2015, we'll have known each other for ten years. My project horse will be 21 and me 31. But let's not count numbers. Let us focus on quality: My project horse doesn't get older, he gets better.

I don't need fiery temperament in a horse. But I appreciate calmness and understanding. When you've been together for some years, communication becomes more and more subtle. I don't need words anymore, barely gestures. Unanimity. 
I can count on my horse. He takes the lead if necessary, but he willingly gives it back to me. Reliability. 

PferdeStärken Alte Pferde Pferde Verstehen Blog
The day is drawing to the end. Photo: Marko
We cannot use these old horses as we used to and as we would like to. They endure their little ailments, and some might have to retire earlier than expected. But that does not mean there is nothing left for them to give. On the contrary. 

We don't need to form and mold an old horse anymore. He already is someone. 
An old horse won't be impressed that easily. He has seen his fair share of things. 
An old horse has his position. And he takes it up. He doesn't need to be taught new tricks. He can learn them, of course, but what for? 
He'll make boundaries very clear. He understands the human and his demands. But he might come to the conclusion that there are things he just does not have to do anymore in his life. That is not disobedience. That is an opinion. An old horse has the right to get away with it from time to time. 

Let's think about all the lessons he has taught us and the great moments we shared. 
An old horse knows us and he knows our weaknesses.
He is forgiving of our inadequacies
An old horse will ignore our mistakes benevolently or even make up for them - sometimes, we might not even notice. 
An old horse bears with us and our tempers, and he will stand up for us if necessary. 
An old horse is reliable. An old horse is at peace with himself

And as he does not insist on his right ro refuse - in moments when he could -, we as well should be open to compromise and refrain from imposing our will on him. Let us be considerate and lenient with our old horse as he is with us. Let's give him something back - we have received so much from him. 
Old horses help us to become better horseman. 
Here's the second part meaning another 5 of the ten life lessons I've learned from horses so far. 
I screwed up. So often. But he still comes to meet me on the pasture.
Photo: Nadja

  1. You are allowed to make mistakes. Have you ever felt reproach in a horse‘s glance? I haven‘t. Not because my project horse isn‘t fed up with me from time to time. I make mistakes, am unfair (though not on purpose), am not in control of my emotions or loose patience. Still: The horse stays friendly, loyal, polite and patient. In the worst case, he‘ll just tolerate me and waits until my mood changes for the better. The horse is never angry with me. He is forgiving and accepts me for what I am. I am allowed to make mistakes. He doesn‘t hand them to me on a silver platter afterwards or spells them out for me (of course, he makes sure I notice that I screwed up. But he‘s subtle about it and not accusing). It is ok to make mistakes. And so it is my job to accept and tolerate my horse‘s mistakes as well. To give him the chance to make mistakes and learn from them instead of preventing them from happening. This is what you do when you hold your reins tight all the time. You suppress mistakes instead of allowing them to happen and fix them afterwards. Only if I let the mistake happen, we are both able to learn from it.
  2. Accept help. The herd of horses lives that concept day in and day out. Together, we are better off. We don‘t have to fight our way through life on our own. We can accept help. It doesn‘t cost us a thing and often, others are glad to help. I don‘t know about you but I am always happy to help someone in need. It makes me feel better about myself.
  3. Appreciate your horse‘s tries. How easy are we to please? Are we ever content? If we have trouble to be content in our every day life, we‘ll probably have challenges with our perfectionism being with horses as well. Therefore it‘s vital that we are aware of our horse‘s tries, that we appreciate and reward them. Our horse tries to understand us, and we should give him the respect he deserves - even if his answers are not the ones we were hoping for.
  4. Find happiness in the little things. If we are only happy when our horse does a nice piaff or flying lead changes, we might wait for a life time. But there are so many little things and bright moments worth noticing and to be grateful for while working towards our goals. The more we become aware and grateful of those moments of happiness the more content we become. We experience happiness every day in small amounts - instead of waiting for it to flood our lives at once. Because we might wait until the end and still haven‘t experienced it yet.  
  5. Let it happen. Sometimes, we work really hard on a certain manoever with our horse. And we become frustrated because it just doesn‘t seem to improve. We ask over and over again, hope that our horse will react more quickly or subtly, step further under the body or finally bend the haunches. But we just don‘t come together with the horse. Sometimes, we just work too hard. Our focus is too narrow, we are strained and stressed. Sometimes it helps to back down, let go of the goals and just let things happen instead of making them happen.
If you missed the first part, click here.
What have you learned from horses?
„It's amazing what you can learn after you've learned all that you think there is to learn“ 
(Ray Hunt)

The levels of competence: Unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, unconsciously competent" 
(Pat Parelli)

This is a rather challenging young mare I worked with for 4 days. She taught me awareness
of the meaning of my hands. Photo: Marlies

Striving for competence with horses we learn many lessons. Some come to us easily, others the hard way. Preparing for christmas and taking time to reflect, today‘s post is the first part of two texts about the 10 most important concepts I‘ve picked up in the past 20 years from being with horses. So here are the first 5. 

