Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Teaching People the Barefoot Way: An Uphill Battle...But WHY???

Every day I am further astounded by the resistance horse people have to the barefoot revolution. Again and again, I hear the same objections...but none of the objections hold up. Doesn't matter; the general horsey public is as stubborn as the mule persuasion on the topic.

They say, "where's the research?"...you show them the research that proves this is right...you even show them the research that refutes conventional therapeutic shoeing techniques, and they still aren't convinced. They say, "show me the horses that have been rehabilitated"...you show them the horses: horses with horrendous laminitis, crippling navicular, "under run" heels, poor quality wall, solar abcessing, now with beautiful, healthy feet and amazingly sound, and they still don't believe. They say, "what's wrong with shoeing?"...you explain, patiently, and they sneer at you like you have two heads. They quip, "We've bred the feet out of our horses"...you respond that while we have not bred specifically for "good" feet, neither have we bred for "bad" feet...so simple logic dictates that our domestic horses should be somewhere in the average between the two. I look around the boarding stable where I work, and I count the horses that have had some hoof issue or other since I arrived there 3 years ago...guess what? With the exception of my herd, and 2 or 3 others, out of some 40 horses, ALL of them have had some type of hoof-related lameness. Could we, by any stretch of the imagination, have that thoroughly bred the feet out of our domestic horses?? I highly doubt it. Is there another common denominator that could explain the soaring rate of problematic hooves? What do you think?

You explain that wild horses have none of the same hoof issues that our domestic horses suffer; you explain that what we're doing is emulating the feral horse foot as it is naturally worn. They argue: the mustangs have evolved healthier feet; the mustangs don't carry our weight on their backs. You explain that exactly 6 weeks after they are captured and forced to live like our domestic horses, long before they are asked to carry the weight of a human, but just shortly after we have changed EVERYTHING else, they start to have ALL OF THE SAME PROBLEMS. This is documented. As Pete Ramey puts it, "the spell is broken". You explain how over that past 200 years, the feral herds were not purely feral...ranchers frequently let well bred stallions loose to run with the herds to improve the foals. You point out that the herds were often comprised not of descendants of the conquistadors, but of strays and escapees. You go on to explain that every foal is born with the EXACT same feet...but as soon as the foal stands up, environment shapes those feet differently. This, also, has been documented, and Bowker has done extensive research on the subject. Then you extrapolate: if you believe that mustangs have healthier feet, which apparently you do if you say they have EVOLVED healthier feet, wouldn't it make sense to emulate this foot, especially if the horse was going to be expected to carry additional weight, and perform extreme athletic feats??

Believe me, for every compelling argument I have, there is an argument against it. Not a good one, but people will still cling to them. It is nothing short of astounding. I'm starting to believe that the ONLY way to make this mainstream is to call it something completely different, something high-tech sounding, and manufacture a very expensive, but completely useless, and completely harmless hoof apparatus, then barefoot trim the horse, slip on the placebo hoof apparatus, collect a cool million, and save the domestic horse from endless mutilation...hmmmmm...might be on to something there!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Barefoot Controversy...I AM a Barefoot Advocate!!

Over the past 300 years (or possibly longer) a recurring debate has smoldered: to shoe, or not to shoe?

Believe me, when Nike starts making technically advanced, anatomically considerate gel running shoes for horses, I'll be placing an order. But as long as our best attempt to shoe our horses involves a hammer, nails, and a hunk of steel (or aluminum, for that manner -- oooo, how very advanced!), and the individual applying the apparatus belongs to an association that holds championships for the "best" among them -- (how appalled would we be if surgeons held championship surgery competitions???) -- well, I'll kindly ask the farriers to keep their mitts and their steel off of my horses' feet, thank you very much.

