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Give your horse the gift of freedom & Let your horse breathe easier with the Ultimate Bitless Bridle!

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Signal Mountain, TN 37377
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The Ultimate Bitless Bridle is the only horse bridle which allows the horse total freedom in the mouth, while having no cinched components.  It will never twist or shift position when a single rein is pulled.  The pressure points mimic the bit and provide the ideal conditions for clear communication. 

The Ultimate Bitless Bridle (UBB) can function as a halter or full bridle for lunging, driving, and all riding disciplines with no adjustments required.

Let your horse breathe easier with the Ultimate Bitless Bridle!  We believe that we have created the ultimate design for the bitless bridle which gives the rider total security and control, while eliminating the unnecessary and restricting throat latch & chin strap, and at the same time providing the horse comfort and peace of mind.

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The Ultimate Bitless Bridle blog page, keeping you informed with our ever expanding experiences with the UBB.

Ranger III Chilling out

jefferson drumm

Week two going into three for Ranger. We had sessions in the ring and out in the fields. We practiced standing while being mounted: on, stand, off, stand, repeat. Ranger has probably in the past always walked off and on down the trail, so he got to have the experience of standing and getting cookies are carrots. When a horse walks off without me asking, I feel very much the energy of leaving me, even though I am on their back and I go with. Their mental attitude is not one of with or partnership.

While it is not difficult to get a horse with you, it takes different tactics in different moments with each horse.  Therein lies the challenge, I am constantly learning new ways and discovering holes that can create distraction.  Usually, I use my voice first, touch second, and then in the saddle I make more commotion or on the ground I jump around a little and see if I can be more distracting than what they're looking at.  Sometimes it is a combination of all three.  If that is not working, I start moving them and changing directions and even will pop over jumps, giving them a challenge to pay attention to the here and now and me.  This has been improving all of the horses I work with. Especially in their calmness.  I am realizing that the more quickly they can relax, the easier time we all have. I just recently watched a video of groundwork by Warwick Schiller where he talked about responsiveness and relaxation. How sometimes responsiveness becomes reactiveness and sometimes relaxation becomes dullness. If you spend enough time going between the two states eventually they will merge and you will have a responsive relaxed horse. This has become such a fun experiment for me. I feel much more confident pushing a horse to the edge of reactivity, then coming back fully into a state of relaxation. It is important that they know what that state of relaxation feels like, although sometimes pushing them a little first and then bringing the energy back down helps them find that place. 

in my life this is out picturing as the realization that outside of working horses one on one, I am tending to be anxious and reactive. It is very challenging for me to let go and relax quickly after having a high level emotional response. I am desiring horses that are relaxed and responsive, and I really see that this is the desire I have for myself as well.   Thankfully, I am practicing this every time I work with worse. Now I see how many opportunities I have throughout everything all day.

Returning to Ranger, he practiced staying on the rail and maintaining the walk. We did some pad work, and that further develop his trust and confidence that truly I wanted him relax. Ranger's such an incredible example of obedience. He will do exactly what you were asking for, and be mentally somewhere off with his friends in the pasture. Late last week something clicked for him and he let go of a majority of his skepticism around me. When I arrive at the pasture now he is like one of the herd. Curious, affectionate and almost looking forward to working with us.  I look forward to next week!

I chose a bit for Ranger that day to continue the chill out process.  I wish to create new experiences for him with older more familiar sensations. 

I chose a bit for Ranger that day to continue the chill out process.  I wish to create new experiences for him with older more familiar sensations. 

New shoes and relaxing in the herd. Ranger II

jefferson drumm

Ranger has settled in a lot in the last 6 days.  He still would like Errowood to be away from the mares, but he no longer needs to be in between them.   I have spent time with the horses all greeting me which looked like this on our snow day last week:

Hi everyone!  Please gather around and pay attention to me.  

Hi everyone!  Please gather around and pay attention to me.  

This helped them when I was around, but Ranger was absolutely aware of when I was there or not.  He would be polite to Errowood all the way up until I got into my car, lol!  The biggest change I saw was after we took him on a trail ride.   On Sunday the 6th, a group consisting of Jefferson, myself, two friends, a daughter of one of the friends and the daughter of Ranger's new owner trailered horses to Five Points recreation area in Georgia.  Ranger did not want to leave to go there.  As always he was polite and gentlemanly, just not super eager to get on the trailer.  

Preparing for our ride was a little rushed, and I learned so many things!  I really desire to consciously plan ahead for more than myself.  It is such a reflection of growing up.  It is getting easier for me to take care of myself, and now I am eager to grow the ability to provide for and take care of other people in horse situations.  One on one is no problem, but as illustrated to me in this situation, I think I could have been much more present for Ranger's rider.  In the ride he flowed along with the other horses, shined crossing a rocky creek (where the other five leaped across) and was safe.  He was also strong and not all that aware of what his rider may have wanted as far as energy goes.  It was a ride with trot and canter so it allowed the horses to get a little fast and eager, and I didn't help his rider to make leadership choices until the last 1/4 of the ride.  At the same time I really appreciated being left alone a little when I was young, so I hope that it was valuable.  More than anything I am eager to be relaxed in new situations!  Signs that I wasn't include not taking pictures of a great trail ride to share, especially to celebrate Ranger and having few conversations with people.  On the upside, Ranger was so much calmer getting back on the trailer.  He really understood that it was just a trail ride and he was headed home.  

When I arrived on Monday my three horses were laying down in a line and Ranger was off by himself.  Today, Tuesday, he was napping in the sun on the hill.  Monday I gave him the day off.  He had some stall time to eat and hang out while I worked with the other horses.  Today he got shoes!  The farrier was sure that we would never be able to back the toe off enough and change the balance of the foot barefoot.  I disagree, but I will concede that I could not have done it in a day :)  Ranger is much happier, landing heal first and for his situation I really do believe it was the best thing for him.  

Ranger's feet when he arrived

Ranger's feet when he arrived

After I trimmed and balanced conservatively 

After I trimmed and balanced conservatively 

Shoes.  Toe very backed up and weight on the widest part of the foot.  

Shoes.  Toe very backed up and weight on the widest part of the foot.  

After that much of a change I decided to spend some time just hanging out in the ring.  He still thinks I will not allow any mistakes when I am carrying a stick so I brought it with and used it as a walking stick.  One of my friends/benefactors/students (I need a new name for that combination, yes she pays me, yes she teaches me, yes I help her etc.....) realized that Spirit, another horse that we have been on an amazing journey with, was disconnecting with us because his body couldn't do what we were asking it to do.  She had the Masterson method book and one of the first things Jim Masterson talks about doing is running one's fingers lightly down the bladder meridian of the horse which happens to run from the poll down the top line all the way to the hind hoof on either side of the spine of the horse.  When the horse blinks or closes their eyes, you pause at that spot.    

Spirit had many places that were stuck and he eventually went deeply into feeling them instead of wanting to mug us for treats or wander off to eat grass.  My friend said that after the second session working on him, he came back and asked for more help with his neck!

Ranger had areas that released in his neck and shoulders.  It was nice to spend that time with him and wait for him to check in.  After I turned him back out he wandered softly off to the first pile of hay and began to eat.  I look forward to feeling the difference in his turning and way of going!!

Apache

jefferson drumm

It's been awhile since I have written about apache. About two months ago some thing really began clicking with him.  So many things got better at once. Turning, impulsion, transitions.  His rider is working on managing this new found energy and enjoying how much easier he is to ride in the ring.  She has just begun to play with canter transitions and is able to transition him to a halt in shoulder in and shoulder out. At the moment I am only working him once a week so the amount of improvement in each session is pretty special.  It is fun to see him changing his way of going.  Some things I have noticed are: his hind end was so strung out when I first began working with him.  He had all of his weight on the forehand and he was unable to sustain a gait, hence no self carriage.  His halts are becoming square!  He almost always left a hind leg strung far out.  His croup is no longer flat, but round which makes his back look shorter and stronger.  

