Posts Tagged With: learning new things

The Right Way

I think about this constantly. I had some interaction with a woman who was chastising me for using a wand to direct my horse around me (loose in a turn out, no round pen, no lines or ropes) as he circled me happily. She is an advocate of clicker training.

So am I. I worked at a rescue that brought in Draft mares and foals from the PMU industry. There was an aggressive mare there whose daughter was still with her as a coming 3 year old! I used the clicker schooling (marking desired behavior) and was able to accomplish a lot with the mare to make her safer and help her understand us.

I trained Saddle Seat at one point back east; I rode colts off the track aiming to make them H/J prospects while in Florida; I had a blind retired Eventer that I rode! I worked with 3 year old colts and fillies who had never seen a human being until they were chased into stock trailers and unloaded into my barn aisle! I rode most of them eventually, but it was a long journey to get to the trust.

I rode under Charles deKunffy and trail rode my own mules… there are hundreds of ways to do things with horses and all of them are correct IF they do no harm.

You know why people get adamant about a particular style of training or handling or feeding a horse? It is because they’ve had success with it. That’s all. And because many roads can lead to the same destination, many people have lots of successes. That’s very cool!

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I sit here tonight thinking about how new, green horse peeps must feel confused or overwhelmed sometimes (especially with the endless information online) and wonder which is the “Right Way” with horses.

Imagine how confused and overwhelmed horses must feel by our methods! Truth is, horses are beyond remarkable. They can go from “owner” to “owner” and have to relearn or rethink what the signals and responses are from person to person. And try they do – horses want to please us!

If you are working with your horse and you are both safe and happy and understanding each other. You are doing it the Right Way.

Categories: Horse Training, joy, Saving Horses, vision | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Compassion not Compulsion

That is our motto at Dharmahorse Equine Sanctuary. It has more to do with the handling and schooling of horses than with our mission of rescue and care, but it is a thread that weaves itself through every endeavor. Compassion is more about empathy than about sympathy. While the two seem synonymous, they have distinct differences. We can feel both toward a horse who arrives starved, injured or abused, but it is the empathy that feeds compassion. Being able to imagine oneself in the “shoes” of another is the first step toward true compassion.

And life experiences give us that empathetic ability. Experiences are gathered through life like points on a scale from mild to extreme and we all have our own unique set of them. If we have never stubbed our toe, we do not cringe and gasp when someone describes ramming their foot into a cabinet in the dark. We can say that we “feel sorry” for them (sympathy), but we don’t relate on a comparative level. We have no empathy with them.

Compassion comes from awareness. With horses, we need to “think like a horse” to understand their perspective as prey animals designed to move across vast distances as part of a herd. Any life with us requires that they adapt to being confined on some level and dependent upon us for all their needs.

We need to become aware of how our lifestyles can impact the animals’ lives. They certainly learn to adapt to us, but that can sometimes mean that they acquire strange (to us) behaviors as coping skills. At the Sanctuary, we have a young horse who was starved nearly to death twice before she was three years old! Food triggers unusual behaviors in her (understandably) that include kicking the pipe bars of her fence as if to say “Don’t forget me!” as we start feeding a meal. We see these adaptations and adjustments in all the species we bring into our lives.

If a dog runs to the closet at 3:00 AM and starts digging in the corner (don’t yell “bad dog!” – I always say, “Good dog doing a bad thing”) we must try to understand why this is happening and give him something else to do.

Most predators, like our dogs and cats, re-act to stimulus. Their instincts are intact, even if the most hunting action they get is trying to locate the piece of popcorn that shot under the refrigerator last week. So the best trained dog and the sweetest cat in the world will both re-act without thinking when a bird flops down from the rafters to grab a grasshopper.

As you become aware of the instincts and qualities that your animal shares with his species, you can prepare his surroundings to enhance the things you want and to discourage the things you don’t want from him. Socializing a dog with people and other animals is of supreme importance because those very instincts that ensured his species’ survival in the past are the deep seated stimulus that could spark an attack under certain circumstances.

And teaching a horse to lead and tie and stand for the hoof trimmer or Veterinarian and to load into a trailer, etc. can ensure that his future life, should it turn out in another person’s care, will be free of the brutality someone might resort to in an effort to accomplish their goals. A horse with a broad education and exposure to many stimuli is less likely to panic when facing something new.

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Compassion encompasses the training and treatment of horses if we wish to communicate on the deepest level. This also extrapolates to our interactions with all animals and even each other. Especially with children and young animals, our first feeling might be that they are deliberately challenging us when, in all likelihood, they are simply confused or uncertain. By taking a moment to breathe and “put ourselves in their place”, we can draw upon compassion to solve problems.

