Trust: A Suspension of Disbelief.

You love horses. No, you really, really love horses. Because they are so amazing. We share videos of blind horses cared for by sighted ones. Ponies who tolerate wild kids and horses fulfilling last wishes of our own elders with gentle kindness. There are brilliant competitors dancing and racehorses running on heart. Trail horses who carry us to peace of mind. And don’t forget mules fighting coyotes. We marvel at their intelligence and courage. Yay, Equines!

Then there’s a moment that happens. The instant when that “magical” horse does some small movement that looks normal, like something your horse does. Or the instant that your horse takes a couple of steps of piaffe for the fun of it. Or your horse does a beautiful liberty movement that you only notice you asked for in hindsight. It’s noticeable. Maybe not identical but so close. The lights and mirrors go black and you have an inkling that your horse could do the same thing that previously looked like magic. And that what looked like magic was just being a horse.

It’s a great moment. The line between magic and normal needs to be blurred. Horses are much more than beasts of burden. At the same time, believing some horses are mythical creatures with magical powers does a disservice to rescue horses and grade horses and most likely, the horse in your own barn.

I think the biggest challenge facing most horses is our own mental limitation on what we think they are capable of understanding. We have an innate us/them mentality. We think that other horses achieve a particular behavior because of some intangible circumstances not available to the average horse and rider. Just not true.

But how much do we actually believe in their intelligence? Their ability to understand what’s going on? How often do we act like they need training for common sense, and in that moment, seek to dumb horses down?

Some of it boils down to a question of trust, but when we think about trusting our horses, it usually involves our physical safety. We trust them to clear a jump, to come back after a gallop; we aspire to trust their responsiveness in some way we call normal.

Say you’re asking for a simple in-hand obstacle like stepping onto a tarp on the ground. If he is standing with his hooves right next to it, do you feel you need to do more to explain, like lead him or cluck to him or teach it as if he’s never seen it? Or do you trust that he recognizes the obvious?

Think of all the practical but lame reminders we give teenagers, like to take a coat along. Of course, they roll their eyes. It’s clear we don’t trust them to come in out of the rain. You can say you’re just being helpful, but the other side of that states a lack of trust that they can manage the basics and that’s a horrible confidence builder. Would teens be different if we trusted they’d figure it out without us belaboring the obvious?

I recently read a brilliant article that said by demonstrating things to kids instead of letting them figure it out, we actually show them that we are capable, and they aren’t. In other words, constantly bailing kids out of their situation creates a kind of learned helplessness –the opposite of our intended goal.

Horses are no different. The chronic habit of humans re-training or over-cueing is a kind of lack of trust in our horse’s intellect.

The idea of allowing a horse autonomy, the freedom to volunteer, requires a suspension of disbelief. It means that you extend trust… not that they won’t hurt you but trust that they are smart and can answer the question. Giving the cue louder doesn’t make it more understandable. It just adds more anxiety. Ask quietly, with confidence in both of you. Then rather than doing the task, give him the time and support to figure it out. You get to pick the topic and he gets to pick the time.

Maybe trust is another word for patience.

If you believe that horses are sentient, then I challenge you to communicate with him that way. Mentor with your body, notice your own energy. Suggest rather than demand. And you know you should be breathing more.

Do your cues take on the urgency and size of semaphore signals on an aircraft carrier? Maybe a little less training enthusiasm and a little more confidence in your own ability and your horse’s desire to align with your intention. Let it be easier.

It’s possible they won’t give us the answer we want immediately. It might be confusion or a lack of confidence but don’t give into doubt. It’s up to us to find a quiet way to ask, or cut the task into smaller pieces and be grateful for every tiny effort. Successive approximation.

In that quiet moment, can you see a small change in his eye? Does his poll soften? In the past you may have thought he was dawdling or resisting the cue, but looking closer now, do see his intelligence? Reward that; connect with the action of him using his mind.