I have a very open mind when it comes to the health of my horses...I think the bottom line is that horse owners should not buy in to ANY idea without doing their own research. I personally absolutely believe barefoot is better...when done right. I find it incredibly irritating when people tell me they need to see the data and proof that support barefoot, because NO ONE asks to see the data and the proof that traditional shoeing is better. Show me THAT research, show me proof that shoeing DOESN'T create many of the pathologies we see in our horses' feet, show me the studies that prove once and for all that shoeing DOESN'T compromise the natural development of the foot, doesn't contribute to heel contraction, doesn't inhibit blood flow in the foot, doesn't compromise the horn quality; show me proof that a steel shoe doesn't apply unnatural force to the rest of the limb; show me proof that a barefoot horse CAN'T compete soundly. My own six horses, some barefoot from birth and some deshod when it finally made sense to me (one, a 25 year old gelding with confirmed navicular changes, deshod 3 years ago, now sounder than he EVER was in innumerable variations on bar shoes and pads), are my proof that it can and does work.

I do not subscribe to Dr. Strasser's very aggressive trim...but I've read much of what she has to say about the function of the equine foot. Her work resonates with the work of Dr. Robert Bowker, James Rooney, farriers Pete Ramey and Gene Ovnicek to name a few.

The feet of my two barefoot-from-birth geldings (now 4 and 5 years old and ridden daily over miles of varied terrain), trimmed in a manner like Ramey/Bowker advocate, are profoundly different in shape, horn quality, and frog health than any shod horse I've seen to date. I've watched a six year old, barefoot-from-birth gelding that came in two years ago with spectacular, strong, healthy, rock-crunching feet...he was shod (much to my dismay) shortly after he arrived at our facility. His feet have changed dramatically since then. In that short period of time, his frogs have contracted to half their former width, and his feet are now base narrow, where they were distinctly cone shaped before. I will be shocked if he continues to go sound much longer.

People like to argue that we have not bred for better feet. But nor have we bred for feet at all. So it seems statistically improbable that we've bred the feet out of our horses, as some people would have us believe. And while we've certainly done our best to destroy their feet by keeping them in far from a natural situation (stalled, soft footing, lack of movement, etc.), it is astounding how the hoof can not only recuperate but be nearly completely reformed by changing the horsekeeping situation. Not just the hoof wall...but the lateral cartilages and the digital cushion can actually be stimulated and changed.

It does our horses no good to not explore any alternative that MIGHT offer a better way. It does our horses no good to argue about which way is better. The proof is in the horse's foot. All I want is a sound, happy, healthy horse. If I have to go against the grain to make that happen, I am unafraid of being unpopular for that decision...

This post was written as a response to the following:

"Barefoot in the Head"

Saturday, September 8, 2007

"...trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself as an equal..."

"...and I whispered to the horse: trust no man in whose eyes you do not see yourself as an equal." -- Don Vincenzo Giobbe, circa 1700

An interesting quote. I liked it immediately...but spent a lot of time considering why: it seemed to make sense in my way of thinking, but I knew if I posted it on my chalkboard, it would spark some animated debate. So I contemplated. And now it's on the chalkboard.

I do see a horse as an equal. Absolutely. An equal in terms of being a sentient, feeling creature, with something valuable to offer the partnership I seek from him. A being with the right to have an opinion, the right to be comfortable, the right to be treated with respect and dignity. And an equal partner, with a role and a responsibility to the other partner. And what an amazing partner -- one nearly ten times our weight, with incredible speed, and exponentially stronger than we are. An equal -- a partner -- that should be treated with great thankfulness and respect.

Oh, but that's a rather abused and misdefined word -- RESPECT -- when used in relation to horses or horsemanship.

How many times have you heard someone say, in reference to a horse problem or "problem" horse, "he just needs to learn to respect you", or, "he doesn't respect you"??? What this usually translates to in the parlance of horse people is "he just needs to learn to FEAR you", or, "he doesn't FEAR you". But the dictionary definition of "RESPECT" draws no parallel to the idea of "FEAR". It reads:

"to consider worthy of high regard : esteem"

Ah, there. That makes more sense, now, doesn't it?? Most especially if you acknowledge that the horse can be a formidable adversary if he wants to be. That he could, with very little effort, squash you like a large bug with his piston-like hooved legs, or swing you like a ragdoll from his teeth. (Am I really supposed to believe I can intimidate this creature? We humans are a little full of ourselves, aren't we.)

