Monday, September 27, 2021

Now That I've Scared Everyone Off...

Now that I've scared everyone off from ever giving me advice again >insert laughing emoji<, I would like to shift gears and ask you to share the best piece of advice, or maybe more accurately, wisdom, you ever received.

For me, it was probably the day my vet told me Cowboy was a smart horse because he had a strong survival instinct. I was thinking about it from the negative--he's not a bright horse, because he's not allowing my vet to give him his vaccination shot, and I was making apologies. He turned that back around to the positive so fast my head was left spinning.

I was Cowboy's fifth owner by the time he was seven, partially because the poor guy had been caught up in a divorce situation. He was also an orphan foal. Cowboy must have thought if he was going to survive, he'd have to take matters into his own hands. When I look back, every blow up, every refusal, everything--was a failure of not meeting that most basic, essential need.

1. Have I done the necessary conditioning / training?

2. Have I earned this horse's trust?

3. Does my horse feel like he / she can communicate their needs to me and have them heard and respected?

4. Is anything I'm doing contributing to my horse's fear and survival instinct?

5. What's the best way I can get this horse past his fear and not make him more fearful?

6. At the end of the day, the relationship is more important than the results.

It took me a long time to get there with Cowboy, and I had to let some things go. He never enjoyed riding in super large groups. He always hated desensitization clinics. He wasn't good crossing water, and always took extra time. When he got it, he'd do it forever, but only that particular water crossing. In all other things, he gave me everything he had--really poured it out and wanted more time with me on the trail. 

How about all of you? What is that great epiphany? What piece of wisdom changed everything about your outlook?

Oh, and we introduced Foxy and Epona last night.

It was extremely uneventful.


  1. There have been many pearls of wisdom given to me. Some resonated right away and others took time and multiple repetitions. You know, just like horse training. :)
    All the best pieces were those that let me take a step back and see the horse's perspective. the biggest was like you with Cowboy- recognizing that it is survival instinct and not 'stupidity'. The other was about the stories we tell ourselves and how that stops us from moving forward with our horses.

    1. Aha! Yes, the story thing is super powerful! It almost paralyzed my work with Leah. I would envision a train wreck before every ride, really derailed train wrecks that ended with her running away and being dragged by one foot through the fields and woods. One day I sat myself down before I pulled out and made myself envision a successful ride—in as much as detail—and it made a huge difference in the outcome. She was more relaxed, and so was I.

      And yes, the ‘stupid horse’ label. I used to hear that term slung around a lot, and got into the trap of thinking it myself, until that vet gave me a deserved wake up call. Horsemanship has come a long way. I think that label has been relegated to the trash bin.

    2. *detailed train wrecks, but derailed works, too. 😂

    3. *me being dragged by one foot through the woods, that is.

    4. Have you ever heard of Barbra Schulte? She is the first one I knew about who promoted that exercise of envisioning a perfect ride before working with your horse.

    5. I haven't heard of her, but I'll check out her site. The practice of envisioning, before we do any task, is proven to be quite powerful. For example, a pianist who envisions playing a piece of music--sees their fingers striking the correct keys--etc--has the same changes in the brain that actually playing the piano would create. When I had my podcast, I'd interview musicians, one was pianist David Lanz. He said that part of getting over performance anxiety, for him, was to take a moment and envision the entire performance, even people coming up to him afterward and saying they enjoyed it. When you think about the same concept with horses it can even be more powerful because horses are taking so many queues from our body. If we envision the ride first, our bodies will follow--and horses follow us. I always tell kids who are learning to ride, look down, fall down. Look where you want to go. Envisioning probably helps us to look where we want to go in a wider sense.

  2. I can't pinpoint just one piece of advice. The first one that really made me see how poorly I was riding was at our local club gymkhana day, I was warming up my horse and another (more experienced rider) rode by me and yelled "quit leaning in!" as I was circling my horse. I guess her advice paid off because she and I split the year end prize for barrel racing!
    Over the years I have had several instances of good advice all of which have helped me to become not just a better rider, but a better horseman. The one that has really helped me with training young horses is to let the horse "dwell". In other words, when you are introducing something new or even just asking him for something you have asked for before, give the horse time to think about what you are asking and don't expect him to get the right answer right away.

    1. I remember you mentioning that before, and I love the word "dwell."

      That is funny that her advice improved your riding to the point you split the winnings with her!

  3. I've had good advice over the years but the few that stuck with me and made me a better horseman would be: 1)Listen to your horse and give him what he needs, 2) When they get it right don't keep drilling the same thing over and over, end on a good note, 3) Gives lots of praise 4) Always be calm and quiet with your horse, when you're quiet and calm it will help the horse be the same, 5) Always have a plan and try to stick to it, sometimes behaviors may make you have to think on your feet or in the saddle and change it up a bit, but most times having a plan is a good place to start.

    Horses aren't stupid, yes, some are smarter than others but they have been around for a very long time and even if they are domesticated they still have survival instincts. I've found over the years that a lot of non-horse people think of them as livestock. I only wish they knew each horse as an individual with their own distinctive personalities. It would make the horses lives so much better.

    1. That's all very good advice. Don't keep drilling the same thing is pertinent to my work with Tumbleweed right now. I saw that firsthand. The calm and quiet is also very good. We have to manage our energy around them. The plan is also good--and is in line with the above discussion on envisioning. If we're haplessly plodding through the work, they're going to be haplessly responding to our queues.

      Non-horse people often do think of every horse as just another horse, like a 4-wheeler is to another 4-wheeler--turn the key, give it some gas, steer it. Voila! Yet, they're so different--and they change as they age. Riding Tumbleweed, who is still developing his body, is very difficult. His trot is still a bit wonky, and he's not used to carrying a rider yet. He's done it, and he's learning to do it better, but as he continues to grow, it changes. He's like a teenager getting used to his body's changes. I'm like a teenager learning to ride a new horse. haha. (Except my body is not a teenagers, and it feels its age after every ride.) I would ride him at the walk, only, but I really need to have all the gaits under my belt before we go out on a trail, just in case. Most of our work right now is learning to ride together--him how to keep me on and keep his footing--and me how to sit balanced enough to let him find his way in saddle. I can ride Cowboy bareback, at every gait, but it does not translate to riding Tweed the same way.

  4. I have one more piece of advice that changed me. Long ago, when Cowboy was at his worst, he tried to kick me, and he came very close. I was ready to give up on him until a Cowboy told me, "Never hold a grudge against a horse. Every day is a new day for them." I've shared that on this blog many times, and I am so glad I took his advice and worked through it. Cowboy was just a very distrustful horse, and he had developed a number of really bad vices, but were able to overcome all of them. We worked through that stage and he never offered to kick me again. Exact opposite. He's the sweetest horse ever.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.