How horses and riders get stuck in the same place for long periods of time is that we don’t hold ourselves to conscious creativity in our equine conversations. We don’t progress because we unconsciously become repetitive naggers instead of scintillating conversationalists. If we believe that horses can read our minds in other situations, why would we have to resort to semaphore cues for something obvious and easy?

Trust your horse can a true partner and not a minion. Let him rise to the occasion and feel pride in himself. Trust his intelligence because his species has survived for thousands of years. Celebrate that intellect as a thing that you both share.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

Photo (Poem) Challenge: Temporary

He has walked on from this place. 
Into memory, this creature of heart 
and spirit. He can't remember a time 
he didn't know you, either. Named 
with a young girl's passion, this 

colt grew to encompass all that was 
true, the standard measure dwarfing  
all lesser things. Such a life cannot 
stay cramped in a worn body, tied to 
a shallow breath. Has he gone to wind,

a heart unbound? Call out his name. 
Cry proud tears, for you are his legacy. 
He is worthy of mourning, worthy of 
celebration of all you've become in each
other. Hold steady that primal moment
 
in half-light just before the sun goes to
rest; when gray horses pause in reflection
of all that matters most. In that slow fade 
he will return; the dear scent of his mane
carrying you up on a silver-white breeze. 


….

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Blog  FB  Email  Author  FB  Tweet  Amazon
Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. And then I write a poem. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Temporary 

Circles: A Soft Bend

I’d led a sheltered life. I was thirty years old before I visited my first Saddlebred barn. I was just tagging along with a friend, standing flat-footed in the aisle, when I heard a yell, followed by a loud rattling noise. At the far end of an extremely long barn aisle, a tall horse with wide eyes was jangling toward me with a rider up. I backed against a stall as the noise got louder.  He flew past me, knees high and chains clanging in a gait something like a trot.

They pulled up at the other far end of the aisle, awkwardly turned around and clip-clopped a walk back toward us, stilted and sweating. The rider stopped and exchanged greetings with my friend, while I did a squint-eyed stare at the gelding’s long hooves –wedged, weighted, and screwed together with metal strapping.

It was a lot to take in; I must have looked like a gaped-mouth tourist. Back in the truck, I grilled my friend who explained that they sprinted the horses up and down their barn aisles, keeping their horses straight because riding in circles “ruined horses.”

Do you know the good reasons to circle a horse? No extremes, I don’t mean tiny circles at a dead run, but the idea of walking or trotting a large arc? Imagine your horse’s barrel; the inside ribs should compress a bit while the outside ribs stretch. Most of us will say that our horses are stiff one way and this is the peaceful antidote. It’s common sense to want your horse supple and strong.

Here is the secret to riding a circle: Start by visualizing a circle on the ground. Then cut the circle into quarters and ride it one-quarter at a time. It’s a way of staying fresh and mentally in the moment. If you want, count the steps in each quarter. Let the strides stay regular and keep your shoulders at the angle you want your horse’s shoulder to be.

Warning: the more you think you need to steer with reins, the more “creative” your circle will be. Sometimes from the ground, I feel a need to clarify by saying round circle as a reminder.

Yes, horses have a stiff side in the beginning but the more you pull that side to make them bend, the more things come apart; shoulders dropping in all directions, over-correcting with reins, tense eyebrows and set jaws on riders, and confused ears on your horse. Scratch his withers for tolerating you.

Start again, care more about the track you see on the ground than the bend of your horse’s neck. Ride that track. Sit squarely in the saddle and turn your waist, shoulders to the arc of the circle, one-quarter at a time. Ride with an energetic seat and legs, remember? And breathe. If that doesn’t help your circle, don’t be shy. Put some cones out. This is important for your horse.

Inside leg to outside rein. 

It’s an imaginary interior line from your horse’s armpit (where your foot is) to his outside shoulder. Ignore his head for now. Every time his barrel sways to the outside, your calf will pulse lightly. No, lightly! Let it feel like a dancing cheek to cheek. The concept of bend must be in the ribs, meaning the whole body, as opposed to cranking his neck to the side.