Wouldn't it make more sense, and make for a much more rewarding partnership, if the horse considered you not fearsome, but instead worthy of high esteem?

The dictionary definition of RESPECT works both ways in good horsemanship. The respect I feel for horses is not about a fear for the damage they could do, but rather something close to awe that they defer to my judgement, that they bend to my will, that they WANT to be partners with me. For that, I hold these creatures, these equals of mine in a unique partnership, in VERY high esteem.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On "Good Hands"...

I read a very interesting article recently in the Eclectic-Horseman.com archives by Bettina Drummond. The subject was the phrase "on-the-bit" -- not a discussion of what the phrase means -- but rather a discussion of the fact that the phrase is based on NOTHING in the classical horsemanship literature of the 16 - 1700's...instead, it is, perhaps, simply a bad translation from French or German.

WOW. That ought to make you think. It always struck me as sort of a bad turn of phrase. Similar, I think, is the common understanding of the meaning of "contact".

I can't count the number of times folks have classified me as a "Western" rider, simply because I ride in a western saddle and don't have constant pressure on the horse's mouth. The truth is I am NOT a western rider...my goal is, ultimately, a horse that is so responsive that I can "collect" him by asking him to flex at the poll, elevate his withers, round his back and come up under himself without ever pulling the reins tight. I absolutely want my horse in a very classical sort of frame. What I DON'T want is a tight rein pulling the nose behind the vertical, artificially setting the horse's head and effectively shortening the strides of his front feet, while the horse's weight remains heavy on the forehand.

That brings me to the subject of the hand on the reins. One doesn't GRIP the reins if the goal is softness and lightness from the horse. The fingers instead should curl lightly around the rein, and the connection between hand, rein, and mouth should be alive, like playing an instrument. Never a steady pressure, but a constant ask and release for the horse's correct response.

Developing both the horse and one's own finesse at this is, I think, infinitely more demanding than the alternative. Imagine the patience to bring a horse to that level, assuming that you could get yourself there first! But the first step is acknowledging the differences, and acknowledging that you've been doing it wrong...in fact, that you were TAUGHT to do it wrong. Good grief, how exasperating is that!! Now take a deep cleansing breath, and vow to learn the RIGHT way...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

It's NOT all about hooking on.

Lots of folks seem to think that the roundpen is all about "hooking on". While it's absolutely important to be sure the horse is paying attention to you, hooking on is something that can easily be overdone...and it's one of the harder things to UNtrain. The point of hooking on is NOT "getting the horse to follow you as leader." It is simply teaching him that when you're around, he should be ready to go to work. That you have a plan he needs to be involved in. When you ask for his attention, it is because you have an immediate job for him to do.

I've watched so-called "trainers" get a horse in the roundpen and do nothing more than have the horse follow them around for twenty minutes like the Pied Piper, then call it a day. All they've accomplished is to teach the horse that if he's following mindlessly along behind them, he doesn't have to work! In fact, very early in the roundpen, most horses will come to the conclusion that hooking on, walking in and facing you, is the quickest way out of work. It's extremely important to balance the hooking on lesson with teaching the horse to drive away from you at the outset.

Everything that you do in the roundpen should be done with the horse's attention. When you drive him, whether at the walk, trot, or lope, it should be with feel...he should have an ear in your direction and his head tipped slightly towards you; he should move with ease and as much life as you ask for, actively waiting for the next request....not as though he's mindlessly plodding, nor franticly racing in circles whilst looking to the outside of the pen. Might as well turn him out and let the ranch dogs chase him if it's no better than that.

Always remember that all groundwork is about getting control of the feet...each one by itself, and in conjunction with the other three. To be able to direct the feet with any finesse, the lessons should involve fast work as well as slow, methodical work, until the horse moves fluidly when and where you want him, at any speed. Hooking on simply represents the horse's willingness to be available for the job...it is not the job itself!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Going With the Horse...