  1. We apply too much pressure - even when we think we are being polite. Any time the horse responds with opposition, it‘s likely we started with too much. Instead of waiting and giving the horse time to react, we become impatient and up the phases, increasing the pressure. Pretty soon we have a fight on our hands. You can avoid that quite elegantly by applying less pressure than you think you might need to get a reaction from your horse - a tip from Buck Brannaman. 
  2. „Don‘t make assumptions.“ A quote by Pat Parelli. We believe we have no prejudices and approach a horse or a situation unbiased. Well, the horse will probably teach us better. Making assumptions with horses in my eyes is one of the biggest mistakes. Expectations blind us, they distract us from what is real and from the moment. They cloud our attention and dilute our judgement. My recommendation: Meet your horse as if it was the first time. 
  3. We hold it in our own hands. Literally. Our hands talk to the horse. They can transmit a feel or pressure. They can be harsh, hectic and scary. Or they can be soft, slow and predictable. It‘s our job to use our hands in a way that benefits the horse.
  4. First give, then take. We want our horses to trust and respect us. But still we‘ll just invade his space and pull the halter over his ears. And we flinch whenever the horse tightens because we are scared he might take off. So much about reciprocity. If I want my horse to meet me with trust and respect, I should challenge my own abilities of giving these two. Do I have a hard time showing someone respect? Is it difficult for me to trust someone? We can just demand trust and respect, we need to earn it. Our horses will tell us quickly if we have any need for improvement.
  5. Let go. As riders, we like control. Understandably, as safety is concerned. Paradoxically, in order to achieve full control over our horse we need to let go first. Buck Brannaman for example says that we need to be able to have our horse walk, trot, canter and galopp on a loose rein first. If we are unable to do that, everything we do with the reins boils down to a form of confinement of the horse. But it‘s not the reins or the bit that hold back or control the horse. He needs to be in control of his own. We can help him with it by opening our hands and give him the reins. We allow him to take responsibility and give him the chance to behave. 
You can find the second part of the post here.
What have you learned from horses?
Lately, I got involved in one of those ineffable discussions on Facebook. Again. 
I know it‘s of no use, and I know it‘s a waste of time. But sometimes, I just can‘t keep my mouth shut. 
Like in the following case. One woman posted in the Natural Horsemanship Students group that she‘d been on holiday and now she‘s back and finds a changed horse. She was convinced that the horse was sulking because of her absence and asked what she could do about it. I dared to write that she might misinterpret the behavior. Because I doubt that horses can be insulted. 
Well, and here we are anthropomorphizing the horse. That horses have feelings is clear and not to be denied. But what exactly are they able to feel? Do they know the same emotions as us humans? Are we pretty similar in fact? 
There are no real answers as even science will probably never be able to place us in a horse‘s head and allow us to share its conscience. So what is left, are observations. Observations and the conclusions we draw. 
As you might know I am quite fond of traditional horsemanship and I‘ve learned that it‘s no good to project human traits on horses. And that‘s what I am convinced of. Still. Even after I got scolded for being an arrogant, bad, mean, vicious human who denies horses feelings and conscience and everything.

If I don't see you, maybe you won't see me.
Photo: Nadja
If she‘d asked, I‘d offered her my point of view along with some explanations (which she didn‘t want to hear of course). Well, I think that nature has equipped the horse with all the emotions necessary for his survival. And I think that nature has deprived the horse of all the emotions that would complicate his survival. 
For instance: If a horse knew no fear and no caution, it would make an easy prey. But what if a horse knew compassion or remorse? The stud would not be able to kill his competitor‘s offspring without being tortured by scruples afterwards. Maybe this scenario is possible. But unlikely, in my eyes. If horses knew remorse or guilt, that would imply that horses are able to judge their behavior and its consequences (for themselves and their buddies) in complex contexts plus far in the future. So the stud is tormented by his bad conscience but he still kills the non-legitimate sons of his mares. Plus, he really needs to apologize to his rival whose leg he almost broke at their last fight. Well, it may be possible, but it would be inconvenient, obstructive. I think nature prefers simple over complicated.

I don‘t deny horses emotions in general, of course. But I think that from time to time us humans would be well advised to take some distance from our egos and to see our horses as what they are: prey animals, domesticated for thousands of years, but still not to be compared with humans. 

Of course, I want too that my horse loves me, misses me and defends me if necessary. But I believe, unfortunately, that without me he still has everything he needs to live a happy life. We are an accessory to our horses‘ lifes. Some of them like us and spending time with us, others would be happy if we‘d stayed away. I don‘t think that‘s sad or tragic. It‘s just the way it is. But out there seem to exist people (and not just a few) who cannot handle the thought that horses are independent to some degree and survive without their owners (I am writing about emotional bonds here. Of course, horses need food and water to survive). Of course, some horses form stronger bonds. But still, I think, they are able to sever them more quickly and easily than us humans could.