Last October

Last October

Now

Now

His best moment in October

His best moment in October

More typical of the trot he offered.  

More typical of the trot he offered.  

One of his best moments now

One of his best moments now

What he typically offers

What he typically offers

And he canters now!

And he canters now!

He holds himself differently on the ground too.  

He holds himself differently on the ground too.  

Yay!

Yay!

I noticed after our photo shoot recently that I still need to give him more responsibility in maintaining direction (steering from my body and continuing to go where I tell him) and today we worked on just that.  He could at the end do a full circle in both directions with no reins!  We still have a ways to go in flexibility, and now that I have some energy we can experiment with the kind of stretching that doesn't dive him on the forehand.   It has been really fun to see the difference and know that I can do it a little bit at a time.  Apache is my experiment in getting 1% better every ride and being okay with that (really we make 10-20% (I guess I might not be as okay as I thought)).  I need to watch myself when I begin looking for 40-60% improvements.  It is very easy for me to only address what isn't working.  Whew!!!   I appreciate Apache so much.   One Horse Life is a great resource to check out when wanting to see a change.  

"You can change your perception of your horse only by changing you.
You can change your horse only by changing YOURSELF.

If you see some behaviors of your horse as problems, you are disconnecting from him and Reality. Look at these "problems" with a question: "What does it say about me?". And act. Change yourself upon this."

        For more visit : http://onehorselife.com/ or find them on Facebook

That is challenging and the next step.   But it is so much easier to fall back on making them do it!!!   Ok Terina, remember, 1% improvement at a time......

All in the Ultimate Bitless Bridle

All in the Ultimate Bitless Bridle

Ranger

jefferson drumm

On February 21st I looked at a horse for friends who were in the market for a second horse.  Ranger had been recommended by another friend who had ridden him on an 8 mile trail ride and had fallen in love with him.   She wasn't in the position to get a second horse but really wanted to see him in a good home.  I rode him under saddle and found him willing and unsure what was expected of him.  I loved his try and desire to please.  He felt safe, just a bit nervous.  There were moments when he didn't want to go forward and wished to turn around.  Instead of keeping him going we paused and waited, still facing the direction I wanted to go.  He settled and would move forward when he was ready, more softly and rhythmically.  I was happy to find him able to mold to my legs and looked forward to trimming his toes.  They were long and made it feel awkward to turn.  

I recommended that my friends buy Ranger with the understanding that he would need about six weeks of further training just with me.  They decided to go for it and Jefferson and I picked him up on leap day.   We decided to have our first session be trailer loading.  Ranger didn't especially want to leave the beautiful facility he had been staying at while for sale, and as far as we knew he had not had much experience with straight ramp load trailers.  Jefferson took over and discovered that Ranger liked to be led onto the trailer beside a person instead of following and that he had at one time loaded by himself.  I appreciated so much having someone with me who was willing to take the time to let the horse show them what they knew.  I often as a "trainer" want to show the horse what I know and ask them to do it my way.  I love working with Jefferson and value so much what he demonstrates.  

When we unloaded Ranger at his new home for training with me, he was a perfect gentleman.  He seemed to me a horse that is very confident in who he is, but still unsure about what would be expected of him.  My horses were incredibly eager to meet him and after they settled down, I introduced them to Ranger over the fence.  He was non-confrontational and polite so I brought him inside after 10 minutes or so.  It was gratifying to watch my horses curiosity and know that they would still listen to my guidance.  Since I was in the middle of all of it I had them meet one by one and not surround us.  They settled within a minute or so and I let Ranger go.  He immediately went on an exploration of the pasture while Cora followed him and  Errowood and Evita stayed with me.   I asked them not to corner him and all was pretty peaceful.  His new owners came to meet him, but by that time he was well into interacting with the other horses and exploring.  I was not able to catch him again and was curious to see if that lasted.  

2016-03-01 When Jefferson and I arrived the next morning it was apparent that Ranger had established himself in charge of Cora and Evita.  Even from the road looking down into the pasture we could see that Errowood was not allowed to get within 200 feet of everyone else.  We got two halters and Jefferson took Errowood while I led Evita.  It really highlighted for me the lack of real leadership I have with Evita.  She so quickly looked to him for guidance, even though he was herding her around and making it a little difficult to go where she wanted to.  He wasn't so insistent that she never got there, it just took longer.  She also appeared to be coming in heat so was hormonal I am sure.  We walked down to the hay ring and the girls began eating right away.  Errowood was upset enough to not eat and had to make a couple of laps around the hay with Ranger moving away from him (because Jefferson was going first) before he settled and began to eat.  We talked about how Ranger had, from our understanding come from several lack consciousness situations.  The first that we knew of was a couple who ended up not being able to feed their horses.  His guardian angel (who my friends purchased him from), stepped in and found him a new home.  He happily stayed there until that owner had to move unexpectedly and couldn't keep him any longer.  Once again his advocate purchased him and wanted to rehome him quickly so that he wasn't a burden on her resources.  This was really interesting to talk about because Errowood and Cora have such different histories.  They have been in the same family since birth and have always been provided for.  Evita seems to lean a little more in Ranger's direction of consciousness but has been in our family since she was four.  I am speaking of consciousness here because horses truly are a reflection of the environment they are in.  They are completely at our mercy to provide for them and they also are expected to perform and behave in certain ways.  This produces a real pattern of thought which becomes consciousness; a way of life.  Jefferson was moved by how sensitive and kind Errowood is.  While I had seen only Ranger's excellent mind and potential, Jefferson questioned if his change in consciousness should happen at the expense of other horses experiencing the stress of his.

This brings me to the next experiment in behavior that I am interested in.  I have in the past changed herd dynamics and would like to document the time frame that it takes to do so with Ranger.   I have often heard people watching horses reworking hierarchy when a new horse is introduced to the herd, say something like, "they just have to work it out".  I have absolutely said the same thing!  But in the back of my mind I have experiences with my own horses that produced radical change in behavior.  When Cora and Evita first arrived in Tennessee, TIgger wouldn't let them anywhere closer than 100 feet from Luna.  He chased them off until they stood in a corner of the field warily watching him.  I wished so much to have a peaceful herd that I decided to try changing the dynamic myself.  I got a 20 foot line and kept TIgger behind me while I approached Evita and Cora.  Of course he wanted to be right with me or even go ahead, so intent he was on meeting and moving them away.  Instead of letting him do that, I moved him to the very end of the 20 foot line and kept him at that distance behind me while I approached them.  They relatively quickly saw that I was in leadership of Tigger and allowed me to touch them and Tigger to get closer.  When they did let him get close as soon as he postured toward them I would back him up.  After we hung out for awhile at a more peaceful horse bubble distance I changed the halter over to Evita.   Tigger is quite good at liberty groundwork and I used this to again control his feet while Evita followed me.  They were all much more confident and close together when I left and I committed to doing as much work as necessary to complete the change.  Amazingly the next day they were a happy family and I never had to revisit it.  I have not had the opportunity until now to try this again and am really curious to see how it turns out.  

