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.