Looking at my project horse: He doesn‘t like to be touched or handled by persons he doesn‘t know. He then threatens to bite, pulls an angry face and if he feels extremely superior he might even kick. I could interpret this behavior as him missing his regular handlers and therefore being angry and insulted. But what I actually believe is this: He doesn‘t like his routines being changed and mixed up

If humans were around him that respected his needs and tuned into him, who respected his personal space, didn‘t flood him with too much energy and asked very politely - he‘d be fine with it and wouldn‘t mind if it were us or others. As long as his needs are taken care of. We are disposable. 

I‘m sorry if this doesn‘t sound like Fury or Black Beauty. But life‘s not a pony ride.
Are you ready for the meanest horse photos on earth?
I officially apologize to my project horse for making them public. But I just can't help it.

You think this is a rather unfavorable perspective? Wait till you see
the next photo.

Does it become any meaner than this? I don't think so.
Just blame it on the photographer. All photos: Nadja (in a mean mood)

PS: If you feel like distorting your horse too, all you need is a small low-tech camera, a steep hill and a mean angle.

Leslie Desmond, who rode with Tom and Bill Dorrance, held a clinic in Switzerland some months ago. She gave me some new perspectives on horses and horsemanship, one being to appreciate the horse‘s tries - even if he tries the wrong thing. You might know that Pat Parelli, too, often says „reward the slightest try“.
If I want my horse to back for instance, and I move the rope until I get the first step back, most likely my arm feels like it‘s about to fall off and my horse is mad and confused as he bumped in the rope with his nose repeatedly. Which comes pretty close to yelling at him constantly. 
It‘s up to me to discern when the horse understands what I want and then to take out the pressure immediately and stop moving the rope. 

If our horse is more eager to get away from us than he is to come to us
we know that we need to change something. Photo: Nadja

Understanding on the horse‘s part does not necessarily mean that he steps back eagerly. His expression just might have changed or - which is more obvious - he started to shift his weight back or lifted a leg in order to get back. These small beginnings is what I reward first. I see the horse‘s efforts and I let him know by releasing that he is on the right track. 
Slowly I ask for a whole step, and then several steps. It‘s important to release for the tries to confirm the horse and to keep up his motivation. If he tries, but hasn‘t got it completely yet, and instead of rewarding we firm up, we spoil being obedient for him. Instead he learns that we are hard to please. Next time, maybe he won‘t even try for us, or only reluctantly.

I guess, we all have come across someone in our lifes - be it a teacher or even our parents - who made that mistake with us. Someone who just derided or ignored our honest efforts (as humble as they might have been). For someone like that you don‘t go the extra mile anymore. 

I believe, that more often than not, we don‘t recognize when our horse is trying. We look over it (not intentionally) and then conclude that we need to firm up or become clearer. Instead, it would be more appropriate to just wait and give the horse some time to figure it out. 

If you want to know more about Join up techniques you might want to visit Beth's blog "horsey experiences" and read my guest post. I compare the hooking on methods used by Monty Roberts, Warwick Schiller and Pat Parelli and explain them. 
There are some human behaviors my brain refuses to understand. Like: The horse is tied up in the aisle. The human wants to turn it around. He walks straight and with a lot of energy to the hindend and hits the horse with his hand on the butt. The horse flinches and stands still. The human pushes, and shoves and swears and doesn‘t understand why the horse does not yield at all but pushes into the pressure of the human‘s hand. 
In this case, it‘s a horse I know quite well because I‘ve trained her. I know how sublty and how willingly she will react - if the human asks politely.

I find it astonishing how humans demand respect and good manners (of animal and fellow humans equally), but especially with horses we fail to live up to our own expectations and act like dumb, drunk idiots who forgot their good upbringing. Plus, we then are dumbfolded if the horses reacts adequatly to our rude behavior meaning he ignores or fights us. Which we interpret as disrespectful and hit him. We punish him for our own imcompetence. This drives me nuts. 

I‘ve experienced it over and over again: If the horse responds to our question with opposition, we posed the question wrong. Usually, we go in with way too much pressure and we up it way too fast. The horse is not able to tune in mentally and his only way out is to resist. But if we‘d start out with less than we thought it takes, many problems and issues won‘t even arise at all. 