Ranger and I are missing the history and relationship that Tigger and I had.  When Cora and Evita arrived, TIgger had been living with us for 3 1/2 years.  In this situation with Ranger, Jefferson and I will need to establish a relationship that is solidly based in trust and at the same time demonstrate our expectations about our ideal herd dynamic.  After having a time out in stalls and Ranger getting his toes trimmed, I began this work by getting a halter and 20 foot line on Ranger out in the pasture.  Once he was in my hands, Evita, Errowood and Cora wandered off.  It also began to rain a very cold rain.  Ranger was upset that the other horses were leaving and showed me by attempting to follow them.  I directed my energy and sometimes the end of the rope towards his ribs and shoulders as they bulged towards me.  He quickly reoriented on me and then picked up momentum into a canter on a circle.  I began walking back up the hill as I wanted to test Ranger's circling and he continued around me.  Impressed but not wanting him to continue and lose focus on me I began asking for him to disengage.  Once he realized what I was asking for he licked and chewed and followed me up the hill, where I put a sheet on him and gathered sheets for the other horses.  I really have to highlight how well behaved he is with people.  At no point yet have I felt unsafe or that I cannot trust his choices.  I appreciate that so much about him and praise him for it often.  When we got to the round bale my horses wanted to say hi again and posture a bit.  I redirected them back to eating hay and asked Ranger to do the same.  He was completely cooperative and I was able to drop the 20 foot lead and put sheets on the others.  Evita and Cora were a little tweaky but what a great applied training moment!  They know me well enough to realize that I won't give up and  I got their sheets on with the tiniest of fusses.  I left all the horses eating peacefully around the hay, hopeful that this would make a lasting difference that I would see the next day.  

Silly comments and all :)

 2016-03-02 When I arrived this morning the horses were standing by the gate.  Errowood was off to the side but not nearly as far and there was no evidence of tears on the their sheets.  I prepared their meal and brought it out to them.  I put the 20 foot line on Ranger again and ended up tying Evita to a tree after she wandered off outside the pasture.  Again, I noted how there lacks a bond between Evita and I.  There is a kind of cooperation and respect.  I don't doubt that she likes me.  But she is independent and will take some work to really engage with me the way I would like her to.  I then fed them.  Everyone wanted Ranger's food since he still has pellets but it was a peaceful meal.  After they finished I had Ranger practice standing with Errowood while the girls wandered around or stood on the other side of Errowood.  He again wanted to leave but was incredibly easy to redirect and settle.  After he committed to standing I decided to put Evita on line.  Once I brought her back up to the gate where Errowood and Cora were, Ranger moved to make space and push Errowood away.  I moved quickly to head him off and he stopped.  I brought Evita up between Errowood and Cora and talked to Ranger, inviting him to come stand by us.  He didn't get much closer but after awhile all of my horses began yawning and releasing.  When I let Evita go she did go stand by Ranger, and he moved her further away from Errowood, but everything was still pretty peaceful.  Again, I see how both Evita and Ranger stay in my presence obediently when I have a halter on them, but neither want to hang out the way that Errowood and Cora want to interact.  My hope is that by establishing a better relationship with the two of them, much of this behavior will disappear.  

That afternoon I came back, and saw the same dynamic.  Errowood, not far away, but Ranger vigilant about every move that Evita made.  Cora was in the middle, confused and curious about why this horse was keeping her mom away from her brother.   When I called them I was happy to see Evita first begin to come up.  When she moved toward me so did Ranger and since Errowood was between us he arrived to me first.  I could tell the perimeter that Ranger had established because Errowood attempted to move away from him while I was putting the halter on him.  I changed his forward momentum into a turn and faced Ranger who then stopped and I finished putting Errowood's halter on.  Cora then came up so I decided to work with her and take Errowood with us.  They were happy to be out.  Ranger and Evita called intermittently to them and when I put Errowood in the ring by himself he stood facing them in the pasture.  He continues to want to interact with Ranger while I am around and giving him a boost of confidence.  He seems curious and unaware of how big he is.  After our sessions, and their return to the pasture I got Ranger.  When I first brought Errowood and Cora back into the pasture he forgot himself and wanted to get again between Evita and I shooed him off.  After that I went to catch him and he thought I was continuing to drive him off.  Masterfully he realized his mistake and turned to face me while I talked to him.  I easily walked up and put the halter on.  Again, he learns so quickly and is so aware.  I worked with him outside the pasture, playing with energy and relaxation online as well as draw, which I had noticed was lacking.  He learned everything very quickly, almost as if his life depended on it.  I focused the most on relaxation and boundaries once he realized I wanted him to come to me.  He began to remind me of Tigger in his exuberance and tension to do the right thing.  We ended with some moving massage which was the most challenging for him.  Letting me get anywhere near his drive line produced tension and when he did release that tension I could feel a big difference in his ease.  

We returned to the pasture to find the other horse's napping.  I did not wish to release him and lose that peaceful moment so I decided to practice my friend's meditation with horses.  I had no idea that it would last so long.  Ranger settled after 10 minutes or so.  I don't at all mean he was moving, but his thought level was pretty high and he was looking around.  Once he softened he let go, but never went anywhere near the relaxation the other horses felt.  They all had completely closed eyes, sometimes flat out and often dreaming.  It was fun to see Evita dream.  One interesting thing was how Ranger flattened his ears back while going into deeper relaxation.  I wondered if he was dreaming too, even though his eyes were still mostly open a majority of the time.   We got relaxed enough that I sat, and then laid down and napped very briefly.  I was determined to wait until the horses got up on their own timing and about an hour later they did.   When they did, Ranger came back to attention and nickered at the girls.  Cora, being the friendly sweet thing she is, nickered back and Evita ignored him.  Cora came to say hello and Ranger went into posturing.   I asked him to back up and then after Evita came over and he squealed I took him away.  I tried to embody relaxation as I walked him slowly in a circle.  I didn't want to lose the peace we had all experienced and it was still very close to the surface.  After he turned around and lowered his head everyone yawned.  Fun!!!  It was nice to see him let go another notch.   Again, when I let him, go he went back to guarding Evita.  One other thing of interest is that as I worked on the dynamic, sometimes Evita would approach with ears laid back, wanting Ranger to leave.  She was never able to follow through with the drive, but I could see glimmers of how she may feel really feel.  She doesn't enjoy being taken away, but allows herself to be, as it is the path of least resistance.   

I did a little internet research after, and was reassured by a vet the first day he arrived as well as by another friend who is a former vet, that he is most likely a gelding with some feelings towards certain mares.  As long as he was obedient and willing they thought that time would work it out.  I was glad to hear that as I do not at all wish to put his new owners in a dangerous position.  After these three days, I think the changes will continue.  The most interesting thing I read was that the adrenals can produce testosterone as well and that really hit a note for me.  It would make sense with all of his changes and recent stress that his adrenals may be a little over-active.  Again this reassured me that by helping him find that calm place he will settle.  Realizing everyone's actions are motivated by the desire to feel better and be at peace, showing a horse how to find that place within himself is my favorite calling.   

Intensity and Horse Dreams

jefferson drumm

So many things bubbling!  I will start with a recap of my journey with energy.  When I was little I didn't have the courage to ask people for things all the time, but I would think thoughts at them like crazy! Plus, I would give off some pretty obvious body language, i.e. sulking if I did not get my way.  This actually worked, although it didn't feel all that great.  Manipulation is a rather dark and slimy feeling.  I was seeking to control others and was arrogant enough to think I was being sneaky about it, but honestly it is pretty easy to guess when a kid wants something but isn't asking for it.  As I grew up and experienced more relationships I got a little clearer on how to communicate.  After my family moved when I was 12, I remember thinking consciously that this was an opportunity to turn over a new leaf; demonstrate a different side of myself.  I spent a lot of time alone and in my tween and early teen years and realized that when I asked questions in my head, I could receive answers.  My family was open about psychic phenomena and did not have any kind of strong beliefs or fears (although my dad does get pretty freaked out about ghosts), so I wasn't worried about this.  It was delightful to get information so easily.  I painted and wrote, played my violin and had a pony named Welches.  He was the first horse I could do whatever I pleased with.  We had huge open fields that I would run with him in on foot.  I loved the intensity of moving my feet so fast that if I tripped I would tumble.  I rode Welch's bareback, racing out of the valley we lived in to the top of our hill to see the sunset.  Or riding up there under a full moon to see the valley filled with mist.  It is amazing to me how much I instinctively knew about being energetically, and how much I had to learn.  Welch's transitioned me into dressage when we were having challenges in the hunter ring and he helped pay in trade for board when I got my first dressage horse at 15. 