Keep pulsing along at the walk and look down. If you are going his soft way, usually to the left, you will notice your inside rein slack as he softens to your gentle inside calf muscle. You want to see his withers being gently and rhythmically massaged to the outside of the circle. You want that outside arc of his body as sweet as a crescent moon, as soft as a peach.

After a while, reverse direction. He might counter bend a bit. Keep the inside leg massaging away but lower your expectations. It takes a good while; you can’t make muscles release. Let your horse do that part. Remind yourself that a counter-bend isn’t a disobedience; it’s literally an under-developed muscle; his withers need time. Horses are born this way and if you create more resistance while asking him to bend his stiff way, that does defeat the purpose. Think long neck. Think of him stretching nose to tail. Pass the time breathing.

Remind yourself that curving or walking in an arc is a calming signal for a reason. This flexing of the horse’s ribcage relaxes them. Wait for him to tell you it’s working. He might blow out a snort, or lick and chew. Maybe his neck will get longer, maybe his stride will improve, his inside leg energized by your inside pulsing calf. These are all right answers. Say, Good Boy.

Once the circles are good, try a spiral. Start with a 20-meter circle, carve it smaller with your outside leg pulsing (in rhythm as his barrel swings to the inside to move smaller) as you turn your waist a bit more, to a 15-meter circle, and adding energy to your sit bones, even smaller to a 10-meter circle. Once there, use your inside leg to gradually move out to 20-meters again.

To begin just do a smaller circle inside of a larger one. Let this spiral have a chance to blossom as your horse gets more supple. If you are on the trail, plan a path using huge half-circle arcs instead of straight lines. Ride with your legs. Ask for slow, long strides, giving your horse time to step under. Stay mentally engaged; ride with energy and practice your own internal focus by feeling each step. Know that he is gaining strength from the inside out. Be patient. Think of coiling the spring, think T’ai Chi for horses.

If you find circles boring, reconsider. We don’t ride them to please judges. There’s a much better reason than that: Supple Bend Equals Longevity.

Is there a better reason?

….

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

Photo (Poem) Challenge: Peek

Did he want to be invisible? As still
as wood, his head holds solitude in 
the corner. This bay gelding does not 
have a lightning bolt blaze on his face
or tall white stockings that pull my eye.
 
His coat the color of honey in tea, his
mane and tail a shade darker. He is
elegance in understatement. Close enough
to touch, I'm greedy to feel his warmth, to
run my fingers though the texture of his
 
mane. But I stand away. His body is not 
mine. My eye travels the flawless arc of 
his neck to his ear, fully aware of all 
that I am, have been, could be. At last
to his eye, cautiously on guard. So still,

so unmoving and exquisitely profound in 
his silence, that I exhale my jangling desire 
to show him courtesy. Let the air hang in
peace. I will wait for the acknowledgment 
that is his to give, not mine to take.

….

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

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Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.

(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. And then I write a poem. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Peek

The Middle Path: Why Gaits Matter

Let’s say you like to jump and so does your Arabian. Let’s say you do endurance on an Appaloosa. Let’s say you have an expensive, impeccably bred performance horse and you actually use him for the very thing he was bred to do. Or let’s say you trail ride your rescue horse. It’s all the same.

So, let’s say you have a horse who you love. He’s kind and tries hard. And you always want to do your best. A foundation of dressage would be a real blessing.

Relax. I’m not suggesting that you crank a noseband and then pull on his face; you won’t find that written in dressage literature anywhere, even in the small print. You don’t have to wear ridiculous white breeches but a helmet would be nice. Just asking that you look past the worst manifestations (after complaining to the ruling boards at least as much as your friends on Facebook) and consider the training fundamentals as a way to help your horse and support his longevity.

Your horse’s gaits matter. When I was a fresh baby dressage queen, I hated hearing that. I didn’t have spectacularly athletic horses. I didn’t want to talk about gaits because watching my horses run at liberty in the pasture, I knew they were not impossibly beautiful to anyone but me. I knew how world-class horses moved and mine, well, humble versions at best.

