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Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Horse Farm That Makes Me Happy

I received the following email from The Center for America’s First Horse and wanted to share it with you.  Click on this link to access the email. For me, The Center has been the catalyst for new thinking and has allowed me to learn in a comfortable, accepting environment with a herd of unique horses, and one very special horse indeed (yes, I’m talking about you Mas!).

Rainbow

P.S. That’s Mas in the photo above, the white dot on the upper left.  He is grazing with Shy Anne.  Hi Mas!

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Big Thoroughbred Named Bravo

This past weekend was filled with horse fun.  On Friday I spent the day job shadowing farrier Jen Swartz.  Saturday was a day of natural horsemanship with Stephanie Lockhart, and Sunday I went on a trail ride with my new friend, Nicky.

Friday I met Jen at the Cambridge Park & Ride and we were off on our Rt 15 trimming tour.  We stopped at 5 barns and trimmed 7 horses, 6 of them were returning customers and 1 was a new customer.  The new customer was at a barn near Jericho Center; the customer was leasing a big Thoroughbred named Bravo.

The word bravo has a couple of meanings, the first being to shout an approval for an excellent performance; the other meaning is that a bravo is a villian, or a hired killer.

I wish this horse, Bravo, was appreciated by the people at the barn, and that they saw him for the horse that he was, a dark, tall animal of prey that would give you his trust and confidence if you allowed him to do so, if you respected his dignity.  Would offer you gifts that make your heart swell with pride and your eyes fill with tears of joy.

But, alas, the people at this barn were the opposite kind of horse owners who did not appreciate the horse for the magnificent creature that he is, who would rather use force and intimidation to “discipline” the horse (even though prey animals don’t understand discipline–they may respond to the pressure of discipline but what you get from your horse after “discipline”, especially harsh discipline, is a horse without a soul).  It was kind of ironic that Bravo’s trainers were true to the opposite definition of his name, they were the villains and he was the one we were cheering for, hoping that he would come through in the end and conquer the villains.  I’m not sure that this story ends well for dear old Bravo, though, and I do feel like I let the horse down by standing on the sidelines and averting my gaze.

It is strange to me that many horse people prefer restraint to patience and passive persistence.  It’s almost like getting the job done by force, because it may be faster, is more important than respecting the horse and taking a bit of extra time to work through the kinks.  Getting the job done by restraint will not be effective in the long run, and will only make things worse next time, whereas patience and proper techniques (such as approach and retreat–acting as a horse would act) will help the horse to understand that we can be trusted, that we are not trying to kill him, and it will build the horse’s confidence rather than breaking it down.

It is disheartening to me that many horse people and even higher education institutes advocate “authoritative tones” (yelling), lip chains, and twitching to restrain a horse and get the job done.  It seems a bit backwards in these times to still revert to such outdated and harsh methods of horse training.

Instead we can use our understanding of horse behavior (how would a horse act with another horse?). We can understand that horses are prey animals and we are predators; hence, we DO NOT think alike. We can use approach and retreat and slowly get more of what we want through building the horse’s trust and confidence. And we can learn about phases of pressure. We can start thinking and behaving more like a horse to get the results that we want rather than acting like predators and forcing the horse to do what we say.

For example, what would we do if we wanted a horse that is comfortable with being touched on the leg to pick up his foot?  It’s better to start with Phase 1 pressure, a suggestion of picking up the foot, rather than going to Phase 4 pressure and applying a lot of force to pick up the foot.  It seems almost silly to have to say, first suggest and then work your way up the phases, but our direct line thinking (we think of the outcome and getting from A to B as fast as possible) causes us to apply more pressure than necessary; however, if we are aware of the phases of pressure, and if we remind ourselves to slow down and take a few seconds with each phase, we will have a horse that will eventually be able to lift his leg by knowing our intent, and we may never have to touch that leg to pick it up again!  That is the magic of horses.  Once they understand what we want and respect us for respecting them, they will offer amazing things.

Bravo was a brave boy who got the short end of the stick, who was stuck with people who treated him more like a slave that a magical creature that deserves much love.  I hope that the future shines for him, that life looks up, and that he finds a human who knows how to love him, and in time maybe he will forget.

When his halter was removed and he was returned to the pasture, Bravo ran uphill to his pasture mates, shook off the dirt and grime of human interaction, and rolled.  That is the memory that I try to keep in mind when I think of this brave horse.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Stacy Westfall and Roxy, Bareback and Bridleless

Stacy Westfall (photo from her website: http://www.westfallhorsemanship.com)

A number of years ago, while I was living in Missouri and before I met Stephanie or even knew about natural horsemanship I saw a video that featured a woman riding her horse bareback and bridleless in an arena filled with people.  The horse walked, trotted, cantered, and galloped!  She did spins and backed, stopped and went sideways.  The rider, Stacy Westfall, gave the horse subtle queues and as a team Stacy and Roxy won the championship. I sent the video to friends and family and wished that I could figure out the secret to that amazing connection between horse and rider. Thanks to Stephanie Lockhart and natural horsemanship I feel that I am well on my way.