WOW, have I been remiss in my blogging! So many thoughts I should have written about here over the last several months. Guess it's time to play a little catch-up.

Of all the things we can do to get more in tune with our horses, and get our horses more in tune with us, probably the most beneficial thing -- the thing that will make your horse SO much more secure and reliable -- is also the hardest thing to do at first. Because your natural instinct is to instantly CLUTCH UP when things get a little quicker than you would like. Maybe it's just fear...maybe it's the desire for control...darn it, I said WALK, not trot...maybe it's a little of both. But it's a sure way to build resistance into your horse.

Riding colts will teach you this faster than anything. You put a leg over a colt on his second or third ride, and he wants to move out...what do you think is gonna happen if you just pick up your reins and haul back on his mouth? More than likely, that colt will get pretty worried...maybe even irritated. On the other hand, if you go with him...just direct him and ride at whatever speed he wants to go...you'll keep him light, keep him relaxed, keep him breathing, and KEEP CONTROL OF HIS FEET. Even if they are moving faster than you might have wanted. Find a purpose and a place to go with the life he has to offer. He'll learn that it's OK to move his feet...that you are a balanced passenger up there, and not going to mess up his balance...he'll learn what it feels like to carry you at different gaits, which will teach him to respond to your seat...and he'll learn that you always have a plan (you do always have a plan, don't you? *sigh*...sounds like another blog topic!), and that he can follow your direction at any speed. Funny thing is, the more you aim to make HIS idea YOUR idea on the start, the faster he will want to make YOUR idea HIS down the line. Go with the horse, so that he might see fit to go with you.

The same idea applies to any situation where the horse wants to GO...go with him. Just get into the habit of always having a plan...and go with him.

Got a spooky horse? How are you riding him?? Are you preparing for him to leap out from under you by tightening up your reins and muscling him over with your leg to keep him from going? Seems like those spooks are getting bigger and more frequent, doesn't it? Of course they are...because instead of giving the horse confidence when he's unsure, you're escalating the situation...turning it into a battle just makes it WAAAAY scarier for the horse.

I highly recommend spending lots of time watching horses at liberty, in a large pasture. There is so much to be learned by doing this -- just watching how light they are as they move, how agile, how supple, is a huge education on what we should be striving for -- but for this conversation, what we're really interested in is what happens when they spook without our interference. A friend of mine recently compared it to how zebra react to lions on the veldt...they don't gallop panic stricken for miles and miles until they plunge off of a cliff...they just put a couple of lengths between themselves and the lions. Then they go back to grazing. Once you acknowledge that you'll probably be in for a little gallop, but it's not likely to take you to the neighboring state, it's a little easier.

So how do you get over that need to over-control? Beyond the obvious (or it SHOULD be obvious) need to learn to ride FAST and be comfortable, how do you program your body to blend in with a horse that's about to do 0 - 40 MPH in four strides to someplace you weren't planning to go??? Be creative. If the horse is a youngster, you probably ought to conquer this fear on another horse first, just to save Junior the trouble. So take a horse that you know isn't "bombproof", and set up a spooky situation in a large enough area that the horse can get up some speed (ooooo, scary!) but relatively safe, with decent footing and no major obstacles. Put a nightlatch on your saddle if you don't already have one, and take a hold of it with one hand. Now ride out on a loose rein...and head for Spookville. DON'T muscle the horse towards the scary thing...let him drift if he wants to...and be ready to get with him if he decides he needs to get the heck outta there. First thing you might find is that just by riding on a loose rein -- not over-riding and trying to control every inch of your horse -- that spook might not even happen. Second thing you might find is that if he DOES spook, and even bolt, he doesn't go nearly as far as you thought he might, and when he's done, he turns himself around so he can get a good look at what scared him in the first place. And guess what? He's still feeling of you...he's still listening. Sure felt better than muscling him past it, didn't it???

