Besides Sterling, my Andalusian stallion who is now 4 years old, I have a 19 year old thoroughbred gelding who is his pasture mate. The boys live inside of the track system that the girls live on and they can travel the property together separated by the fence. You can see the dirt track behind Sterling in the photo below. If I have a complaint about Sterling it’s that his right front foot is so difficult to trim because he cannot, or I believe will not just stand there and hold it up for me to trim it. He pulls it forward and paws. This is not something he does when he stands tied, waiting, only when I want to trim it. If you have followed my blog, you’ll know I have spoke of this before. Currently I am steeped in Linda Kohanov’s book “The Power of the Herd.” I likely have been reading it’s parts for a year now because I believe its information is applicable every day in every situation. In fact In the Company of Horses has a workshop based in these understandings. Yesterday when I went to get Sterling to trim , Harley came right along with us. I tied Sterling to the hitching rail, gathered my stuff and began trimming. If he was attentive and thoughtful with his feet and my trimming, every few minutes he would get praise and a cookie, if he was not, a no and no cookie. Well, Harley caught on to this pretty quick and came over to get a cookie, but the price was to get a foot trimmed first. Now Harley has no problems getting his feet trimmed but Sterling watched as I talked and worked with Harley at liberty to get his feet trimmed, just one at a time and I made a big fuss telling him he was a good boy, lots of rubs and a cookie. Then I would go to one of Sterling’s easier feet and do the same. If he pulled any of them away at any time, I just let it go, said no and went back to Harley to trim another foot, lavish him with praise and cookies and then back to Sterling again. Happily Harley has 4 feet to trim because it took that much back and forth for Sterling to catch on and stand, holding his foot up and waiting with attention and thoughtful behavior, being careful of me, while getting his feet trimmed, getting tons of “good boys” and of course cookies! Wearing shorts and sneakers is another good incentive for a girl to not fight with a big horse to get his feet trimmed!
So, I could not find Sterling anywhere in his field or in the woods. If you have followed my blog at all, you know he has become quite the explorer this year. So I was calling and I saw him down in the creek eating something. He reminded me of a moose in the water. That rope that crosses the creek in the following photo is the only thing that keeps him off the track where the girls live. I will modify that, but it does look like he would need to limbo underneath it. So, I called him and he came out of the creek to visit with me which is very easily accessed from the woods when the leaves and brush are not growing, like in the Autumn.
Then, like he was showing me what he found, he went back in the water and decided to walk down the stream. This is not anything the girls or any other horses have done for that matter in my space! He is a brave explorer! Then off he goes.
He went around the corner and out of sight! I was hopeful that he would come back. Happily I noticed a large tree had fallen across the creek and he was not interested (at least on this day) in jumping it!
Without any trouble he came back and then I started the video on my phone as he played in the water. Sorry about turning the phone, I didn’t know I couldn’t and I don’t know how to fix it now!
At the end there when he scales the opposite bank, effortlessly I might add, that is why I can no longer use the creek as a fence. I thought there really was no inviting place on the other side of the creek to cross. Or at least there wasn’t before there was!
This is the bridge we build for the boys to cross the creek. And, until now this is how they always crossed over into the woods. You know what they say about idle hooves!
He had been out on the track all day and just came into the space where we had a horsemanship workshop, there were many distracting piles on the way to dinner!
This is my first attempt at uploading a video! I hope it works.
It only took me a short while to realize I barely knew what I was doing. My first horse was a sorrel Quarter Horse gelding 8 years old. Perfect first horse except he pulled on the lunge line and ran away, pulled back when tied, steered like a mack truck and wouldn’t stop for me and I couldn’t get him to stop grazing. A popular local trainer told me a double twisted wire snaffle bit would help to control him on the lunge and while riding. This all got me thinking and feeling like something was wrong.
Two years later, my second horse a Paint weanling filly got me into action. I knew I needed help but I didn’t want to hurt this little girl and I didn’t want to recreate what I already had in my gelding. I wore my helmet just to walk across the yard because she was always jumping on me. I noticed right away that while she was always on top of me, she never even bumped into my gelding even by accident; he stood at the fence and she respectfully stood quietly behind him. I needed some of what he had! So I watched and I became obsessed with watching what he did.
Over the next 4 years, visiting with everyone, devouring books, articles in magazines and going to clinics brought me to Louisville KY, Equitana USA. It was 1996, upon my arrival home, in the plethora of trade show literature I found a magazine called Natural Horsemanship. It talked of horses as prey animals and that made tons of sense, no wonder my little horse was afraid, that chain over her nose was hurting her, no wonder she acted like I was going to kill her I was acting like a predator! And just like that bit didn’t help my gelding, that chain never helped keep my, now four year old, off of me. The magazine talked of games horses play and games sounded like fun, the reason I wanted horses in the first place fun, friendship, you know, the dream of Black Beauty, galloping on the beach free as the wind!