A horse living 22 hours in a box stall is very much like one of us living in a large closet. When the door is opened and we walk out into the fresh air, we might very likely need to kick up our heels or squeal for joy.  A dog living at the end of a chain would likely become overwhelmed with enthusiasm upon seeing anyone who might spend some time with him. Feeling sympathy, we could feel sorry for them and say, “Oh poor creature”. Feeling empathy, we can imagine ourselves in similar circumstances and look for a way to help. By discussing the animal’s situation with the owner, we might find a way to help them build a proper fence to allow more freedom… some compassion based, creative thinking might help everyone involved. Empathy for an owner who has a horse or a dog he cannot handle could lead us into brainstorming solutions. Criticism, anger and blaming will certainly not help an animal, an owner, the situation or our own blood pressure (except in cases of abuse, when intervention through the authorities is needed). To begin with compassion, with empathy, has at least the possibility of improving a situation.

And holding our own actions up to the light of compassionate care, we can see when rushing a horse through a needed lesson or skipping over the foundation building experiences needed, especially for the young horse, will actually take longer than deliberate, consistent communication.

Putting ourselves “in his shoes”, we can see how the horse who is afraid to make a mistake becomes robotic and stingy with his responses to our requests.

We see how people who connect with the hurt and hurting horses can find healing for themselves as well. We are all in this together.

Categories: healing, Horse Training, Relax | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Without Pain…

“The whole idea of struggle brings you to a point of conflict, the antithesis of horsemanship.”  If things seem to be going wrong in your training, first look to the possibility of confusion.  The horse wants to please.  It is his nature to yield and to avoid conflict.  If he seems unwilling to comply with your wishes/requests/demands, consider the possibility that he is confused and does not understand your aids.  First look to fixing yourself.  Make your language clearer, your communication more basic.  Go to a simpler task, a slower gait, a smaller jump, use a milder bit, remove force, and concentrate upon influence.  If your hose is acting out of character, consider that he feels poorly or that something is hurting him.  Check your equipment, his body, his hooves.  Give your horse a chance to tell you why he is not cooperating before you decide to attack him.

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Consider how often he is ridden.  If you work him hard every day, be sure to vary your routine.  Drilling him over and over with the same patterns of schooling will either bore him into quiet, dull submission or drive him to rebellion.  Neither is appealing.  If you can only get to him once a week, the excitement and newness of your contact with him many be overly stimulating.  He may have trouble concentrating for the first hour you are together, so do not make any demands upon him in the beginning of your time together beyond simple safety.  After the freshness has worn off, begin a schooling session that takes into account the time that has passed since your last contact.  Much improvement can be had with a review of old skills, a lesson on new, logical movements, finishing with a session of easy, well-honed skills that allows the horse to feel successful.

 

This building of successes for both of you can eliminate the use of pain as a training tool.  Equipment that inflicts pain is unnecessary if you take the time to school every small detail consistently from the most basic to the most complex.  It is important that your horse feels successful and be rewarded for his cooperation.  His desire to repeat the experience will be increased.  If he feels that he can never please you or that he is never quite food enough, he will lose all desire to participate with you either under saddle or in the stable.

Categories: Horse Training, Relax | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Reduce Scarring…

I saw that on a jar of ointment yesterday. It is a blend of Chinese herbs in beeswax and oils to use on burns and wounds. It got me thinking about scars. I have a few! So have most of my horses.

The funny thing about scars, they are made of tissue that is stronger (after they are set) than the original skin, muscle or bone. Physical scars make the body stronger if allowed to “do their thing”. Emotional scars can be strengthening if we see them through the eyes of a student. A student of Life.

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There is no way we get through this unscathed. Life is a full spectrum. It is gentle and rough. It is great fun and it is scary. It holds us up and it knocks us down… but we have to get up again. Each time. The wound to our bum or our ego or our soul will form a scar. That scar will make us stronger if we see that spectrum of experiences through eyes of compassion. We become empathetic and compassionate when we experience this life fully. If you have never stubbed your toe, you do not wince in awareness when a friend tells you that she ran her little toe into the corner of a cabinet in the dark last night. Without experiences, we have no empathy. And paper cuts… well, just thinking about them and I can hear the sizzle of sheets through skin (I used to run printing presses!!).

If we look deeply into our pain as it is on us, we can sense the way through it. Scars will be physical and emotional and mental, but they will always make us stronger if we accept them, even honor them. Dear friends, be compassionate with yourselves!
Love is what matters.

Categories: healing, joy, Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

And the winner is…

A “Win – Win” situation… I hear that often. It is a truly profound statement when it is used. Most times our society is equating winning with being higher, better, stronger, smarter than others who must, therefor, lose.

And it is dramatic when a rider is told to “show him who’s boss”; “you must win the battle with your horse”; etc.

Battle? If a battle ensues within a relationship with a horse, the human is 99% of the time the instigator. A battle can demoralize one of the parties and it invariably ends up being the horse.

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So, this “Win – Win” situation sounds like the best way to approach relationships and dialog with horses… heck, with all beings! I have personally found my way there through decades of experience and relationships with Appaloosas. Oh, I have owned and schooled Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Mules, Quarter Horses… you name it! But the time I have spent with Appaloosas has honed my skills as a proponent of “The Middle Way” and brought me to a place of thoughtful consideration of the other party in each relationship. Appaloosas have an acute sense of what is fair and the ability to know if you are honest and mean what you “say”. They will hold you to task. And I appreciate that.