A favorite quote I once heard in reference to this subject:

"What are you worried about??? There's an ocean on either side!!!"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A float in the rope…a float in the reins

Wouldn’t it be nice if your horse was SO light that he ALWAYS left the float in the rope or the reins?? The only way to achieve that is for YOU to always leave the float in the rope or the reins.

As your feel and timing improve, you should find that you can get even a very green colt to respond to your feel through considerable slack in the lead rope. I used to believe that taking the slack out of the rope (or rein) was the way to teach a horse to follow my feel. Now I understand why that is not the best way.

If you begin to understand that everything you do with the horse, he understands very literally, this might start to make sense. If you consistently teach him to run into pressure, he will think it’s OK to run into pressure. If, on the other hand, you follow his feel a little, leaving the slack in the rope, but still making your intent clear, you will be much more effective at teaching him that the float should always be there. He will become much more tuned-in to the amount of slack in the rope; he will start to follow your feel with such sensitivity it will start to seem more like mind reading.

This is a very short blog entry, but the truth is…that’s really all there is to it.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Some thoughts on "Pressure"...

Contrary to what it might seem to imply, "pressure" does not equal force.

It took me an awfully long time to figure that one out, I'll admit. I suppose a lot of my old-school thinking got in the way. No matter how far I tried to take my horsemanship AWAY from the forceful ways, when I'd hit a brick wall, I'd find myself wondering if I had "spared the rod and spoiled the child". Maybe I was looking for an easy way out. Maybe I just wasn't smart enough at the time...I hadn't put enough of this "feel" thing together in my own head to make the leap that needed to be made. Only gradually have I begun to understand why getting with the horse's idea made sense. Only very slowly has the distinction between force and firmness, between forcefulness and focused intent become clear. And the clearer those things become, the more obvious it is that pain is NEVER a good motivator. Oh, it works with the majority of horses, and when I say "works" I mean in a very rudimentary way...the horse will yield to pain. Not willingly. Not gracefully. But the horse will yield. Usually. Sometimes, pain (the sting of a dressage whip or riding crop, the pain from a stud chain brought tight and hard across the nose, the wet-towel snap of the leather popper at the end of your lead rope, the bruising thunk of a metal clip on a halter, a metal rowel of spur to the horse's side) will actually make the horse MAD. Then the horse will defend himself...rear and strike, kick, buck. Do you blame him?? None of those pain-inflicting "techniques" made a lick of sense to the horse. Why on earth would they?? I know how I would react to that kind of treatment...and it wouldn't be pretty. Why do we expect a magnificent creature, ten times our weight, intelligent, phenomenally agile, to submit??

The fact remains that getting a horse's attention is critical. They are all individuals, and some will pay attention with very little intensity on your part. Others will sort of tune you out until you do something that they really notice. But if you take your time and experiment, you'll find that your "pressure" need not be escalating in force. And your results will be infinitely BETTER, the more you learn to increase your intensity without increasing force.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Building Blocks

It’s important to understand that the natural horsemanship approach is a total philosophy towards horses. It can’t be applied to just one part of the horse’s interaction with humans. The first lessons on the ground -- yielding the front or hindquarters, suppling the head and neck, following the feel of the lead rope to lead up and back freely, working at liberty in the roundpen -- are the building blocks for all of the later lessons and more sophisticated tasks we might require of him. So fixing “problems,” providing there is no physical discomfort causing them, almost always goes back to one of these very basic lessons that wasn’t laid in there quite right, or maybe not at all.

It’s equally important to understand the necessity of bringing up the life in the horse and getting him reliable to be around when things are a little more exciting. Because that’s when you’re really going to need control of his feet, and when you’ll need him to keep thinking.

Life in the horse is a GOOD thing. Keep telling yourself that. That very life is what you’ll need to get some of those more advanced things done. Repeat after me: “I will not stuff the life back down in my horse! I will not stuff the life back down in my horse! I will not stuff the life back down in my horse! I will not stuff the life back down in my horse!…” Keep repeating it.