It was obvious to me that I loved the horses I had. I knew we were never going to be in the Olympics but being reminded of our less-than-elite movement made me sulky and defensive. I was missing the point of considering my horse’s gaits.

Let’s all start at the exact same place. Horses are born with gaits. They are wobbly at first. Sometimes they go more upward than forward, sometimes they fall on their faces. In a few days, they find a rhythm moving next to their mothers and not long after that, they have the joy of running circles around their mothers.

In the perfect world, young horses play in pastures until they are four years old or longer, with short stints of learning ground manners and trailer loading before they are started under saddle. They have uneven growth spurts, developing muscles, and search to find balance in their own bodies. Horses live in the moment; they feel the world as it relates to their bodies, so this foundation of balance is very important to their confidence. (Here is where riders committed to their “ordinary” horses should start to think about gaits.)

Hard news: Horses were never designed to be ridden. Humans asked them to be beasts of burden, and most agree to do it. Horses are social animals; perhaps they are drawn/adapt positively to relationship. At some point, we begin to take the question of their balance for granted but the horse never does. That shows visibly in their gaits.

This is all further complicated by breed, age, and riding disciplines designed by humans. So yes, draft horses can gallop quickly but still couldn’t win the Kentucky Derby. Piaffe and passage are advanced dressage movements but any horse can do an untrained, un-cued, and stressed out version of these movements when they get excited; we call it jigging.

So, what is good movement for a horse? Making a study of biomechanics is a good start. As usual, there is no shortage of opinion and science, and then even more opinion. After that our own eyes trick us, people seem to define words differently, and then make things up to suit themselves anyway.

Riding behind the vertical is wrong according to rules and science, but it’s common and horses suffer for it. Other riders ride with long reins, thinking it’s kind but end up over-correcting and causing more balance trouble than they know.

Start here: All horses should be relaxed and forward in their gaits. Most importantly, neither of those may be lost or substituted for the other. They must be balanced with each other.

Horses should be covering ground freely, with an energetic impulsion and supple fluidity. The physical reason is balance. It’s your horse’s comfortable place and going too slow is challenging. Think wobbly bicycle. Think walking on a tightrope. We need to consider the emotional result as well. A horse lacking forward movement falls into a loss of confidence or enough mental confusion to make movement lose rhythm and balance.

Equally important is relaxation. It’s a peaceful mind, free of the crippling effects of resistance and tension. Physically, the most obvious sign is always a horse’s poll. There is a natural movement in the head that is the result of the spine’s movement at any gait and if that joint is hindered or stopped, there is tension in his body. Think of wearing a neck brace. Think of running forward with lockjaw. The emotional result of tension is fear and doubt. Again, a loss of confidence.

Some horses rebel and act out as a release of tension and even sadder, some shut down and fall into despair. Yes, some horses get depressed. Your horse’s gaits matter because his movement defines his balance and his physical expression is akin to his mental health. His mind cannot be separated from his body; it’s only humans that do that.

Here we are again, naming what’s wrong. It’s the easiest thing in the world to complain and name-call. If you want to know about your horse’s real gait– the movement you must aspire to in the saddle– watch him at play in the pasture. That is the true definition of liberty. It isn’t forced unnatural movement, delivered with tense, pinned ears. Liberty is not cued with whips.

Pasture gaits include long strides at the walk, with push and swing and rhythmic stride. Think old school Saturday Night Fever. Then it’s a trot that’s effortless and light and fluid. Think of the glide of perpetual motion, think bird on the wing. Most enlightening, it’s a canter that’s all power and snap and lift. It’s more air than dirt. Think freedom. Think true liberty.

The challenge of riding should always be to allow natural movement in a horse. We should never interfere or be an encumbrance to their gaits. The more balanced and rhythmic a horse’s gaits are, the happier he is mentally and emotionally. It’s our job to figure out how to ride that way.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.

Photo (Poem) Challenge: Rounded

The whorl beneath a forelock. The 
velvet comma nostrils. The curve 
of a neck, the serpentine of a 
spine. That soft S-shaped swing 
of a tail, as hooves stride on by.