If we seek that “Middle Way” of partnership with our horses (and family and coworkers and neighbors, etc.), with respect for the other’s feelings – knowing that there are always reasons for how we all respond to life – we will All Be Winners. No One has to lose!

 

I once was told that my ideas were too “simplistic”; that the way I lived was “idealistic”. How COOL! I will gladly fly the SIMPLE flag and hold myself to the idealistic standards of compassion and trust. If we all just cave in to the idea that struggle, brutality and force are the normal aspects of life and relationships… well, what sort of life and relationships will we experience?
Categories: Horse Training, Relax, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Being Fully Present

A long while back we harnessed our pony, Andy, hooked him up to the cart and taught some driving lessons at Dharmahorse. It was a great day for doing this since our earliest student could not make her lesson and it gave me the chance to take our late morning student on a brief drive around the property just for fun.
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The lessons on driving went well and when my young student arrived early, we just popped on her helmet and sat her beside me in the cart. What happened next was so interesting to me! She had never ridden in a pony cart. She was thrilled to do so, but she talked the entire time. I realized that she would never remember the look of Andy’s cute little bottom swinging with his stride as we rolled along. She will not someday think, “wow, I know what breeching and a crupper look like” or “the pony wears blinkers to keep his attention forward” – No, she was never fully present in that cart and I’m certain that years in the future, should someone ask if she has ever ridden in a horse drawn cart, her answer will be “no”.

It really was that disconnected. Now, sometimes we disconnect out of fear or anxiety about a situation. That is me on a roller coaster; just hurry and get me off of the bloody thing. Sometimes our mind is chattering so much that our focus is unclear or distorted. Often, we are just in the habit of being scattered.

So, like my young student, I know that I can hold myself separate from my experiences if I forget to focus and be fully present in the moment. Often, I have too many things on my mind. I have to know how each horse is feeling and what each student needs and match riders to horses for the benefit of both – while remembering to check on my brother and soak the food for the dogs and pay the water bill and move hay up for supper and get the dumpster out for the truck, and, and, and… you get the picture. It is something we all do.

I think of this series of mind checks and balances as a kind of lack of trust. As if I do not trust myself to remember what needs to be done, I constantly review and often chastise myself for any daydreaming or simple useless conversations. My, my… it is harder to release yourself from your own authority than it is to slip away from the domination of another. Just to relax is priceless and it is the foundation of being fully present in the moment. One must relax.

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Trail Riding clears out the cobwebs!

 

My beautiful picture

Andy Alee me

Malie First Trail Ride 2

 

My beautiful picture

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Trail Riding

One of our most edifying things is taking a girl on her first trail ride!! After many lessons at the stable, in the little arena; then to the large arena – to head out into the high desert beneath the beautiful Organ mountains is a unique accomplishment!

The horses love it, too!

Malie First Trail Ride 1

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Subluxation & Saponification

Years back, I took a course in Equine Chiropractic techniques in Albuquerque. At the same time, I took a soap making class. I loved both experiences! At the hotel in Albuquerque, I made notes as fast as I could, watched demonstrations, felt my perspectives open and my ideas expand. I learned the simple “Logan Basic” adjustment that continuously saved my Arabian gelding who continuously pulled his hamstrings. I learned about the tilting or “subluxation” of spinous processes and gentle ways to heal them.

I learned stretching techniques for the horses and dogs. I stayed in a motel with a dear friend and we set our fingernails against the floor to ceiling mirror, trying to remember if the fingernail touching its reflection or having a gap between them meant the mirror was “two way”! We went to “Cracker Barrel” where I ordered plates of vegetables and coffee and iced tea. I won an Equissage video and watched it for hours, even though my hands (from injuries) were not strong enough to do massage.

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At the Dona Ana Branch of NMSU, I took the class for soapmaking. With rich oils and lye, we set into motion the “saponification” that created, weeks later, the most awesome soap I’ve ever used. We melted the oils in large pots on the stove while our water-activated lye cooled – bringing the two ingredients to the same temperature when they were combined and stirred until the magic occurred.The liquid pre-soap was poured into waxed milk cartons, wrapped in layers of paper and thick towels; then taken home and kept warm until ready for the cutting into bars. The soap bars were lined up to cure on cookie sheets… I made frankincense soap and used my bars for over a year.

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There was something so satisfying about making and using my own soap – which I have continued to do ever since. The goggles and scary lye mixing; keeping vinegar near by in case of skin contact; the process of streaking and shininess as the soponification happens under the constant stirring by wooden spoon and the unmistakable smell of soap happening are exciting to me.

AND, to be able to immediately help my horses with safe adjustments and knowing how to protect them (by mounting them from each side equally and from mounting blocks to protect their spines) is a most valuable thing learned. Subluxation and saponification were indeed great additions to my life.

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