This is my girl! Now in her 20’s
As it turned out there was a clinic and all the stars aligned and we were in. The clinician said this was a foundation program and we should complete it or any foundation program, then we would have a complete picture from which to think. It was sound advice. Before the end of the first session, my girl was standing behind me like she did with my gelding at the fence, in three months I was riding on trails, just the two of us with nothing but our relationship. We now had real communication where both of us had something to say and we each listened or not but we were both at least in the same conversation! Now I was not a kid, I had a business to run, a farm to keep and three sons to raise. This was a major transformation and the impetus for our bitless adventure.
At the clinic we learned to ride with one rein, actually a soft rope halter and 12 ft. lead rope. After we had done it on the ground, if we could sit on our horses, toss the rope over her nose and bend her on each side, softly, we could walk and do the same exercise and if all went well we could move on to the trot and the canter. Well, everyone in the clinic was cantering around with one rein except me. I was just sitting there in the middle of the arena trying to get my horse to go. I didn’t even know how much I used my reins to go! I really needed to get connected to my body.
I started this gray mare after I completed my foundation training. She was 7 at the time. When I learned to ride with a seat independant from my hands and to use my reins separately, I learned that safety came in being able to stop and go, directing the forward motion. My first horse liked to stop; not every horse does. The soft one rein stop using the soft rope halter and lead rope works. Timing and feel need to be practiced by the rider and the horse will benefit from this practice too. Some people call it an emergency stop, best to make sure the brakes work before engaging the engine. When there are no strings attached you learn to really rely on your body language and believe in social intelligence or the collective knowing. In my foundation program I was told not to talk, so I didn’t, this gave me a deep connection to my unspoken (thoughts, feelings, intention) and body language. I added talking after my foundation was in place. I find talking helps many people and horses, I have experienced it getting in the way for others.
I regularly ride off the track thoroughbreds, standardbreds, warmbloods, quarter horses young and old in a soft rope halter and a lead rope, I prefer this setup because if we have not gotten to the bottom of an issue and I have to be firmer with a horse, I’m not causing them pain. I am a big fan of ‘working it out on the ground’ so issues in the saddle are few and far between.
The photo at the top of this page is me riding my lovely lead mare and ponying two others, of course bitless and barefoot, our friend Karen whose horse’s head is in the photo took that picture. Giving a horse purpose is important to their overall mental health and physical well being. Moving together at a trot for awhile is natural for a herd. It’s good for what ails us all!
It’s the environment that we create….. That creates the horses we have.
No matter where we find ourselves, we are creating our environment and the environment our horses are living into. Just look around and see how it’s going. Is your herd happy? Do they get along with one another? Are they biting, kicking chasing each other off of the hay?
Or are they willing to share? Share space, share food, share you? Do they have real leadership?
It all changed here at In the Company of Horses Inc. when a true lead mare entered our herd. In the olden days I would mistake dominance for leadership, that is because true leadership was not present. I found out that true leaders are clear; willing to engage and willing to walk away; friendly; consistent, they observe situations and claim the space they want by clarity and intention not by force. It’s like in Star Wars, they use The force, not force.
I was recently in the company of other people with my horses and our event was over and while we packed up I threw a hay bag like the one pictured above into the arena where it was cooler than in the trailer. One gal commented that her horses would break out into a fight over that hay and not share food so nicely. I had forgotten about that since I started to play with food to see if it would be safe to use in the Equine Assisted Learning Arena.
Part of what works around here is the horses live outside together in a herd 24 hours a day 7 days a week unless I’m doing something with them. They travel together on in our track system, separated by a fence only because we have an intact boy. The boys travel next to the girls though and visit with one another through their shared windows in the run in shed. The horses are EXPECTED to manage themselves together and act appropriately and that’s what they do. I am not saying no one ever kicks anyone else or moves them forcefully; I’m saying it’s the very rare occasion when anyone forcefully moves anyone else through touch, it’s usually through other means of communication, and NO ONE is allowed to move anyone else while I’m around. ESPECIALLY if that someone is engaged with me. I learned how to be clear, friendly and share my intention by doing way less sooner rather than waiting until it’s too late. Thank you to lead mare’s everywhere!
The flowers are blooming and the grass is green. The annual shedding ritual has come and gone and only a few remnants of winter remain. My boy is growing into the most lovely man. Strong; bold; athletic; interested and attentive. Attentive to me, his gelding friend and his herd of seven mares. He holds himself and carries himself in the most attractive ways. He is officially three years old now! Oh how time flies.
Happily during a recent horsemanship workshop at my house where there were new horses coming and going, Sterling did the right thing and stayed quietly with his herd or by his gelding friend Harley in their woods field. He was quiet, and all the while attentive and calm. I could not ask for anything more.