The greeting from an intelligence 
that encompasses its entire equine 
body. The arc of a friendship. The 
swell of affection. The initiation 
of a spiral that begins as a light

caressing curve and ever so gradually 
comes around in loops smaller and 
ever smaller, binding tighter and 
deeper, until there is just one life. 
A life that circumscribes the Infinite.
….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Blog  FB  Email  Author  FB  Tweet  Amazon
Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. And then I write a poem. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Rounded

Severe Weather Warning

It was 78 degrees yesterday. It’s late October so the sun is lower in the sky. There was a slight breeze that would have been perfect for riding but I was testing the tank heaters. Then the winds came howling, tearing the last leaves free. The sky turned a sweet apricot color, tinted by a grass fire to the north. Temperatures tonight will drop to 18 degrees with blowing snow. Like they say, ’tis a privilege to live in Colorado.

It’s a dry cold here on the high desert prairie but everyone has shelter. Winter coats have grown in dappled and thick. I throw more hay on nights like this to keep their internal heaters working but I don’t blanket the horses in my barn as a rule.

Except for this ancient one. Lilith. She came to rescue a couple of years back, not eating or drinking, and so thin that we worried she was dying. But she’s a longear. She outsmarted us.

Last year I bought her a blanket for the wet spring snows that left her shivering. She has expired teeth, so feeding more hay doesn’t work. The mush she gets several times a day usually freezes before she finishes it.

To be clear, there is no reason for elders to grow thin in the winter.

This year, she’s even more wobbly when she gets stiff, so the blanket came out early. Still, I’m not foolish enough to try blanketing her on my own. I know what you’re thinking. She’s barely bigger than a goat. Perhaps after you trim that goat’s hooves you’ll have a better idea about how this all works.  So, because I wasn’t born yesterday either, I held off blanketing until help arrived. By midmorning, the temps had dropped ten degrees and the wind was getting stronger. And yes, Lilith may be nearly blind now but not so much as to not see what our plan was.

I stood still while my barn manager did a stilted two-step with Lilith. We go slow, we breathe. We both preach this stuff every day. Then Lilith drags my barn manager, in limping slow-motion, the length of the run as I slowly introduce the blanket. To be clear, the two of us humans outweigh Lilith but she has a kind of lateral gravity to her lean. She’s unstoppable. I’m hoping we’ll grind to a halt by the end of the run.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get one of the front buckles done on the blanket. That’s the easy part. Hooking the belly straps are harder and I’m not wearing a helmet. I try to strike that balance of quickness without jerking, coordination without dawdling. I almost manage it, the blanket is on, and we let her go.

Lilith dodders away indignantly. We can tell because she kicks at each of us as she goes. Sure, we smile but both of us has had hoof contact from this old donkey. More than once.

A few feet away she turns and glares us. She wears her blanket like a house dress. Like a bright turquoise muu-muu, huge on top with her tiny ankles dangling out below. Just when I am trying to remember which of my mother’s sisters she reminds me of, Lilith marches quickly toward me, flopping her ears back to the angle of a jet wing.

She’s demanding a forehead rub with the obligatory cleaning of her eye snot. I oblige, being careful to not touch her ears. She’s made it clear that they were twitched sometime in the last forty years and I had better pay attention. I just do as I’m told. No hearts and flowers.

She abruptly turns and leaves again with a smaller kick this time. Only marginally dangerous. Another pause with a withering stare before she marches herself over to my barn manager and demands the same homage. Again, given as required and without hesitation.

There is never a shred of doubt what Lilith means. Even if some of her feelings contradict each other, she has an undeniable clarity. Our other longear, Edgar Rice Burro, is just as plain. One more time, I recite my fervent wish that people would express themselves as honestly. We bite our tongues until we explode. Donkeys have it right. Bluntness is a virtue.

Spring and fall are rough seasons for elders. Extreme weather changes create problems for equine digestive systems that were poorly designed in the first place. Dare I call it by its name? This is colic weather. Beware.

