Tag Archives: HORSE PSYCHOLOGY

All Four Feet

Recently, I happened upon a quote in reference to horses and humans that states, “Two Feet Move our Body, Four Feet Move Our Soul.”

(Smartpakequine.com)

How true. I’ve always felt that working with and playing with horses feeds my soul. Learning to understand their individual “horsenalities” and how to communicate with them is helping me to be a better horsewoman and a better person.

Last summer I returned to the Parelli Campus in Pagosa Springs, CO, where I was fortunate enough to attend Linda’s “Secrets of Horse Psychology” course. I took my horse Chaco who had been to the campus two years earlier with me for the “Journey to Level Four” course. That course started the process of changing my relationship with Chaco, an RBE/LBE, (Right-Brain Extrovert/Left-Brained Extrovert cusp) who desperately needed a confident leader. The confidence came, but Chaco still presented me with interesting and sometimes frustrating challenges; and at that time last summer, challenges having to do with his insecurities about his feet.

Chaco and me watching a demo in the coverall.

The first day of the Horse Psychology course we listed our “problems” and our “goals” as a group. Many of the problems centered around our horses’ lack of confidence – around, over, inside or through objects, lack of confidence with other animals, other people, other horses, and lack of confident with their feet( i.e. jumping barrels, going over ground poles, trailer loading, crossing water).

I quickly learned that I was not alone in my challenges! The overarching “goals” for the class were: 1) to be confident for our horses in every situation, and 2) to learn how to make good decisions to achieve that confidence.

I decided that my goal for the course would be ALL FOUR FEET – All four feet over the ground poles, all four feet in the trailer, all four feet in the pond.

As the course progressed we learned about what is important to horses—safety, comfort, play—and how to tell if the horse’s needs in these areas were met. We learned techniques for reading our horses and how their behaviors presented either fear or dominance.  As we learned these behaviors and techniques for addressing our horse’s individual horsenalities, we were shown demos and given tasks to practice them. One of the most captivating demos of the course took place at Linda’s arena where we got to see Linda working with her own horses; Highland, Navi, Hot Jazz, and the amazing Dylano—all with different horsenalities.

Linda coaching me with Chaco at the pond.

I learned a lot from watching Linda work with and adjust to each of the horses’ needs in the moment. Those last three words are important because although sometimes skeptical, horses don’t live their lives dwelling in or thinking about the past, and they also don’t make plans for success or failure in the future. Horses live in the present and behave according to how they view what may or may not happen to them in the moment.

During the two-week course, Chaco and I made great improvements. I saw Chaco’s trust in my leadership grow. By the end of the course he soared through the cavalettis, made several trips through the pond, and stepped inside a scary pink trailer–with all four feet—twice!

Linda playing with Chaco at Liberty.

Tackling problems and learning about my horse through psychology has given my horse even more reason to trust me and it is also helping me to build a better relationship with him—as well as with my other equine friends with their own set of challenges. It is helping me to achieve my own personal development goals in my horsemanship and in other areas of my life.

Building communication and working in partnership through different and unique challenges is something I no longer fear or dread. It has become something that I am ever grateful for – and something that truly moves my soul.

 

 

 

Building a Better Relationship – Annie Oakley Style

 

oakley-indians
Annie Oakley doing what she did best!

Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting
things done, or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.

A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.

I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.

As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom made glove and I was all in. My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.

I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!

After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses, because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.

I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may have not felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.

What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.

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Chaco and me watching a demo at the Parelli campus. June 2016

Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they in turn are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.

In the first book of my historical mystery series, Dead Eye Dame, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.

In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.

Famous Horse Partners in History – Alexander and Bucephalus

Sometimes people are lucky enough to have that “once in a lifetime” horse. I am one of those fortunate people. I’ve had many horses over the years, and still have several, but one of them I hold especially dear, and our relationship has surpassed any other relationship I’ve ever had with my equine friends. He is an Arabian/Quarter Horse Palmomino named Handsome and he has forever changed my life.

Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus
Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus

This, as well as my love of history, has prompted me to research famous horses and their partners. For the first pair in this series, I will go way back to 433 BC to Alexander the Great and his mighty steed Bucephalus.

Alexander, a boy of 13 happened to be present when a horse dealer by the name of Philonicus the Thessalian, offered a horse of the finest Thessalian stock to King Phillip II of Greece for 13 talents. A talent is an ancient unit of mass, possibly in gold, roughly the mass of the amount of water required to fill an amphora–a unit for measuring liquids or bulk goods. In Greece at that time, that amount was 26 kilograms. Those attempting to handle the horse could not control him as he thrashed about, rearing, kicking and biting anyone who came near. Seeing the behavior of this wild animal, King Phillip would not make an offer. Alexander, seeing at once the potential greatness of this amazing horse, told his father that if he could not tame the horse, he would offer the sum himself.

Alexander’s keen eye and natural horse sense allowed him to immediately recognize the cause of the horse’s distress; the sight of his own shadow. Approaching the horse cautiously, Alexander spoke to him in soothing tones, stroked his neck, and grabbing onto the bridle, turned the horse’s face to the sun, thus obliterating the offending shadow. Sensing that no harm would come to him, the horse immediately bonded with the boy and allowed Alexander to mount. The two were inseparable for the next few decades leading men into legendary battles that would result in Alexander’s conquering of the western world.

Photo found on Wikipedia The Akhal Teke
Photo found on Wikipedia
The Akhal Teke

Bucephalus breeding was “of the best Thessalian strain’ and historians believe that his breed was Akhal Teke, still in existence today. The exotic desert breed is known for its elegance, power, and athleticism as well as hardiness and endurance. They are noted for their shimmering, metallic coats, long, narrow heads and necks, with most of the length from their eyes to their muzzle, long forward set ears and hooded eyes. They come in a variety of colors but the most coveted are the Palominos and Buckskins because their coats resemble spun gold. Bucephalus was gleaming black with a white mark on his forehead and one blue eye. I found the description of the Akhal Teke conformation interesting because it is also said that Alexander named his horse Bucephalus because he was monsterous in size with a forehead that was”wide as a bull’s.” Sometimes in history, things get lost in translation, or perhaps as breeding continued throughout the ages, characteristics of the breed adapted to new uses, environments, etc. and the breed became more refined.

The Alexander Romance legends that came about after his death, presented a different story of the relationship between Bucephalus and Alexander. It was said the two were born on the same day and that Bucephalus was a mythical creature more powerful than Pegasus. The Delphic Oracle told Phillip II that whoever could tame and ride the horse would be king. Furthermore, even in his lifetime, Alexander was seen as a god.

In Alexander’s last battle, the Battle of Hydaspes, now known as Pakistan, Bucephalus was mortally wounded. Shortly after, Alexander founded a city and named it Bucephala in honor of his beloved horse.

Have you heard of the story of Alexander and Bucephalus? Do you have a “once in a lifetime horse?” I’d love to hear your comments.

Stayed tuned for more Great Horse Partners in History!