I have an eclectic approach to horsemanship (like in eclectic horseman magazine). I look at different trainers, different techniques and choose what works best for me and the horse. How about you? Do you pick things out like me or do you stick to one trainer/horseman and try to emulate him?
Over here in Germany, people tend to become fanatic about their riding grandmaster (especially in communities that are kind of closed in themselves). Like in: „You can never master it if you only do it once in a while and loose the overall picture“. Sure. But I aspire a different overall picture. Don‘t get me wrong. Mixing it all up all times doesn‘t work. I cannot teach my horse a soft feel on one day and ask full contact all times on the next day. But still, seeing beyond my nose, experimenting with what different people practice and teach has helped me a lot to stay open and broaden my horizons. Here‘s how. 

eclectic, beyond one's nose, horse training approach
In horsemanship and in life it all boils down to
perspective and horizons. I'd like to keep mine as
broad as possible. Picture: Nadja

1. In general: If I hadn‘t questioned „normal“ German riding (the style the main association FN promotes), I wouldn‘t be in touch with horses any longer. Their methods just don‘t work (for me). So by getting to know them, I could at least learn what I don‘t want. 

2. If you‘ve been involved with the system of Pat Parelli, you might know that you can boil down every horse problem you might encounter to one of his 7 games that is - in case of a problem - broken. So, for example, if your horse cannot be tied up, because he tends to then draw back in his halter, you can diagnose the issue using the so called „porcupine game“: Your horse does not yield to direct pressure when he gets emotional. So you have a clue how to fix it. I find that sort of diagnose tool for horse problems quite fascinating. Not to say ingenious.

3. By concerning myself with clicker training (as you might know I don‘t particularly like feeding horses treats), I‘ve become aware that a horse‘s learning experiences are closer liked to the environment they are taking place than I thought. Clicker people train the same exercise with their horses at different places to help disconnect the exercise from its location.  That is good advice for horsemen too.

4. Buck Brannaman puts lots of emphasis on the feel we deliver with our hands. Feel in itself does not have to be physical, it can be mental too. For me, the physical part was the most important part of the puzzle. Meaning we always have to ask the horse a polite question first and have a nice soft feel to our hands. For me, that exceeds the notion of Parelli‘s phase 1 by far. Plus: Firm does not mean hart. Firm can be delivered in a friendly way.

5. When it comes to biomechanics of the horse I turn to the academic art of Riding by Bent Branderup. What I like about his system is that it enables even old and physically challenged horses to live up to their best and become fitter and healthier (the cynic in me remarks that with FN-riding it‘s the other way round). Being taught by students of Branderup, I‘ve learned (and still learning) to locate physical braces in the horse and to feel a subtle horse in the hand. 

6. Leslie Desmond has taught me how important it is to have our emotions under control and be positive as a general way of life. Both affects our relationship with horses, and if we are in our own way we also make it hard on the horse. Leslie has a great eye for the details that are vital for good horsemanship (like rhythm, breathing or looks). She‘s drawn my attention to the little things (that sometimes outweigh the big ones). 

Well, the list is long and you might think I am quite jumpy and undecisive. That might indeed concern the approach. But the goal is crystal clear to me: I want a horse that is relaxed, content and healthy. The teachings of the horseman and -women overlap in different areas. I personally prefer to see where they complement each other instead of looking for contradictions. And I think their wisdom contributes to our personal journey with horses. It‘s worthwhile to give it a try and listen - and pick the best for oneself and the horse. 

You are about to read the first book review on this blog - and it's a novel. I quite honestly did not intend to review fiction in the first place, but I have a soft spot for horse racing, so I said "yes" when racing romance author Hannah Hooton asked. Here we go:

Basically, what you see is what you get: Look at the cover of Hannah Hooton‘s book „Share and share alike“ and you know what you are about to read - a novel featuring horse racing and romance in equal parts. 
It is the third part of Hooton‘s Aspen Valley series that concerns itself with the horse racing stable at Aspen Valley and the people involved with it. Whereas part one and two feature the stories of horse trainer, groom and jockey, the third part‘s main character is Tessa Hawkesbury-Loye, the rebellious daugther of the old Lord living at Aspen Valley manor. She‘s been away for a while from home, working and finding out about herself, and now comes back to buy in the owner syndicate of racehorse Ta‘Quali, administered by her brother Gus. 

share and share alike hannah hooton
"Share and Share alike" by Hannah Hooton is
the third book of the Aspen Valley Series.
Picture: Hannah Hooton
Tessa was looking for an distraction and trying to leave a past disappointing love behind her - but of course, things turn out differently. Not only are the members of the syndicate a bunch of inherently different people and their being together can be (emotionally) challenging sometimes. But also, Ta‘Quali is found hurt in his stall in the morning which shatters the syndicate's hopes of him taking part in the important Cheltenham hurdle. What is more: The investigating comitee suspects that the horse was injured on purpose - by a member of the syndicate. The financial problems of Gus who is overasked maintaining the slowly decaying manor add to the pile of problems Tessa‘s confronted with. So the protagonist has a lot to deal with and figure out - among other things her attraction to sexy syndicate member Sin (pun intended).