This year I read a scientific article that debunked all the anecdotal things we think we know about colic. Anecdotal evidence is frowned on in the science world, even if they haven’t figured out a cure.

Colic is still the number one killer of horses. Treatment hasn’t changed much in the last decades. Drugs are better but the condition is still extremely dangerous.  The article said colic wasn’t tied to heat cycles or getting new hay or changes in barometric pressure (coming storms). Maybe I’m turning into Lilith but I’m cranky and skeptical. I’ve been schooled by seasons in the barn. If weather change is only superstition and not fact-based, why is the vet always out on a series of colic calls on nights like this?

Do you dread these dark blustering months as much as I do? It’s become a habit to make sure horses are doing more than just sniffing their hay, while at the same time casually counting manure piles in their runs.

Because the equine truth lies somewhere between old wives’ tales and hard science.

So, I stay up late for one more feeding. I’ve got my heavy barn coat and muck boots, and a head light strapped on my wool hat. Leaning into the wind, I drag one more feeding of hay to all the shelters. The old chestnut gelding is struggling with his arthritic knee but the new horse has settled in well. The rest of the herd looks okay for the night.

The Haloween wind howls at my back as I return to the house. There isn’t much good to say about the haunted dark and cold months. My Grandfather Horse won’t have to fight the north wind this winter. In a bittersweet way, I’ll be glad of that small blessing.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.

Photo (Poem) Challenge: Glow

The sun hurries now, eager to be gone. A chill 
breeze scatters the last embers of fall, crisp 
leaves layer the pasture, enticing as dry toast.
The north wind will take the rest tomorrow.

Naked branches will haunt this farm and we'll
retreat to the barn. The horses have grown 
dense coats against the season ahead and the 
elders, already stiff, seek corners open to the

light but protected from cold gusting threats.
My own skin is a bit thinner, rosy bruises
on my forearms. I'll harvest the last of the
season and sort the remains. Words that

failed me. Opportunities that dried on a
branch outside my reach. And worries, torn
loose to the wind, tossed for want of healing.
Warmth will come to this prairie again but

for now we'll hunker close, shallow-breathing   
dry air and conserving energy for the storms that
will surely come. Our nature charges a stark price 
to be paid for unfinished deeds, regretfully late.
….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Blog  FB  Email  Author  FB  Tweet  Amazon
Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Riding the Middle: My Horse is Lazy.

My horse is lazy. He won’t go forward. He doesn’t listen to my legs no matter what. Do I need spurs?

Warning: Predictable answer ahead.

(First and always, is your horse sound? Ulcers maybe? Don’t assume he’s okay, check.)

When I hear this human question, I wonder what the horse would ask in the same situation. Is the word lazy even in their vocabulary? I mention this because understanding how horses think is much more important than getting our way.

If I had to guess, I’d think the horse was shut down. Here’s my equine CSI logic: The horse is a stoic horse. I know this because a more reactive horse would have bucked his rider off by now. Excessive kicking doesn’t go over well with a horse who gets aggravated easily.

Stoic horses are every bit as intelligent and sensitive as a reactive horse. They’re just quiet, keeping their own best council. Think introvert, in human terms. Stoic horses are conflict avoidant, retreating inside and trying to be invisible. Like me around enthusiastic football fans.

Humans tend to think horses can’t hear them, even knowing that each one of his senses is more acute than ours. So, we cue again, louder this time. Or we just nag on with our legs banging their sides each stride. But the more you cue a stoic horse, the more he crouches inside of himself. *Light bulb moment in understanding horses: Less is more.*

If your horse has a problem, look for a resolution in yourself.

I don’t mean some esoteric theory about soulmates or an obscure psychological reasoning from possible experiences in his past or even a dispassionate reciting of training aids as described on any of two million articles online. Those are intellectual activities.

Your horse lives in the moment and to help him, you must escape your over-thinking intellectual mind and join him in the NOW. Tune in to your senses. What do you literally feel?