Welch's cost $350 I think, and Evita, a 4 year old imported Trakehener mare cost $18,000.  I showed a lot of talent for Dressage and loved how important I felt when it was going well.  Getting a green 4 year old was hard though and working to pay her off was intimidating.  With all of this "growing up" I didn't spend much time alone, with or without horses; I got more social after getting my license, joined a band and enjoyed myself with friends a lot.  Dressage at that time was draw reins and neck stretchers.  Always making sure the head was low and the back was up.  Long spurs and a spooky horse.  It was so challenging to get all of this right that I ended up taking breaks and going through many awkward times with my trainer and family.  Getting back to energy, this was a pretty intense time.  I had amazing insights and at the same time was in way over my head.  Parts of my intuition got shut down and at the same time Dressage developed my already strong propensity to push things through, the little goat Capricorn that I am.  This really led to two habits when the going got tough, shut down or get super intense.     

I spent a year at a warmblood breeding farm as a working student between 18 and 19.  There was so much growth and energy work. I had the wonderful experiences of riding tempis and canter pirouettes, and reveled in upper level work.  I got to start young horses and take a retired stallion who became one of my best horse friends on trail rides. I met and lived with one of my closest friends and mentors. There was also a lot of horses being worked in restrictive ways. I used a chambon for the last time there and I experienced for the first time anger in the face of not having the knowledge or resources I needed.  I was my worst self in some of my work.  I didn't yet realize how much I wanted to work in a different way but I think some of my experiences there laid a foundation that would later support my desire to find a more peaceful path with horses. 

 My next adventure was to meet Jefferson at 20, fall head over heals in love and get married six months later.   Jefferson has been my guide for the last 11 years in rekindling the soft intuitive side of myself.  When I first met Jefferson he had not had much horse experience.  He was and is a Reiki master and is very in tune with energy, as well as having no desire to force anyone to do anything. Dressage is an art as well as an excuse to force horses to do movements. I suppose any horse sport can be those things.  Jefferson immediately wanted to know why we rode horses with whips and spurs.  I couldn't say much more than that is how we communicated with horses. I still was deep in dressage training but he and I were having separate horse adventures in the Sangre De Cristo foothills at 8000 feet. Our landlord and lady owned two sure footed large ponies and we rode bareback all over the hills.  It was so fun and began to bring me back around to Welches.  Bonding with horses for adventure and mutual enjoyment.  

It wasn't until 6 years ago that we moved to Tennessee and had land to have our own horses with us. I met more dear friends who helped grow me. I began playing with natural horsemanship although it took me years before I was helping horses with it. I got stuck in task oriented performance for a bit.   Jefferson singlehandedly demonstrated to me that getting off and walking beside a horse de-escalates stress. He showed me over and over the gratitude his mare felt when he simply hopped off. She wasn't worse the next time. She was't learning that she could get away with anything. She simply thanked him.  All my horse life I had been taught that horses were trying to get away with "things", bad behavior of some sort.  Now I was seeing that something entirely different was at hand. I had another friend remind me about energy bubbles and rekindled my awareness of horse's comfort.  I had forgotten that allowing a horse time and space could be just as powerful as training.   Yet I would still need more time to really integrate that information.  

A year ago I worked with a troubled horse and finally did integrate that information.  I have helped my horses with many things all with the foundation of relationship. This horse I did not have a relationship with and I still thought I could help him through some troubles he was having under saddle. He was very upset and wearing a running martingale. I thought if I took the martingale off he would follow my guidance better.  But I think part of the reason he had a running martingale on was to keep him from throwing his head and bucking. I still thought I could help him from his back and instead of getting off I kept attempting to guide him.  He was upset enough to continue bucking and throwing his head and the last head toss was high enough to break a front tooth and bend the other back. He was relieved when I got off and I promised myself I would get off every horse that asked me to get off in the future.  

I have a crown on one tooth now and the other pushed back into place and healed.  I still have to monitor myself as I rarely feel fear when I work with horses.  I watch this by feeling the intensity and truly wanting horses to be at peace, filled with confidence and joy.  I do a lot more groundwork and I get off any time a horse needs a moment. The last time that happened the horse only needed about 30 seconds before I could get back on. It was like a reset button. Other horses need longer but I am willing to take as long as it takes.  It is ok to get on and off and on and off.  Provided that you have some stumps or rocks so you aren't hurting your horse's back :) 

This leads me to horse dreams.  My good friend has been teaching me the Trust Technique which she likes to call meditating with horses.   A very brief description: matching horse's thought level by matching their awareness. If they are looking around you are looking around. As soon as their eyes soften even a moment you gaze at the ground and clear your mind.  Listen to the birds and the wind.  You follow their awareness until I am told they are so relaxed they will lay down.   I have not experienced this yet although my friend has. On the day that I am going to talk about my horses were already laying down.  I was planning on riding and all of that but Errowood was napping.  I contemplated getting him up but sat down beside him instead and matched his energy.  A little while later I heard nickering and soft whinnies from behind me. I turned to see Cora also laying down and dreaming!  Soon Errowood joined her with his nose resting on the ground.   Deep smelling breaths, nickers, ears listening to dream sounds and even a big snort. I was captivated.  All of this time with horses and I had never spent enough time with them to see them dream!  It inspired me to write this. I wished to summarize some of my experiences with horses and to illustrate how long it can take to begin to find the good stuff.  Just now I am beginning to understand the idea of setting up and the allowing the horse to flow into a movement.  And just now I value horse dreams more than my own agenda.  

Seeing a change

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Before winter break I was able to get three rides on Errowood in.  I wanted to share how they progressed and how helpful Karen Rohlf's video classroom had been.  

Karen teaches by asking questions which I appreciate so much.  It empowers the rider to really engage in feel and cultivates independence.  Truly, once you have a coherent question the answer is so much easier to identify!  Some of her questions for working gaits are: can my horse stretch right now?  Can my horse stay forever in self carriage in the gait their in?  Can my horse transition up and down from this place?  

These questions were so simple and inspiring to me I couldn't wait to try them with Errowood.  The piece that was missing the most with him was the stretch.  (On a side note I have begun the think about stretching in a more psychological way then a mechanical way. More on that later).  Errowood can get very sticky. He will suck back and hold himself crookedly when he anticipates me asking him to move forward.  I have noticed that often in dressage, trainers will say hugely general things like; everything is more fixable with more forward, or if you go more forward everything else will come together.  I spent years sending Errowood more forward.  Psychologically he lost confidence in me every time I did it. When I added more energy to his crookedness hoping it would straighten him out, he practiced moving in tension and crookedness.  As soon as I changed my approach to asking these questions I noticed that every time I began to think about an upward transition he lost his stretch ability.  Wow! We spent that entire session revisiting stretch ability every time he lost it.  

Let's get a little technical here.  Earlier I mentioned I have begun to think of stretch-ability psychologically. This means I do not force a horse to stretch. I.E. No draw reins, no running martingales, no chambons, no side reins.  You are probably asking how that would be possible with the Ultimate Bitless bridle anyhow and you are right, it isn't and when people ask if they can I don't recommend it.  I remember how amazing it was to realize that a relaxed horse naturally stretches!!  I hope everyone can really sink into that realization at some point in their riding journey.   If stretch-ability is related to relaxation, then I believe when I made that my priority, Errowood began to trust that his mental release of tension was more important to me than any thing else.  He got more and more confident and we ended with some beautiful, light, offered trot transitions.  