The critical piece is that you have to understand feel to handle a horse that has been brought along this way. In fact, that’s probably the most important part of the package…because when applied with finesse, it comes pretty natural to the horse. “Feel” seems such a simple concept; but it requires incredible focus, and excellent timing. And that requires dedication, and lots and lots and LOTS of practice. For us humans, it’s very much that of learning a new non-verbal language; for the horse, it’s much easier, because it is based on his native tongue.

But believe me, it is so worth the effort.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Feel 101

What we want is a willing partnership with the horse. In order to achieve that, we have to be consistent, we have to make sense to his way of thinking, and we have to present the things we want him to do for us in such a way that he is able to do them. To my way of thinking, you don’t just ride your horse…you have a relationship with him. So we’re not just going to talk about how you sit him, keeping your heels down, your elbows in…we’re going to talk about anything else that comes up while we’re with him that pertains to that relationship. Because it’s all going to impact how he goes down the trail or the rail for you.

You’re going to hear me use the word “feel” a lot…and that means a number of things in relation to horses…not just using the least amount of pressure you need, although that’s part of it. It also means thinking about where your horse is coming from…and I don’t mean that in a metaphysical, getting-your-chakras-aligned kinda way. I mean in order to ask the question and have the horse know and be able to respond with the answer we’re looking for. In order for him to perform the task you request, where do his feet need to be? How should his weight be balanced? Do we need his front feet freed up? Or his hindquarters?

Once you've decided where you need the horse to move, and how the horse will need to adjust his body to make it happen, make your request. Do so with the lightest touch, a clear picture in your mind of what space you want him to yield and the space you will give him to fill, and expect that he will understand. Nothing muddles your presentation like the thought that you won't get it right...you won't even get the question posed before you're thinking about how to do it differently. Give it a chance; give him a second to process and situate himself. I see people daily asking for a horse's foot, getting impatient and upping the pressure rapidly even as that horse is arranging himself to offer the foot.

Words to live by: “Ride his feet, not his mouth.” We never want to stifle his energy…we just want to direct it. We want that life available to us, we want those feet freed up, and so we have to learn to get down to each of those feet and put them where we need them. And your horse will be MUCH happier and more relaxed (turned loose on the inside, as folks like to say) if he never has someone try to just stuff that life back down in him. A horse who's been schooled that it's BAD to offer life is a horse that will do lots of uncomfortable things, be real spooky, or maybe offer to buck when he's allowed to move out -- or when he's held back. So we’re going to try really hard to always take the life the horse offers and put it to good use. If you’re out on trail and your horse wants to go faster than you do, it’s best not to just haul on his face and try to hold him back. Ask him first to come back to you by asking him for a soft feel, keeping your body very relaxed and your breathing deep and calm. Keep your eyes focused where you want to go, but don’t glare ahead – even your gaze should be relaxed. If he won’t drop back to a walk and stay there, then let him circle at the gait he chooses, until he relaxes and drops back to the gait YOU choose. When he settles, let him walk on down the trail. If he’s just a little speedy, ask him to serpentine down the trail...or ask him to move laterally, putting a little bend in his neck and asking him to move over with your leg, first one way, then the other. Give him a job to do, something to keep his mind and his feet engaged. But use the life that he offers. It will ultimately make that life available to you whenever you need it. And you WILL need it.

That's all I have for tonight...ride the life!!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

And so it begins...with Groundwork.

What is the goal of ground work? To teach the horse to feel of you…and by doing so, teach him to flow with your feel, instead of resisting it. To make him safe (or at least safer) to handle from the ground. And to lay in the foundation for being ridden.

It is so hard to define feel. Feel is not a movement that the horse does on cue. It is NOT a cue. Feel is much more complex. It is very subtle, but very understandable to the horse. Feel builds into the horse a sort of responsibility….much like his responsibility within the herd to be accountable for his actions. It gives the horse permission to think…in fact it encourages him to think. And when he is taught this way, when he is expected to think, and then act accordingly, he is indeed given responsibility. He is essentially given a code of conduct, and the free choice to abide by it or not. The beautiful thing about horses is that they are such honest, kind, giving creatures by nature – and with a very rare exception (and that exception would very likely be rooted in some former mishandling) the horse will HONOR the code of conduct.