If you are timid in the saddle or if you’re not warmed up yet, your thighs might be tight. That means that you are suspended above the saddle. Breathe, imagine an egg under your knee, and let your sit-bones settle. A deep seat makes for a connected ride. Not to mention, mounted thigh-master exercises are frowned on by horses.

While you’re at it, if his poll is tight, do a slow side-to-side neck roll. If he is clamped on the bit, relax your jaw. Once your body is looser see how your horse has changed. Then walk a while longer and let what you thought was relaxed… relax some more.

Next, feel your energy level. The rule of thumb is that if your brain is working, your body has gone still, most notably your seat. And that is, after all, the cue to halt. A busy brain can shut a horse down. Too much mental chatter scrutinizing what’s happening is not the same thing as feeling it.

See how easy it was to distract you from your energy? I just chattered about brains and your brain couldn’t resist hearing its own name. This what your brain does when you ride. Intellect isn’t energy. It distracts you from feeling. Intellect is the enemy of art.  Brains think the only worthwhile activity is thinking. Refuse to engage.

Energy is something separate from intellect. It’s tuning into your body and listening. It’s cultivating an awareness of your muscles and joints, and even your arthritis and old injuries, and then empowering yourself to go beyond. Riding well requires not just an awareness of your body position but also the ability to communicate eloquence in its movement. It’s the same thing that makes you gasp when you see a horse gallop in slow motion.

Think of your energy level as a dial that you can adjust. If your horse doesn’t have much energy, turns yours up. Do more than breathe, actually smell the air. If you’re on the ground, pick up your step, get happy. If you’re mounted, fill your lungs and feel your shoulders go broad. Let the sun warm your chest.

Now feel where your body resists the movement of your horse. The worst-case example of this would be a rider who braces their legs stiff at the trot, riding like a bundle of two-by-four lumber. No, you don’t ride that way, but can you feel small places where you could be resisting your horse’s forward motion?

Does your lower back release to the movement of your horse’s back? If not, you’re giving a constant cue to slow down. If your thighs are tense that counts as a half halt. Are your hands giving or do they drag like a parking brake? And most common, if your intellect kicks in when you notice that your horse isn’t doing what you want, does your seat stop following your horse entirely?

Yes, it’s natural for us but also not fair to complain that your horse is lazy if you’re unable to maintain your energy consistently… your horse would like you to know.

Step one is to notice when it happens. You can’t change things that you aren’t aware of. To begin, go inside your body and feel the ride. In dressage, we ride the inside of the horse and we do that from deep inside of ourselves. We work to train ourselves not lose our rhythm to external distractions, even those we make up in our own mind. Rhythm is the foundation of all good with horses.

The challenge of improving your riding, if you are a long-term novice who wants to progress, is that there are usually fairly small things working against you that you might not be aware of. This is where having a coach is really helpful but you will need to develop an awareness of your own energy and internal movements.

The horse world is a place of extremes. Extreme training, extreme abuse, and extreme love, swinging like a pendulum. Learning isn’t a linear path but more of a spherical realization.

Finding balance for you and your horse in the middle of this chaos is an extraordinary feat. Riding the Middle is the path from over-cued but under-inspired to relaxed and forward brilliance.

Kick less, dance more.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Check out our clinic schedule. 2018 is filling quickly; if you would like to host a clinic or attend one, please contact me here.

 

 

Photo (Poem) Challenge: Scale

The thing you call cute, in a high-pitched
squeal, hears no compliment. Is it your goal
to demean me? Because you see me as less
does not make me your servant. Your cooing

says more about your standing in this herd
than it does mine. This thing you call stubborn
is the obvious reply given to one with such 
arrogance. Such rude heckling and pink-faced

ranting does not rate an honest answer. You may
judge me but height is only a temporary advantage, 
easy to overcome. Your predator privilege lands 
hollow in the herd where we value each other's

strength. How to understand you, Human, with 
your needy treat outstretched. Stand tall, you who
cannot find equity in your own herd, trust your
worth. You can earn respect here without bribery.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)

Scale