I want to practice going into more detail here. When Errowood got sticky I used the understanding that I wrote about in The Learning Curve to help him straighten and relax. When I thought about upward transitions he would often want to veer to the inside of the ring. In the past I have corrected every horse with the inside leg, and outside rein, asking them to yield back to the rail.  Since Errowood was not laterally bent to the inside this really isn't the biomechanical solution.  When he swerved to the inside he bulged his rib cage to the outside, so I made a boundary with my outside hand and bumped gently and rhythmically with my outside leg. I was asking him to "be with me" on that side. It wasn't physical imbalance that caused him to fall in, it was mental and when I reconnected him to my outside leg he reconnected with me.  He bent to the outside, released the outside rein (technically the inside rein if we are talking about bend) and straightened out.  Now that I have become accustomed to feeling the bend through the rib cage and thoracic vertebrae I can help a horse balance and straighten which has a bi-product of mental release and stretch.  This is something I do with every horse until I am really feeling them with me on both sides.  It is interesting to work with some upper level dressage horses and find that they are only really with the inside of the direction of travel mentally.  When I asked them to be with me on the outside they became spooky and surprised that the outside of the ring existed. This was fascinating to me and really highlighted how a double bridle can allow a rider to mechanically put a horse in position but they haven't actually learned a position as a way of going.  

Lastly, stretching can be taught physically, without a prior release of mental tension and this can result in a horse disconnecting as they fall on the forehand.  Jean Luc Cornille writes many articles about the effects of mechanical long and low. He would really like every rider to be aware that forcing a head down produces a horse that is loading the forehand and in danger of doing lasting damage.  He highlights allowing a horse's neck long, but not low.  Even more interestingly when a horse he is riding plunges downward in the neck he responds by down transitioning and slowing the cadence so the back muscles have time and space to coordinate and carry the rider correctly.  Definitely food for thought. Karen Rohlf  also points out that when she has a horse plunge into a stretch it isn't self carriage at all.   

In my next session with Errowood this became very apparent in the trot.  He would drop into a stretch with his nose almost on the ground and start to slow down.  Instead of adding more energy I gently picked his head up for a moment, again saying, be with me, no need to disconnect down there. If you have this experience and rebalance you horse, feel for how the front end immediately feels lighter and then more willing to go forward. It is ok if they rebalance into a downward gate as well. If it is a new idea to you, check out Uta Graf's training rides.  She demonstrates stretching the neck without lowering it over and over throughout her rides.  I hold that picture in my head while I stretch my horses, especially Errowood.  Honestly, if you add the question: is my horse plunging down and on the forehand? You will connect enough to know if what you are doing is helping a release or adding too much weight to the front legs.  This second session with Errowood developed the trot and I began to ask the question about whether or not I could sustain the gate forever.  I love this question because instead of wondering if the horse is in front of my leg, I notice that sometimes just an ounce more energy will put us into the sustaining feeling.  So powerful to ask the right question!!  He gained a huge amount of confidence in upward transitions and offered to canter. He was crooked while offering so it was fun to work then on his mental/physical stretch and connection with me in the trot instead of promoting/allowing a tense crooked transition. The sensitivity of this horse astounds me.  Part of the reason he lost confidence in me is because he would very literally do everything I asked and sometimes in my ignorance I asked that he do things that weren't healthy biomechanically. I think it was uncomfortable and sometimes painful.  I am thankful this inspired me to learn more and find an understanding that helped rather than hindered him. Having a fixed mindset slowed me down a bit in letting go of the damage I had caused and moving on.  

Our last session culminated in me being able to have the conversation about his energy matching mine. One time I used the whip too strongly and he jumped forward. I really apologized.  He is a pretty forgiving horse if he feels my sincerity. Thank goodness we have a foundation of mostly positive relationship!  I spent time talking to him, finding the mental/physical stretch and rubbing him with the whip.  After that I also made sure that I transitioned down and often as I thought about transitioning up.  We worked in the walk on pirouette positioning without any tension.  He was so with me on both sides in the trot work after that I had that truly magical feeling of my hands still, together and low on his whither; his neck and thoracic vertebrae growing up in front of me; true bend in haunches in with moments of half pass; shoulder in happening whenever I asked and the sensation of floaty passage steps. No longer did he feel crooked or falling in to the left.  We were superstars together that day and I was blown away by has ease and power.  My mom often marvels with me how our horses are just waiting for us to get it right and when we do they meet us there.  Karen Rohlf says, "never underestimate the potential for things to improve in ways you cannot yet imagine". 

The learning curve

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When I returned from the Equine Affaire I started playing with horses focusing on bend and the shape they were making around me.  I began to really see how their ability to bend integrated into their ability to turn as well as stay mentally with me.  Again, many pieces fell together for me. Colleen Kelly talking about keeping the inside ear cocked toward the rider/handler, Jean Luc Cornille highlighting the tilt of the thoracic vertebrae to the inside of the bend, and now Chris Irwin speaking of putting pressure on the rib cage instead of the head and neck.  With the right timing in a turn, the rib cage is swinging away from the inside leg and at the exact same time the thoracic vertebrae are tipping towards the direction of bend or travel. I was thinking in terms of the ability of the horse to flip the bend from one side to the other. On the ground this was calming every horse I worked with and in the saddle it was creating an incredible flow of movement.  Lazy horses became more forward and tense horses settled and became more trusting.  I could feel their immense relief in how I was focusing on their bodies and presenting a platform that made everything easier.  It really is true that when a horse realizes you are making it easier for them to move they become willing to do anything they can for you.  It is earning their trust and committing to respecting them.  It is powerful how sacred this is.

 

This brings me to the learning curve.  I took all of this and began working with Errowood again.   He had some time off while I focused on his little sister Cora. 

December 4th 2015

December 4th 2015

This dear horse has been on my journey responding and guiding every step of the way.  I could see very clearly that I had caused a lot of tension and worry in him during our past and found myself one day pretty disappointed that I would be rehabilitating him from methods I had employed without the understanding that helping him, not making him was the key.  I really had to step back mentally and reassure myself that I had the time and the willingness to do this and to not judge myself so harshly for it.  When a horse responds and I can imagine someone else being too strong sometime in their past it is relatively easy to let it go and be there helping them through it.  When they respond because of something I did, it is more challenging.  I even despair a little.  

Recently I have been watching Karen Rohlf's videos in her video class room and was struck by her saying that people tend to be exploring all the time or being very consistent and staying the same all the time.  I was really realizing with Errowood the consequences of my inconsistency and the need for something he could count on within my need to continually learn and grow. The tension he carried around me was the fear of making a mistake when learning something new.  I had created that by learning something new and then wanting it to be immediately applied and mastered. Whew! Recommitting to taking all the time it would take to renew our relationship was intimidating to think about.  It took me a day to wrap my head around it.  Thankfully more resources were on the way.    

A dear friend gave me a book called Mindset by Carol S Dweck for Christmas shortly after and I was blown away by the perfection of the timing.  From her website:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

What this helped me see is that while I am passionate about learning and growing I had also a pretty developed fixed mindset that created in me the need to hide my learning.  I wasn't comfortable with people witnessing me not knowing what to do in most cases.  