After watching the video of Stacy and Roxy and their inspirational ride, check out Stacy’s appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show (click here for part I which you can watch from a link on Stacy’s blog).  Their are two parts to the show.  Ellen is pretty funny in part II, the portion of the show when she has the opportunity to ride Roxy.

If you feel inspired by Stacy and Roxy or by anything else in your life, find a way to pursue that inspiration and make it a reality.  Your life will become rich and your passion will bring experiences that you had hoped and dreamed about.  Soon your dream will become a reality.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Natural Horsemanship Classes – Class I

Today was my first day participating in the natural horsemanship classes at The Center for Americas First Horse in Johnson.  The class is held every Saturday for 6 weeks, 2 hours per session, starting at 10 am.  It’s called “Fall” classes but come December we may be leaning more toward “Winter-Freeze Your Butt Off Cold!” classes.  This morning wasn’t too bad though, especially since I was well-prepared.  I wore thick fleece long underwear under my jeans and had on three tops along with a down vest and a windproof shell.  I also had a toque and gloves.  I was determined to stay warm.

Partipants have arrived

Once all 15 participants (3 were children who came with their parents and participated as a group, sharing one horse) arrived we picked up our folders, grabbed a name tag, and got prepared to meet the horses.  Stephanie, Jo, and I brought the horses in from the back of the arena and pulled the door down so they would stay inside the arena with us.  They were still chomping on hay and were a bit more interested in breakfast than in coming inside the arena, but once they were in Augustine promptly began meeting people.

Augustine saying Hello!

The others horses wandered around a bit, checking people out, before settling down in a little group and having a nap.  We all introduced ourselves and talked a bit about what we hoped to get out of the 6-week program. Karen had moved to Johnson recently and found the ad for the program in the newspaper.  She was hoping to gain some skills to deal with her somewhat flighty Thoroughbred filly.  Christy had miniature donkeys and was attending Equine Science classes at UVM; she wanted to learn as much as she could about everything horse.  Elizabeth felt connected to the breed and wanted to reignite her relationship with the horses.  Jo also felt that the breed was unique and their spirit brought out self-development in people.  She wanted to share in the experience and joy of spending time with the horses.  Heidi hadn’t spent time with horses for 10 years and wanted to bring them back into her life again.  Katie loved all things horse and was very interested in natural horsemanship–she also had a miniature horse and looked forward to practicing her new skills. Cher was intrigued by natural horsemanship and wanted to work on her coordination and also bring horses back into her life.  The final group was a family of five who had recently got a horse and they wanted to learn how to be with him safely and effectively.  And then there was me . . .

Nap time for the horses while we talked

As you know, I am new to natural horsemanship and am always keen on learning, learning, learning!  Out of this course I hoped to gain a better awareness of the horse’s body language, to be able to read what they offer and why and how my actions create or inhibit the behavior.  To communicate with the horse.  To be the leader.  To have a reciprocal relationship.  This is a tall order that won’t be filled in a 6-week course, but the course is a great place to build from.

What do we want to get out of the classes?

Stephanie talked to us about natural horsemanship, how the ground skills transfer to being in the saddle, and how before we get in the saddle we need to be safe.  We also talked about horsenalities and how some horses are more extroverted while others are introverted; how those behaviors can shift from minute to minute or day to day and how we need to be ready to adjust to what the horse presents.  Stephanie said that the course would offer us a few tools for our toolbox so that when we go home to our horses and are faced with a situation we should be better able to respond effectively.  And even if we don’t find the answer right away at least we have a few options to choose from.

A lot of carrot sticks for a lot of people

After introductions and the course outline we let Maya out of her stall and watched the herd dynamics, which changed quite dramatically once she was added to the mix!

Maya joins the herd

Morado started protecting his buddy, Adelentado, and Maya started driving Turtle around.  There was a lot of running, movement, and some subtle queues from the horses asking each other to get out of the way; and if that didn’t work, then a kick or bite was in order!

Stephanie becomes the herd leader

We watched the herd dynamics before Stephanie joined the horses and became their herd leader.  It was interesting to watch her drive the horses until they were ready to accept her leadership, and at that point they all turned into the circle and faced her. It was kind of like magic!

