interactions and a sense of belonging. It is our responsibility to provide this for our horses. Sadly many horses suffer at the hands of man. They develop survival strategies, some have learnt helplessness; other horses have behaviours that clearly ask humans to keep their distance. Some are sceptical as prior experience has given them no positive reasons for try to bond with humans. The scales of bad experience can weigh heavy with an unpleasant past. 

    These horses need a fair chance, someone to listen carefully and understand. Time and patience in industrial quantities, along with a sharp eye for the smallest of try which is rewarded lavishly. These horses need to know what kindness and respect feel like. You need acceptance that change will take time, sometimes a very long time.  As to move from a negative mind set of no to yes there is a lot of maybe travel through. You need to forgive behaviour instantly and not take it personally. No matter the circumstances you must be loyal, dependable and consistently tell the truth.  Plus ignore the unconstructive, hurtful and negative comments from other people who are always ready to point out the “naughty horse”. 

    These horses must learn nothing bad will happen. A great starting point is being. For many people it is an eye opener to just be with their horse. To just be with a horse is to put aside our agendas. We can easily get hung up on doing stuff with our horses. Have a go at quietly watching, observing him interacting within the herd and his environment. From simply being you can extend into simple interactions that form the basis of observation to meaningful conversation. With deeply held trauma we must place a value on showing every interaction holds no pain or fear.  Then you will see the horse start to evaluate things differently, and see you differently from the previous humans he had known.

    Trust. Trust is an emotional and logical act. Emotionally it exposes vulnerabilities because there is a feeling of safety and belief in another that they will not take advantage or cause damage. Logically, it is assessing the person in question will behave in a predictable and in a trustworthy manner. It is also about faith in another. There are strong emotions associated with trust these include companionship, friendship, love, agreement, relaxation, comfort. Horses and humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness. Once trust has been lost it can be very hard to regain. Therefore when looking at trust it is just as important to be trustworthy as this is the only way to build and maintain a trust with another. For us to win our horses trust we must be trustworthy. Our horses must believe we have their best interests at heart. We have to honour the horse and demonstrate being truthful, authentic and keep our promises. Building trust requires us to act with integrity and to be consistent.  Empathy and equine compassion enable effective listening skills so we can respectfully understand our horse this an essential skill in building trust. 

    Sadly the hand of man can cause huge trust issues for the horse. Horrific pasts can shatter trust for the horse in humans, and damage their confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. Naturally the herd is held together with trust, in the inter-relationships within the herd, without it the herd would be in chaos. Consider what type of human your horse had in the past. I have known horses that have suffered with toxic intimidation and punishment. These horses can demonstrate emotional behaviours such as resentment, anger, frustration and fear. These horses do not trust humans or enjoy the human interactions. 

    Trust is a two way street. Boy this isn’t easy to trust a horse that is damaged by a bad past that exhibits tricky or dangerous behaviour. To trust, you have to look beyond the behaviour, understand why and not take it personally. You have to forgive freely on the spot and bear no ill-feelings. You have to have 100% trust in yourself, and your methods. Your conviction has to be non-wavering, as some small minded people will be all too ready to unfairly criticise, pick fault and enjoy creating pointless drama. They will be ready to judge without the knowledge or understanding the reasons behind your choices and actions. Select your human company well. Let others have their opinion and calmly walk away. This is not blindly carrying on regardless. I urge you to have an open mind and seeking out like-minded people and learn from inspirational horsemanship practitioners.   

    Every interaction with a horse is an opportunity to build trust. Your horse needs you to be calm, consistent, and know you provide safety and the interactions will be rewarding, enjoyable and fun. There are hundreds of opportunities to show your horse you can be trusted. It is about listening to what your horse is struggling with and stepping up to show them it is ok, there is nothing to be worried about. Horsemanship is about mutual trust. So we have to demonstrate our trustworthiness as much as trust our horse. Learning their communication, their language and etiquette opens up two way dialogue. This enables us to hear our horses, tune in, and engage in an authentic relationship.         

    Respect. Horsemanship is about mutual respect for each other. Again many horses suffer at the hand of man a great deal of disrespect. It is obvious that beating a horse is a clear act of violence, and is hugely disrespectful. Violence never solves problems. However time and time again I see the results of what has happened to horses that have suffered disrespect in many shapes and forms by mankind such as intimidation and fear.  Too many times horses are pressured to do something they don't want to do or are uncomfortable doing. They are then labelled offering a resistance or as naughty. Another form of lower grade disrespect horses experience from humans is nit-picking, constant criticism over little things or a constant negative reinforcement approach to training which can be demeaning. These series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes disrespect. It is easy for people to hang on to old style thinking and long held beliefs and prejudices and these can fuel disrespect.  Think about how it feels to be disrespected – Have you ever experienced the unfeeling or uncaring actions or words from another? Have you ever been unfairly judged by another person? How did it make you feel towards the other person? 

    You only have to observe horses and you will see they thrive in calm, harmonious groups that have herd etiquette and rituals, these are honoured and respected. So horses understand respect for each other. Tap into this and you can have a relationship with your horse that thrives on clear respectful boundaries for you both. 