Learning feel is pretty tough, too…but all it takes is lots of practice. Coordination. And lots of experimentation. For example, if I want the horse to yield his hindquarters and step across – away from me – behind, how do I need to line up my body, and what posture conveys more life?? Practice, practice, practice. Once you figure out how to present more life in yourself, see how LITTLE you can do to move the horse. Try it with different horses, because it will vary greatly from horse to horse. Figure out where you need to stand, and where in the horse’s field of vision you need to “take” his space to move any part of him in any direction. Work on your coordination – believe me, it takes a lot of hours to get to a point where your hands, feet, and body figure out how to do all the things they need to do in concert.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Yes, it’s frustrating, and a set back for the horse. But you will learn from it. And it can all be fixed again. I always feel horrible when I get something wrong….but it just makes me work harder to figure out the RIGHT way, and ultimately my feel and timing and understanding make a big leap forward. (There have been occasions when that “big leap forward” is quite literal!) If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else.

Think outside the box, with the goal always being to use the LEAST pressure possible. In fact, NO pressure is optimum, and very feasible. Most horses presented with a decent understanding of feel and good timing will quickly learn to leave the float in the rope and position themselves according to the space you “take” from them and the space that you “give” to them visually. But sometimes a horse will get stuck, or maybe just experiment a little to see what works or doesn’t work. And when that happens…THINK. A horse that stops in his tracks and refuses to lead forward…you could offer to take the slack out of the lead rope. What if that doesn’t work? You could offer a tug, or a steady pull. If the tug doesn’t work, you’ve applied pressure and a release for NO try. If the steady pull doesn’t work, you could be playing tug-o-war with an opponent ten times your weight for the next hour…or two. And then you’ve essentially taught the horse that you CAN’T move him. Instead, maybe ask him to step to one side or the other, and then try to lead straight again. Or change the plan…ask him to back away from you, quick, quick, quick! And then lead forward again. Use your imagination.

And that is really the underlying theme in all of this…use your imagination…use your brain. THINK, THINK, THINK!

Welcome to The Thoughtful Horseman Blog

A lot of phrases have been coined in an attempt to describe a type of horsemanship that eschews traditional training methods of force and instead embraces what has become widely known as "feel". I gave a lot of thought to what I would call my website and blog dedicated to that very sort of horsemanship; "thoughtful horseman" is truly what finally summed it up. The dictionary definition of "thoughtful" reads:

Engrossed in thought; contemplative.

Exhibiting or characterized by careful thought.

Having or showing heed for the well-being or happiness of others and a propensity for anticipating their needs or wishes.

That is, I believe, the hallmark of horsemanship that seeks to develop true feel.

There are plenty of books and DVDs and systems and merchandise out there aiming to teach people this sort of horsemanship. And in those resources there is for sure a goldmine of information; and some also contain some ideas that just don't seem to fit by my definition. But no matter how much information you find on the subject, "feel" is elusive. Clinics are few and far between; and individual instruction is darn hard to come by.

I don't have all the answers; I'm pretty sure no one does. But I'd like to share what I've learned, and help put you on the path to being a thoughtful horseman. I'll help you learn how:

  • To listen with your full attention, with your mind and your heart

  • To THINK, to experiment, to be creative in your interactions

  • To be reliable and consistent, in order for your horse to be reliable and consistent

  • To trust your horse, and go with him, so that he might see fit to go with you

  • To ride the horse as he moves naturally

  • To ride FAST, and be comfortable riding fast

  • To ride with your seat, and not your hands

My website is currently under construction; I hope to have it up and running this week. And I'll be posting to my blog regularly; horsemanship is almost the only thing I think about. If I open my mouth, you can pretty much bank on that it's to say something related to horses. So I've got plenty to say!

I am available for individual instruction in the San Diego area; please contact me via email for more information.

Stay tuned!