What you get: A witty, easy and entertaining read featuring the everyday tragedies of a woman just having passed the age of 30 (like a spider in the living room, the question of having children or the complication of relationship with men). I didn‘t like Tessa too much, but Hooton made up a coherent and credible character. The gripping narration of the horse races and the insights of the racing scene in general make clear that the author knows what she is writing about. Here, in my eyes, lies the greatest strength of the book. Not to forget a fair (but not excessive) share of romance that is smoothly integrated into the general plot.

What you don‘t get: Don‘t expect an overly sophisticated plot. The narrative structure is pretty clear though Hooton manages a few surprises. Neither look out for psychologically profiled characters. The author stays on the light side of things. 

You want to read it? Here you go to Amazon. Or to iTunes. Or visit Hannah directly here.

PS: If you want me to review something, feel free to contact me. 

Do you know Epona.tv?
They wrote an article dismissing the join-up as it is taught by Monty Roberts in a pretty poignant way and got a sharp commentary on it. Which lead to another article and a discussion about horsemanship and science in general
While I don‘t like the author‘s tone (sarcastic, ironic and omniscient), I think its topic is well worth the discussion: Are horsemanship methods valid that rely on the assumption that herds of horses are hierachically structured? Meaning that us humans can try to become the horse‘s leader as he is a natural follower? Or is it just plain nonsense as dominance and leadership are not natural to horses at all - and we only interpret the ressource driven behavior of our domestic herds (who gets to eat first) as dominance?

Who is the leader? Is there a leader at all? Photo: Nadja

Well, I‘ve challenged the idea of hierarchy and dominance, I‘ve read blogs and articles and discussions, and I guess I‘ve heard the major arguments. 
But I still stay convinced hierachy exists in a herd of horses. Not only because I‘ve seen behavior I‘d interpret as directing and dominant: a horse chasing another without gaining anything apart from space, a horse guarding a newby and slowly integrating him into the herd by controlling the movements of the others. But also because if there was no structure, there‘d be chaos. Maybe I think in human terms, but I cannot think of any other form than hierarchy when it comes to the internal structure of a herd. I don‘t believe that just everything falls smoothly into place, meaning every horse automatically has the position that fits the best. I believe that challenge, fight and anger are as part of the horseworld as peace, friendship and social instinct
One comment of the Epona blog post „Round and Round we go" I found particularly interesting. Viktória Kóňová does not share my opinion and interprets the role of the so called „lead mare“ like this: 

„The mare's role in the herd might be based on something entirely different than the dominance and leadership. It just might be her role - to look after the herd. Some other horse might be good at finding minerals. Yet other in driving the predators off... Horse herds have indeed very complex dynamics and describing it in simple terms of "alpha", "beta" and "omega" would be a huge simplification.“

That somehow stroke a chord with me. I guess, I'll have to ponder it for a while.

And while I find it still helpful, no necessary to adapt certain horse practices and behaviors to help them understand what we mean (like control our personal space and the horse‘s feet), another comment in the discussion draw my attention to the most important link in the relationship of horse and human: trust. Ana Maçanita expressed it beautifully

There is only one thing I have found that makes horses follow you no matter what: it is TRUST, same as with humans. And the only way to gain 100% trust is by acting like you deserve it. You never corner a horse, you never put him in harms way, you never panic, you always try to protect him and help and you keep your cool in "bitchy" situations. THAT is what will stick them to you! their first priority is always survival, and if they believe they are safer with you than anyone else or alone, then they'll stick by you. Not love, not food, not cuddling, but trust.“

For me, though I think I have established quite a clear communication with my project horse, after reading this, I feel guilty of not being a 100-percent reliable human. There are situations where I do not live up to my horse's needs - because I am scared too, I am unaware or distracted. 
So the future lesson for me: Don't focus too much on methods and techniques. They are good to establish communication. But become trustworthy. Than you have something you can actually communicate to the horse.

I‘d be happy to know what you think of this. Do the quotes have a similar impact on your thoughts than on mine? 
While I am still working on new posts - and the current newsletter - let me draw your attention to the latest guest post I wrote. You can find it at Becky's Blog "Kicking on". It's the right thing for you, if you are a school horse rider struggling with traditional ways of training and wondering how to improve your relationship with the horse.
I will be on my way to Italy soon to start my well-deserved vacations meaning my blog has some days off too.

I'll be back at the beginning of october!
Talk to you!