Somewhere along the way I had picked up this idea that I had to already know everything. It was time to let that go. I knew I was attracted to people who shared their process and vulnerability and now I really knew why. I wished to do that as well and knew instinctively that I would have to shift into a growth mindset in order to really let go of judgment and work towards my dreams.  I also became aware of how much more effective I could be as a teacher and parent by highlighting the courage and patience it takes to practice something, getting just a little bit better every day.  It is empowering to dedicate ourselves to the process and to learning. It is ok to recognize information and soak it up without judgment of the source.  This has been immensely relieving to me and all the horses I am working with.  I look forward to watching my students grow as well. 

Equine Affaire

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There is nothing quite like talking about horses and being around horse accessories all day long for days in a row to grow the yearning to actually be with a horse towards a raging storm within.  I cope with this in different ways, including sitting in saddles interspersed with jumping up and down and luckily over a four day show I don't end up shutting down.  What becomes more apparent to me is the future vision that we will be demonstrating Bitless riding at expos and that doesn't seem far away at all.  

This show has been successful in sales and connections as well as education.  I had read about the presenters and since we are limited in how much time we can be away from our stand I had decided to focus on watching Chris Irwin.  The first presentation I got to see was on Friday and it brought me to tears. Granted it is very easy to bring me to tears, both of happiness and grief. These were happy tears as I heard a clinician speaking to a huge audience about the biomechanics and nervous system of the horse.  He confirmed that when we turn a horse's neck against the bend of the spine, we are breaking the nervous system and consequently the back, in half.  He talked about the kind of stress this induces in an already maxed out system.  Then we as an audience watched horses transform as the riders changed their bodies and diagonals to match the horse's counterbend around the outside of the arena. Their rhythm slowed, their heads leveled out, their rider's began to relax and slowly here and there the horse would offer true bend, sometimes for a stride sometimes for a whole corner.  The idea was presented that we as riders can fascilitate trust and relaxation through riding the horse where they are in the bend they present.  A corner becomes a leg yield in counterbend. The leg on the rail becomes the inside leg in counterbend.  The correct diagonal is whatever diagonal follows the bend from moment to moment.  Here was someone reiterating one of the most profound understandings in my career. Beautiful confirmation and synchronicity.

As I review my riding career I realize that I have worked in counterbend quite a bit. These exercises are not new to me but the understanding of why and when is what has changed for me.  I see now that the exercises do not necessarily make a better athlete, in fact forcing those exercises is actually damaging.  Instead it is our leadership that fascilitates the movement from moment to moment that best aligns the horse's spine under our seat.  From there the horse trusts and surrenders their fear.  They become a partner.  Whew! That is moving enough to bring me to tears.  

Later I watched Chris Irwin again, this time in a small demo ring, simultaneously lecturing about emotional intelligence and leadership skills in humans while working with a horse he had not met.  This was a long informative lecture and I came away with many things.  One highlight was the idea that controlling a horse from the head is inherently predatory, while working with their body is shepherding.  What this looked like: the horse would look away towards the audience or out the door and instead of bringing the horse back to him with the lead rope he instead yielded the shoulders and the ribs (which had come towards Chris as the head went away) consequently bringing the head back.  This was pretty interesting to me. He pointed out that correcting the passive movement of the horse's head looking away with an aggressive pulling, while simultaneously ignoring the horse's body coming into your space which is aggressive, you are compounding your leadership problems, while becoming more and more aggressive.  Wow! I do that, especially with my own horses.  Even as I watched the horse settle, becoming ever softer and ever more connected I could see the incongruencies that my horses had been responding to in me.  And why there is a missing trust.  

The next day I watched another session where Chris worked with a Lusitano gelding and charmed an entire audience.  I laugh because he sounds like a new age speaker, relating lofty ideas and cliches while grounding them in practical application. His application is horses but he is reaching deeper into the psyche of humanity, showing how we can make fundamental changes in our own way of thinking.  Meanwhile he says things like, I don't want a natural horse, I want a supernatural horse.  And everyone in the audience breathes as one.  They get it and the energy is electric.   In that session he talked about how he had finally realized in his 40's that he as a trainer had been fixing the things that he was inadvertently causing with his own body language.  Then he demonstrated the body language that caused the problems and the body language that doesn't cause problems to begin with.  And the horse would bow to him.  It was profound and I still smile because he knew it.  I remember wishing that he had spoken even for just a moment about the women who had brought that gelding in the ring to begin with. It was obvious that the horse was bonded to her and calm in her presence.  It wasn't until Chris demonstrated aggressive body language that I realized how sensitive that horse was. I later got to speak with her and express my appreciation for her prior work with the horse.  She had bred him and said that he was born with spirit through the roof.  His name is Helix and her name is Laurie Burnley of Wildwood Farm.  

I look forward so much to applying these new insights at home and have been practicing them with people here at the show.  It is such a gift to be here. Thank you universe! 

Apache and Max

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Earlier this week before heading off to the Equine Affaire I had a session with Apache and for the first time a session with his young pasture mate Max.  

Apache, who has progressively gotten lighter and more balanced was the best he has been.  The breakthrough in thinking for me this week was fascilitated by my mom's mare Cora. We have recently decided to sell her which kicked in some of my old way of thinking around obedience and expectations.  I began imagining all the situations she was going to be in and began to demand more.  This worked progressively less well with a little more stress in each session until I demanded Cora turn left when she wanted to go right and she took lame short choppy steps. This for lack of a better statement, woke me up.  This wasn't working and it was not a path I wanted to revisit.  We stopped for a moment and then began again.  This time I recommitted to following Cora's bend no matter where she went in the ring with the prerequisite expectation that she continued trotting.  And just like that everything changed. It finally clicked for me what it meant to align the horse rather than demand obedience.   And also what it means to set a horse up and allow them to execute the movement.  When they are gaining strength and coordination it doesn't matter where the movement happens but that it happens in alignment. This gains trust and they become willing to give the movement when asked.  We finished with the most beautiful right hand circle I had ever ridden on Cora with true bend and a beautiful rhythmic gorgeous trot.  And just like that we were friends again and all the stress had melted away.  With renewed understanding I approached the rest of my rides before going out of town this way.  

This resulted in a flowing fun ride on Apache with more bend then we had recently had. We also began trot to halt transitions with only a couple of walk steps and the left hind beginning to come square rather than trailing out behind.  Apache was feeling and responding to the changes in my back and I was able to stay patient enough to see and feel that.   Again I was confirming within myself that it is ok to wait and avoid the confrontation that come from demanding obedience immediately.  

Next I worked with Max, who is very young and just beginning ring work with only some trail riding under saddle.  I began on the ground. This was the first time for Max to wear the Ultimate Bitless Bridle and I wanted to introduce him to his ability to release it. I spent 10-15 minutes asking him to move forward while standing in riding position. Especially in the beginning when I do this the  horses want to turn and face me. I gently block their face and keep my belly button facing forward with my body at the girth.  Max did a lot of licking and chewing, learning how to release the bridle himself and eventually took forward steps.  After he was confident going forward when I asked I got on him and was very happy with his turning and stopping.  I continued asking him to go forward and even got a beautiful canter.  I noticed it was harder to keep my balance on his wiggly shifting back and since he is so small I made sure that I was staying as straight and balanced as I could to stabilize his back.  It was fun to be on a youngster and an honor to be doing the beginning work with his young mind.  I look forward to his future sessions. 

In conclusion, with the understanding that bend and straightness come from a coordinated back that then produces a neck position it becomes possible to conceive how one can ride without a bit or even without anything on the head at all.  If however one is attempting to produce bend and straightness from the neck position it is impossible to conceive how it would be done without a bit.  