    To gain respect you have to be respectful. Respect is about understanding, valuing and considering another’s feelings and perspectives on life. For us to have a respectful relationship with our horse we have to understand and honour their equine reality and have equine compassion. Respect is about appreciating the separate realities we exist in. Using the language of the herd you can communicate with a horse thoughtfully, politely and respectfully. It is seeing your horse as a unique and valued individual not a stereotype. It is about honouring the horse’s dignity and self-worth along with being sensitive to their needs. You must attentively listen to what they have to say, and work to make communication between you comfortable. We all desire to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, politeness, and kindness. To be heard and understood with the freedom to express our opinions and ideas. It is no different for our horses. The way forward is to look for the try, no matter how small, and show your horse how much you value them and their contribution. Use praise and positive reinforcement training methods to encourage faster learning. Plus social herd niceties must be observed at all times.  

    Then there is respect we have for ourselves. You have to set appropriate boundaries with disrespectful people and horses. The way I personally deal with people who disrespect me is to allow them to their opinions and calmly walk away. This is because my life is too short, my energy limited and I have no desire to change the world. I know is not the best way as I should transfer my approach of working with horses to the disrespectful humans. However there is only one of me and my time I feel is better spent with horses and humans who are looking for a better way to be with their horse. The best way I know when working with horses in regards to respect is by using the language of the herd along with calm assertive energy. 

    The most important thing to remember is a horse must be allowed self-respect, his dignity and self-worth must never be compromised. You must always respect the rights and boundaries of the horse. The communication must be appropriate, direct, honest and respectful. Communication must be two way, horsemanship is not monologue it is open honest dialogue. You need a clearly thought out plan, that you work through at the pace the horse can cope with step by step. Pay particular attention to your and the horse’s emotions and how they impact upon the relationship. Respond to criticism from your horse positively see it as an opportunity to grow and develop. Horses thrive with boundaries or the herd would be in chaos without them. Setting and observing healthy boundaries enables respectful meaningful communication. They allow horse and human to reach a comfortable understanding as to what is acceptable and unacceptable. It provides physically and emotionally a safe place as each knows what is expected. The language of the herd teaches you the boundaries horses have with each other and in turn teaches you to respect your horse’s boundaries. 

    Time and Focus. One of the things we are all pressured with is time, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and for many of us to afford a horse we have to work, often long hours. Many horse owners work and also have family commitments to balance. Time is often in short supply. Plus we live in a fast paced world, and this can lead people to look for fast results. There is no quick fix or short cuts. When working with our horse to form a strong relationship we need to dedicate time, and recognise that our concept of time and a horse’s are very different. You need to dedicate regular quality time. This needs to be free from distractions and 100% of your attention. Consider this your horse may only see you for a few hours each day. If the rest are spent in a herd he is lucky. If you want your horse to bond, trust, respect and enjoy hanging out with you have to put in quality, meaningful and focused time with your horse. We all want our horse to be pleased to see us to look forward to time spent together. This will not happen if you are not willing to see relationship building as a priority. 

    Enjoyment. Discover what makes your horse tick and you will tap into a powerful internal motivational tool. You can read for FREE a series of articles I wrote for Horsemanship Magazine on Motivation - start by reading Panning for Gold then check out the motivation articles. You will find them on the Horsemanship Resources page. Natural horsemanship is a great way to find out what makes your horse tick, along with offering him opportunities to try out different experiences. Play with your horse is another great route into unlocking enjoyment in interactions with you. You can read for FREE my published articles the Art of Play. It is food for thought - Does your horse think the interactions with you are fun and enjoyable?   

    If you use horsemanship that focuses on these five elements you will win your horse’s heart and be a winner in their eyes. Establishing this relationship is the foundation to building success, harmony and the magical light connection we seek. There are life lessons to be taken from horsemanship. Take a look at the five interlinked elements: - Bond, Trust, Respect, Time and Focus, Enjoyment in relation to any relationship. When one element is missing or damaged the relationship will suffer. Recognize which ring is weak or broken and you can work to repair and strengthen it. Treat others how you would like to be treated. We all want to feel a bond within a relationship, to trust our spirit and soul will not be damaged or compromised, to be treated with respect and dignity, to know that we are given quality time with undivided attention doing something we enjoy. If you want to be a winner, try using the five element approach in all relationships, with your horse, people you interact with, your other pets and notice the many benefits. 

    You will note I have spoken about what underpins the natural horsemanship techniques not on the techniques themselves. All techniques that focus on the language of the horse work the key to applying them is what I am sharing with you. If you did not understand these underpinning horsemanship guiding principles you may well try to copy a natural horsemanship technique you saw at a demonstration, on the television or read in a book and find it did not work as expected. 

    My horse Merlot was my once in a lifetime horse that taught me many guiding principles, I feel lucky to have had such a horse enter my life and give me these horsemanship and life lessons. He was the one who showed me the way, opened the door and there was no turning back. This article is just one example of the many lessons, the tip of the ice-burg of what he taught me. They say when the student is ready the teacher will arrive. My Merlot was my most profound teacher. I share so much in writing these articles in the hope it will inspire, spark discussion or debate. It may even challenge you to think about how you want to change your horsemanship.   

    merlot p finished

    My Merlot