Roma! Photo: Nadja
PS: Check out "Kicking on" on september 25th….
How to handle a rope correctly? There a different approaches. As I've announced some weeks ago, here comes a post about ropes. I'll discuss the techniques recommended by Pat Parelli and Buck Brannaman and I'll cover the quality of a good rope
There are horseman like Pat Parelli who wants you to just let go of the rope when playing with your horse, no matter how long the rope is. There are others like Buck Brannaman who put emphasis on having your rope nicely coiled and sorted in your hands. Sounds like a huge difference to me.
Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. With the end rope just falling to the ground, you don‘t have an unsorted bunch in your hand. You don‘t focus on the rope when you should be focussing on you horse. You are less likely to twist the rope around your hand or wrist which can become dangerous. It sounds reasonable for someone who hasn‘t dealt with longer ropes a lot. Still, I see the following problems: Your rope will end up covered in dirt. Even worse: When the sand or ground of the arena is wet, you‘ll have it rolled and dusted like a Wiener schnitzel. That is not only quite ugly to touch, but a sandy rope also easily turns into sandpaper when your horse tries to take off and you need to grip firmly. You‘ll wish you‘d wear gloves. Another disadvantage: Though you are less likely to get tangled with your hands you still need to watch your feet. Coils also build on the ground and you don‘t want to step in them. So If you decide to have the end of your rope on the ground make sure you‘ll throw it out so it lies flat in a line not all coiled up

My old rope halter plus reins. You can
use them together but the combination
is not ideal communication wise.
Photo: Nadja
I personally started out as a believer of the rope on the ground techniques. It‘s just simpler in the beginning. At the moment I am developping more into a rope in hand keeper - still struggling with the coils. But the dirty rope experience (and I also happened to drag it through horse poop) has kind of healed me from letting my rope down on the ground.
I‘d recommend to try and start having your rope in order right from the start so you don‘t have to change your habits. But if handling horse and rope at the same time is too much, don‘t be ashamed to let go of the end of the rope.

General aspects of a good rope

Here in Germany, light, short cotton ropes are pretty popular - combined with big halters. They might be good to tie your horse but they drive me crazy when leading. They tend to be quite flexibel and stretch easily - which ruins communication right from the start. Additionally they lenghten with time and are usually so light and thin that they can easily wrap around your horses feet (I speak from experience here). In general they are too short and useless when you need some drift, plus when exposed to rain and water, they soak like a sponge. Useless as well. So I highly recommend to not overuse them. 
I prefer the heavier quality in a rope, made of yachting braid, that have life (meaning a core in another material) and are stiff enough to communicate a feel or pressure if necessary. They don‘t lenghten (not even after years in use), often feature a leather popper at one end (which can be useful sometimes), and though they are not waterproof, they don‘t turn into a sponge when exposed to water. Plus: They are not light and flexible enough to seriously cut your horse‘s legs if he gets tangled in them.   
I started working with ropes that featured a metal hook but I found them too heavy on the horse's nose. Now I am using a rope that I can simply tie into the halter. It works perfectly and I am quite happy. 

Ok, here we are with the fourth and final part of this little balance-series. We've addressed the physical and the mental aspects of balance. Today we are talking about the emotional partFor me, the main issue is fear (I'll cover anger some time later).

You'll probably have heard the word comfort zone. When you act within it, you feel safe and secure as you know what you are doing and are quite sure about the outcome. Unfortunately, learning takes place outside your comfort zone. Which is rather logical, as you acquire a new skill or new knowledge which makes you break new grounds. Sometimes that can be rather overwhelming. Or maybe you find yourself pushed in a situation that you feel you are not able to handle. You'll loose confidence and fear starts to come up.

Try the following to cope with your fear:

1. Acceptance
First of all and most importantly, you just need to accept the fear. We are no superheros or superhumans. Fear is just another emotion with its original function being to protect us. It can get in the way of our plans, of course, but it isn't something bad we need to be ashamed of. The more we accept it, the better we live with it. Acceptance doesn't mean we let fear take a hold of us. Instead we take it into account and take action according to what is best for us.

2. Explore the limits of your comfort zone
You need to know your comfort zone and where it ends (that is easy to explore). Try to cross the line every once in a while and try to stay out there for a few moments. Fear doesn't subside by doing nothing - we need to take action. So it's vital that you face your fear, meaning stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing it. But it's also vital that it does not overwhelm you as that will take away your confidence as well. If it gets too much, retreat in your comfort zone, allow yourself to pause and then, go out again (it's funny as this is exactly the same we would deal with a scared horse: give him some exposure but allow him to retreat as well). Ideally, you feel the fear out there and are able to wait until your feelings change for the better. Take a every step at a time approach and be assured that even if it's tedious if you stick with it, the fear will become smaller and diminish.

3. Preparation
Try to be prepared. Think of what you are trying to work on and break it down into pieces: Is there any equipment you might need to succeed (I am not talking gadgets here. I mean a helmet or a high quality rope)? Are there some maneuvers your horse needs to know to help him understand you (don't go on a walk or ride with a horse you barely know. Check him out first)? 
For example, If I knew there could be some trouble getting the horse from the pasture, I'd choose a long, firm rope to allow the horse to drift plus not have him close and all over me (what happens if your rope is too short).

4. You are in charge, not anyone else
You feel your fear, not anybody else. It's your business, so don't let anybody push you over your limits. You need to protect you in order to stay safe and confident. You are free to choose what to do and what steps to take. It's your responsibility. Listen to the advice of others but decide for yourself.