Coming up next, Equine Affaire experiences

:) 

Apache and cooler weather

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Between weddings, and fall break, I have not ridden Apache as regularly, so it is nice to get back into the flow. Over these last five rides Apache has become lighter and straighter.   I am becoming more comfortable with in hand work, and typically get off Apache once or twice during a session to review something in hand. Immediately I see a difference in comprehension and confidence. It is nice to be off of him while asking him to go forward anyhow because it doesn't seem nearly as slow when one is walking beside a horse ;)

One of our rides stands out in retrospect. I arrived early, and rode him before feeding. It was cooler, and he was agitated and full of himself. I noticed that I enjoyed the unexpected forward, but it wasn't very balanced or coordinated. This meant bucking In the canter and bobbles in the hind end. Because the groundwork is relatively new to me still, it didn't occur to me until afterward, that the solution to a not stopping horse is similar to the one that won't go forward. Coordination between us would've been much easier if I had not been on his back.  This will be so valuable next time!  

In another session I began working on Apache's confidence with ground poles. While Cavelletti is not my end goal, he had some serious suspicions about walking over poles, so I thought that would be helpful to work on. Our first attempt with me in the saddle ended at best standing in front of the pole. I dismounted and continued in hand. Without my weight he was more confident to try, and within three minutes we were successfully walking over single poles, and piles of poles.  I encouraged him to take his time. I asked him to move forward but did not force him to. So much of this reminds me of the groundwork I learned from the Parelli's seven games. The difference is the focus on the horses' ability to orchestrate the movement rather than getting the horse to perform a task.  Slowing everything down is hugely helpful.  I get the sense that many more advanced Parelli students understand this than beginners. After that Apache could walk over the poles under saddle as well.  

On a side note I am incorporating this in hand work into lessons with students, because not only is a our coordination and balance better when we are on our own 2 feet, but it seems easier to hold our space as well. When we are on the horse's back and they begin to move sideways we inevitably go with them. When we are on the ground we may choose to go with them or not.  Also, the way I notice myself and others using their hands while they're on the ground is different. It is lighter, more concise, and generally has more clarity. This very quickly creates new feelings for the person, and is much more easily applied while sitting on the horse.  

Our last ride also stands out, because Apache's owner was at the barn and pointed out to me the roan hairs that were growing in predominately on the left-hand side of his back, right around his 10th thoracic vertebrae. She has been worried that his treeless saddle does not have enough structure, and that it was putting pressure on that area after he received a B on his back at their last endurance ride. So I used my dressage saddle on him for the first time. He was much more confident about going forward by the second half of the ride. I am so thankful to work with such observant and knowledgable people! I have not brushed hair backwards before to notice a roaning. I am aware of white hairs when they grow in, but this helped me see that I could be checking even more thoroughly.  

Each interaction I have with a horse, sheds light on another old pattern and habit of thinking.  Discomfort renders a horse unwilling, and emotional. When I work to coordinate a horse, by staying straight and focused internally on what I want, confidence grows.  For instance when I watched a student having trouble with her horse bucking after a turn from the centerline, I asked, "when you feel her turning left what do you do?"  She answered, "I turn right". The change in balance was so severe and abrupt, it was very easy to see that it was uncomfortable and this particular horse showed her discomfort by bouncing. When instead straightness was achieved before turning right the horse happily and quietly made the turn.  That bobble created strong emotions in both the girl and the horse and I think for both of them the need for their own safety was not being met.  They then both needed time to trust each other's balance again, and for the horse to trust her rider's guidance.  

The UBB has inspired a journey I never expected.   I am now seeking knowledge about the most efficient way to move for my own body and my horse's body.  I have been shown my tendency to force things in the name of making something happen. I have been confronted with the realization that I have rehab to do that was created from my own application of training without enough knowledge. I am also aware that there will be more mistakes. Yet I am comforted that while the knowledge is complex and often overwhelming, the application is consistently to find alignment within myself and then to listen and observe. My experiment for the next week is to see if I can do a 180 every time I notice that forcing energy.  This is scary because after all what is a trainer but an enforcer?  From enforcer to fascilitator, disciplinarian to communicator,  and the most challenging, operant conditioner to educator. The transformation has begun!!

 

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Two more rides with Apache

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Tuesday and Wednesday last week were back to back rides on Apache.  

Tuesday found us working late in the evening before feeding time. Apache was amenable and we practiced walk straightness and maintaining gate in the trot.  Apache was getting lighter and softer in the turns which felt really good considering how stiff he was in the ring when we started working together. I also noticed that he was no longer chewing sideways, which is maybe not the best way to describe it, but it is what I thought of when I watched it.  He did this often in the beginning and during this ride I realized that he had stopped.  He also was breathing much more regularly.  I think this was the combination of getting used to our sessions centering on coordination and resolving the hindgut ulcers.  I also noticed that the clicking I hear in his hind end especially the left stifle in the walk almost disappears when his walk is straight and slowed down. He does not weave back in forth any longer in the walk either. Very cool! His trot was feeling powerful at times and he was listening to me asking him to slow down without breaking into the walk.  

 

Wednesday I rode Apache in the morning and worked on the same things except I left the reins loose in the trot.  I realized that Apache had been wanting to lean on the bridle and now that he is listening to a much lighter guidance it was easy to navigate around the ring with loose reins.  He stretched down a lot and I would ask him often to walk.  He also decided that he would like to eat grass and I felt it was time to patiently say no and work on going lightly forward. He spent some time standing and pawing. And some time backing. Then he took some deep breathes and went forward. That happened a couple of times and then we worked in the trot and then I decided to work in hand.  I position myself next to the saddle and work as if I am riding. It was much easier for him to trot in hand and work in shoulder fore. He was able to collect himself and didn't need to stretch so far down.  It was also easier for me to show him the direction I wanted his body to go simply by walking in a straight line myself.  I was reminded how much easier it can be for horses to coordinate everything without our weight on their backs.  

During both of these sessions I was also conscious of how my balance was affecting Apache. I also was fully aware of my back and whether or not it was straight. My shoulders are unlocking just from no longer holding my hands out away from my body. Especially my right hand which had the habit of wandering forward and up.  All of these habits were from wanting to help the horses I was riding.  Knowing that my responsibility is to keep my body balanced side to side and front to back has made riding feel so much better to my body and the horses.  This reminds me of Conrad Schumacher memorably saying "You simply do too much".  This applies to so many things in my life. This practice of stillness and listening, breathing and responding becomes a way to live and ride.  I let go of demanding and making it happen and tune in to how the subtle orchestrations can be felt when I slow everything down.  I am so blessed and thankful to be on this journey :)

Happy riding!  

Terina

Further Apache rides

jefferson drumm

Apache began the week lighter and more willing.  I spent the weekend reading Jean Luc Cornille posts and came away with the reinforced idea to stay slow and straight.  I like thinking about a horse taking one step at a time.  When I first met Jefferson he imparted to me that balance was the ability to retract a step at any time. Balance is not falling to the next step but grounding in each step so that direction can be changed at any moment. This is the coordination our fine four legged friends need to perform with soundness and carry us on their backs.  I also took heart that if Apache wasn't leaning on the bridle and falling on the forehand It would be ok to ask him to remain in the trot for more than ten steps. I didn't canter during this session because staying in the trot seemed challenging enough.  Every time we stopped I was interested to see how heavily Apache was breathing. Was this physically tiring or mentally and emotionally tiring?  I thought both and still do. Sometimes I would ask him to continue. Sometimes we rested.  He still very much wanted to turn towards the gate so when I had exhausted my patience for the saddle I got off and worked on the ground.  Standing in riding position with the reins in one hand is something I have been practicing since I watched Mr. Cornille's in hand videos. It is surprisingly challenging.  Luckily the horses are so natured that they seem to get more coordinated no matter how uncoordinated I am and since I have done a fair amount of Parelli groundwork I am somewhat familiar with the feeling.  Apache seemed fascinated about me being next to him and immediately took the steps I was looking for.  So easy!  Perhaps I could have done it sooner? Yes probably :)

Our second session I was nervous about.  Apache's owner was planning to watch and while I felt relatively confident about how the sessions had been going I had some stage fright.  It turned out she wasn't able to stay but we talked beforehand and I voiced my misgivings about how long it seemed to be taking for him to figure out his balance.  Turning was tricky and yielding was sometimes impossible feeling.  I am grateful for her perspective offered about how little he had ever been asked to use his body this way and the possibility that he had never been.  Partially reassured I headed up to the ring alone. Apache was his most coordinated yet!  When I slow his walk down enough it becomes straight.  He has an odd feeling in the walk when he isn't straight.  It is as though he is pushing off sideways and weaving ever so slightly along a line.  When I slowed him down and just pictured straightness with no lateral deviation there were moments when he became light and gathered. Dare I say collected?  From these moments I would successfully ask him to trot.  He followed guidance lightly and happily changed directions. He offered bend around my inside leg and even felt able to travel in the direction of bend.  Very heartening! 