Facing the herd leader

Eventually, we were assigned our horses and went about the techniques of catching them.  Karen and I walked up to the barn to get Midas.  She was assigned Midas because he seemed most similar to her horse that she was hoping to help become less flighty.

Karen catching Midas

While Karen and I caught Midas the rest of the class watched as Stephanie helped Heidi and Elsie catch Coyote and Destiny, who were running around the pasture, trying to avoid getting caught.  A great teaching moment!  When a horse doesn’t want to be caught (really we should think of the horses catching us), it’s time to make the experience not about being caught.  Time to take the time it takes to get the job done.  A bit of driving and approach and retreat will make a non-responsive horse ready to catch the human.

Heidi catching Coyote, or rather Coyote catching Heidi!

Once we had our horses haltered we watched as the family of 5 caught their horse, Thunder.  The children used the same approach and retreat and driving techniques that Heidi used.

Learning to catch Thunder

Once we had our horses haltered we walked around the arena and talked about not pulling our horses along when leading them, but giving them about 4 feet of roping and letting them be responsible for following the leader.  Pulling the horse behind you does not create a draw for the horse, and the horse, a flight animal, is not safe for us if we hold him by the halter snap–he could run right over us if he gets scared–and does not feel safe being held so tight, but rather can feel claustrophobic.

Give your horse plenty of lead rope for safety

Give your horse plenty of lead rope for safety

We talked about moving the hindquarters and asked our horse to move their hineys away from us.

Move the hindquarters away

Learning about zones

We also previewed the zones (as you have read about previously on my blog) and talked about being able to rub the horse in all zones, and knowing which zones need more work before the horse becomes comfortable.  If the horse is uncomfortable with touch in a certain zone, we would use approach and retreat rubbing to get them accustomed to our touch.

Let the horse come to you. Elsie is a good example of this!

And with that it was time to quit for the day.  We talked about putting the horses away properly, removing the halter but waiting to let the horse go until we are ready to walk away.  As leaders we need to be the ones to walk away.  I removed Adelentado’s halter and said a little thank-you to him.  I could tell we weren’t connected yet, after only a short time spent together, but if I continue to spend these classes with him I bet we’ll get to know each other, and maybe next time he will be more glued to me when I take the halter off.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Learning to Trim and Shoe Horses

Things are starting to fall into place with my interest in becoming a farrier. I am ready to hit the road and learn how to trim and shoe horses for a living!

I have finally decided on the appropriate fit for a school and have come up with a budget.  Now I need to get mentally prepared to leave home for two months to learn the tricks of the trade.  The physical preparedness is in the works too.  I’m already in a routine of running 4-5 miles five days per week (as I have done for years now); hooking up Abs of Steel with Tamilee Webb four days per week (starting doing Abs of Steel in high school as well); and doing push ups four days per week.  But now I’ve added wall squats to the mix.  Remember those squats you use to do in high school?  Maybe you didn’t do them, but our basketball coach would make us line up against the gym wall and get down into a 90′ seated position, without the chair, and hold the position for 30 seconds.  Well, to prepare my legs for the rigors of being bent over all day and holding a stable position with my legs, I’m doing wall squats.  So far I’m up to 1 minute and 45 seconds per squat with three squats total.  Next thing I need to figure out is how to strengthen my back!

I’ve decided to attend Mission Farrier School in Snohomish, Washington, owned and operated by Mark and Karen Plumee.  The school incorporates natural balance techniques into horseshoeing and they also include natural horsemanship training.  The school has a playground with fun obstacles like the car wash, teeter totter, squeeze obstacles, etc.  The school also has an in depth informational “packet” (their website) that lists all of the reasons to choose Mission Farrier School and what I will get out of it.  They are not vague about what and how they teach, which is very important to me.  I want to know precisely what I am getting into before I decide where to go. Mark has also been very approachable and willing to talk with me a couple of times on the phone and via email.

Mission Farrier School's shop

The final steps in the journey are saving money for tuition, bills while I am away, and funds for when I return and start up my own business.  While I’m saving and waiting to attend, I plan on spending a few days in the field with Jen Schwartz, the farrier who sparked the idea for this career (I had never met a woman farrier until I met her!) and who encouraged me to become a farrier.  She also attended Mission Farrier School and has done quite well for herself since returning to Vermont and starting her business.  I am also going to continue volunteering at The Center and building my natural horsemanship skills with Stephanie.  In fact, next Saturday is the start of The Center’s Fall Natural Horsemanship classes.  I will spend six Saturdays in November and December building my skills with 6 other attendees.  Can’t wait to continue learning and growing in this exciting world of natural horsemanship and, now, natural hoof care.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Uncategorized