As I am not the most confident rider, preparation for me is vital. I don't expose me or my horse to situations that I know are likely to get out of control. And I don't let myself be pushed to go there. Here's still one example when a situation got out of control and how I handled it: 

The frisian I take care of once a week ran me over several years ago when I was leading him from the pasture to the barn. Apart from a few bruises (the biggest one took my confidence) nothing happened. The next time I led him the same way I was tensed and anticipating him running me over again. He too was nervous but nothing happened. I led him again and again, and at some point the fear subsided. I not only faced the situation again and again, but I also tried to be better prepared: I worked with him on not invading my space plus I had become more aware of the fact that he tends to spook when he has passed something frightening and the scary object is right behind him. Another horse might have trouble passing it in the first place, he freaks when you think it's already over. So as scary being run over was, the experience has taught me some valuable lessons and makes me a better horse person. Now I can lead the frisian with confidence - anywhere.
(One more friesian-fear-story you can find here).

To end this post and the series, here are some more articles that I find very helpful

Anna Blake writes about how breath can help you, how to turn fear into something to eat and that we need to make friends with fear. On of my favorite posts of hers is this one about confident riders.
Anne Gage is a confidence specialist and has a lot of tips in her vault.
Pat and Linda Parelli share some ideas on emotions here.

Did you like this series? Is there anything I could have done better, anything I've missed? Let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

We covered the physical part of balance, now let's continue with the mental challenges.
I become mentally unstable when frustration takes over. I start with doubting my capabilities as a horsewoman and rider. I doubt I will not make it to the next step, will never be a self-confident enough rider, am generally not able to live up to the horse's need - the list is endless.
Sure, physical balance is vital, but the mental setup is important too. You are more likely to fail if you think right from the start that you won't make it anyway - sometimes this mindset will even stop you from trying in the first place! So let's change something about that.

When you feel frustrated, try the following

1. Continue with your plans. Don't ever let your frustration and self-doubt get in the way of what you desire. You can change your approach, your teacher, your methods, your clothes - take the steps that you think are necessary to help you leave that dark place. But don't you quit!

2. Start a blog. If you feel that is too much time to invest, read blogs. Out there is a supportive community of fellow riders who have experienced just what you are going through. You will get advice, help and many words of comfort when needed - and you avoid scolding or stupid comments that might come up in social network groups or message boards.

3. Don't expect too much in too little time. I know you want something and you want it now. But developing skills - no matter which ones - takes time. Allow yourself to try and to fail. Don't expect things to happen perfectly at first try. They will work out in the end, and that is what counts.

4. Write a list with your achievements or just think about them.  What helps to cheer me up is to take a closer look at what I've achieved so far. I check my little successes, that raise my sense of achievement. For me, that has nothing to do with ribbons, but of course, you can fish them out too. I look at challenges I was facing in the past, situations or maneuvers I had trouble with. And then I check the outcome. Am I still stuck where I was or did I manage to change something, did I develop? Here are some examples
  1. After dropping out of the riding club, I thought I'd never ride again. I felt like a complete failure and didn't think anybody would entrust me with their horse, let alone riding it. Well, today, people pay me for taking care of their horses and for helping to develop them.
  2. I thought I'd never get side movements. That I'd be never able to ask a horse to sidepass, do shoulder- or quarter-ins. Well, right now we are working on yielding to the leg in trot.
  3. I had huge problems to ask my horse to lower his head. He was just non-responsive and counted on me giving up. Well, we fixed it (by asking and waiting long enough).
So whatever your successes are, make sure you are aware of them and your achievements. Celebrate yourself and give yourself some credit, you deserve it!

Anna Blake who writes one of the (if not the) best horse blogs I know did two great pieces relating to frustration: "What to do when nothing works" and "This too shall pass"
In a post from January Dressage Hafl addresses the "blue monday", the most unpopular day of the year, and gives some tips to cheer you up.

I think is time to say thank youFor reading the ramblings here on the blog, for clicking on the email that delivers my newsletter, and for following me on twitter.
I know that time is precious and I appreciate that you give me some of yours by reading my stuff. I don't take for granted that you leave your comments here and take the time to engage in discussions. That you write me emails pointing out what you like and what you think needs some fixing.
Though I haven't met you personally, I feel that I have made new friends here. It's an amazing experience to connect like this (and I can warmly recommend to anybody to start a blog or at least read some). 

So please, just keep doing what you do and I too will try my best to keep writing interesting posts and newsletters and tweets.

Thanks again! 

beingwithorses, chillen

Last time I introduced the balance-series, and explained some of its backgrounds. Today, we dive into the middle of the practical side. What can we actually do to improve our physical balance?