Our last ride that week found Apache hungry!! All he wanted to do was eat so we took lots of breaks and I also worked on him not pulling me out of the saddle when he wanted grass.  Eventually he didn't want to move at all so I spent time standing beside him working on the same.  What was the most interesting to me was that while he was pulling on and cinching the bridle often, now that he fully understood that he was in control of releasing the bridle fully he had very little indent on his nose.  I continue to marvel at how empowering that must be for a horse. After speaking with his owner she confirmed that he had been very hungry after being put on a supplement that balances the ph of the hindgut.  She felt that he had most likely had some ulcers and was in recovery, regaining his appetite and becoming softer in his torso.  Again I was glad that I had not pushed him through his reluctance to go forward or move off the leg. 

 

 

Until next week!  

Until next week!  

Apache in Training With The Ultimate Bitless Bridle

jefferson drumm

Apache is an Arabian that I have in training three days a week.  He is a student's endurance horse who has spent the last 6 years or so trotting and cantering down the trails.  He also does not appreciate a bit, with head tossing and fear if he thinks that a bit is going in his mouth.  His owners requested I use the Ultimate Bitless Bridle for these training sessions much to my delight.  

The first week of three rides stand out in my head.  The first ride he demonstrated just how much good had been done by having a treeless saddle for the past endurance season and sans bit.  Compared to the first time I had ridden him over a year before he was more confident going forward and had a softness in his body and a power in his step.  Yay!  He pulled often on the bridle on his way to bite weeds and change direction.  I had forgotten how hard horses can pull down on the reins after only riding my own horses for the summer.  After our session I noticed how much the nosebands had pressed on his nose, leaving indents that I rubbed and massaged afterwards.  

The next session he was less forward and more questioning of my guidance.  We spent much of our time completely still as I always allowed him to stop.  After he stopped I would hold the halt in my body and add a backwards request.  I did not allow him to pull down to eat, nor did I ever add pressure more than what was sufficient to feel his head.  I wondered often how long it would take and even if it would work.  I also knew that while I could generally force something like that in a bit (never with pleasant results), I could not in the Ultimate Bitless Bridle.  So I waited.  And I could feel when his energy shifted backwards.  I spoke to him when this happened, "Yes! That is it!"  I think if I had timed it, it would probably have taken about 3 minutes a standing this way and encouraging the backward energy.  The first backwards step was one foot and uncoordinated.  I spoke and spoke and rubbed his wither, celebrating each time.  I noticed he would back and push his wither toward me when I rubbed it, obviously enjoying that as well.  I could feel his back "rounding up to me" while we stood.  Rather like when I horse is thinking about rearing.  But this was enjoyment!  I liked it and spoke more encouragingly.  Throughout this session he found softer and softer responses to my guidance.  Often, I let him stand until he could mentally coordinate what I was asking his body to do.  This is exactly what I perceived to be happening.  Yes, he wanted to go back to the gate, and he often turned in the same place, but if I waited until he was ready to turn the way I was asking, he would organize himself in a beautiful way; more round, more bent and more easily.  I began to feel softness in response to my requests and I felt more confident about the approach I was using.  He had mouthfulls of grass here and there so he could further understand the release of the bridle.  After our session the indents on his face were much less pronounced and I think that directly reflected how he was softer. 

Our third session was wonderful. I used the pads for the first time in this session and he spent a happy time standing on them.  Feeling that horse release tension was remarkable.  He licked and chewed, took deep breaths, and blew big breaths out.  Apache had the breakthrough in understanding that he had complete control of releasing any pressure that he had built up into the bridle by moving his jaw.  He realized that he could open his mouth any time he wished.  His backing became even lighter and he was able to coordinate a couple of steps at a time.  I began asking him to move sideways.  I am not sure yet if this is what is needed.  I decided to because I thought it would be a good place to start for his young rider to experience.  Yet the coordination of his sideways steps was so lacking that I now feel I was forcing it.  Still, he was light and willing with greater delight in what we were doing together.  Again, the indents on his nose were markedly less, and he is happy to have the bridle put on and taken off.  

Our fourth session was at the beginning of the following week and I spent more time asking him to move off the leg and more time backing.  He still was reluctant to go forward and I decided to spend more time turning gently than yielding sideways.  I can bump this horse with my leg, forward and sideways. I attempted to only do this as a boundary, but sometimes used it as an aid to make him go sideways.  He was getting easier to move from left to right, but still quite stuck moving right to left in turns or leg yields.  I think from reading Jean Luc Cornille's work that he can rotate his spine in the direction of his bend only part of the time and that he needs to move very slowly and precisely to do this.  The indents on his nose were lighter still after this session.  

During our fifth and sixth sessions I began to wonder if I needed to really slow down the sideways request, or not request it at all.  He was not getting very much better at it.  A little better at it, but compared to the backing it was taking a long time.  In one particular yield, I asked him sideways and also to slow down his forward motion and go sideways.  He stopped.  I attempted to yield him away from an energetic leg, for which I mean that I laid it on his side and hoped to think him sideways.  He took some backward steps and seemed unsure.  I wondered if it would work better on the ground.  How could I have made it more clear?  Was he capable of doing it, or just confused?  It seemed that in certain areas of the ring he could.  Here it was not working.  Eventually we moved sideways and I encouraged him happily.  It didn't stick the way the backing had, and yet now I begin to realize that the difference is the speed.  Moving sideways needs as much time for coordination as moving backwards.  The same goes for turning.  This is why I think this gets very slowly and minutely better.  Yes I can make it happen faster, and he will be less comfortable and easy.  Every time I allowed him to slow and coordinate, he would hold me more securely on his back.  How interesting that I finally understood what someone may have originally meant by "sitting in".  It felt as though I was sitting in his back, yet this happened from him, not from anything that I was doing besides waiting for him to coordinate himself.  At the end of the sixth session there were barely any marks on his nose at all.    

Further Thoughts:

After reflecting on these sessions I am more ready to take it literally one step at a time, allowing Apache the space to coordinate his body slowly.   I notice that I make mistakes in timing and gentleness when I think that something should be happening, or that if someone was watching they would think I was ridiculous.  I prefer so much to ride this way and I feel more confident everyday that it is working, and working well. I also think that I do need to work from the ground to help with coordination.   I am learning to use the Ultimate Bitless Bridle more ultimately each session and I am learning about the coordination of a horses body and the stimulation of their mind.  I am constantly grateful for this.  The responsibility is in our hands, literally, and I enjoy so much having a tool that can facilitate such a journey.  

Until next week

Terina 

Apache  

Apache