1. I started growing sunflowers in the garden (to support bees and bumble bees). When I water them, I could use the stairs. Instead I jump up and down a small wall to get there - sometimes with the watering can in hand. That sounds (and looks) funny, yes. At first, I was about to wrench my ankles, but after a few days I quite know how to use my body to make it over there rather elegantly. And the best thing: It does not take much repetition (even for someone like my whose strengths are more on the theoretical, not practical side).
So my first advice: Use your body in new ways, break fresh ground, even or especially when not on horseback. Go to balance along this wall, stand on one foot when brushing your teeth and wrestle your car in a small parking space - from the side you are least comfortable with.

2. On horseback I'd recommend to ride bareback. Not all the time, not in situations that are likely to get out of control. But riding without a saddle can be very beneficial for your feel and balance. Not only are the horse's movements transferred directly with no saddle to muffle them. You'll also notice how likely you are to just slip of the horse's back when he moves unexpectedly. So you'll learn quickly about the state of your balance. At the beginning you'll probably be quick to push your knees in the horse's shoulders to gain balance (which is wrong) and grasp your reins for hold, but you'll learn to sit further back and balance with your core rather than the legs.

balance, horses
Is your body in balance? And how about your horse's? Foto: Nadja
3. I'd further recommend that you start jumping (I know what I am talking about. I am clueless about jumping but I want to learn it as the horse moves differently than normal and you are more likely to loose your balance). When I learnt riding at the riding club (or at least what was considered "riding" then) the jumping classes were always the ones when most people came off their horses. You don't have to overcome a whole course right away. Start with poles, trotting over them, cantering over them and practice the jumping style seat (two point seat). Do the same over cavalettis. Then, build the first small jump and start experimenting. Get yourself a teacher that accompanies you and that respects your limits (that can be the trickiest part).

4. Experiment with different positions of your body when riding. What happens when you lean forward with your upper body, what happens if your feet come to far forward, what happens when you stiffen your knee? Stand in your stirrups in all gaits, let go of the reins and move your arms like a windmill. Post the trot and stay up not one but two strides (this imbalanced me enormously). If we tense, we tend to bring our balance point up from the saddle (to me it feels like it was somewhere in my ribcage where my breath stopped). We don't want that to happen. Instead our core should be way down in our belly button area. The higher it becomes, the more likely we are to fall off.

5. Ride different horses. You can be the perfect fit for one horse and be at a total loss with another. So get on as many horses as possible. Find if and how you can flow along with them, where you are in the way of their movement and what comes easy to both of you. Try to get as good as possible for all of them. It will help your balance and improve your self-confidence.

I found some great advice in several horse blogs I'd like to share with you.
Wiola from Aspire Equstrian recommends biking to help improve your balance (I am sure you'll find more posts on her page covering that subject). 
Jenn Zeller will tell you how brushing your teeth can relate to better riding. 
Stephanie Krahl from Soulful Equine shares her favorite pilates techniques. 
And Pat Parelli has something to say about flowing along with the horse.

PS: You find the first part of the balance series here.
Balance is one of the main ingredients for a successful partnership with a horse - be it on the ground or riding. When looking at the horse from a horsemanship perspective, we check his physical, mental and emotional balance. With us humans, it's the same. We can loose our balance because our body is unable to keep it up, because we are emotionally troubled or because our mind struggles with some concepts and disturbs it. Of course, these aspects are interlinked as well. Depending on the person, the three parameters of balance are easier or harder to achieve.

I decided I wanted to do a small series on balance, exploring all three parts, writing about my experiences and giving tips (and links to helpful articles and videos) on how to become better balanced.

Many horses are balanced in themselves as long as the
 human does not interfere. Foto:Nadja
Today, we are starting with a general approach to the physical part of balance.

Naturally, I am not the most balanced person. I am the kind who grasps a rail when looking down an abyss to stabilize me and I only clumsily survive the climbing crag - which makes me not exactly an athletic person (I always was the last to be asked to join a team in sports classes at school - I'd rather run from a ball than catching it).
When it comes to horses, the picture doesn't vary a lot: A slight bolt and I loose my stirrups, and a slight buck sends me flying over the horses neck. Both of which doesn't give me too much confidence in tricky situations. But that doesn't mean it has to stay that way.

As always, change isn't easy but possible. And the measures to achieve it are simple as well: start it, become active, and expose yourself to situations where you need balance and that help you gain more awareness of you body. It's a process. Unbalanced as we are, it takes time.
Don't exaggerate - stretch the limits of you comfort zone but don't override them, because you will loose confidence instead of gaining it. 
In the second part of this small series about balance I'll dive into the practical side of developing physical balance. 
I'd love to hear your experiences and tips!

The second part of the series, covering physical balance, is located here.

I came across both "carrots" yesterday at our barn. I didn't arrange them, I just found them - the hoof pick just around the corner from the real carrot. I though it rather curious (and I love the picture of the carrot on the chair. Yes, you may call me strange).

The original. Photo: Nadja
The counterfeit: Photo: Nadja