Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 2 of First One Since . . .


Three quarters through Day 1, nobody likes me very much. It’s for all the right reasons.  People are struggling to absorb the information they can feel the impact of but not quite know how to get there for themselves.  There is the leveling of pride that takes place as a person starts to realize  the horse is saying it all. You can explain all you want about why a horse does or does not do a thing but the horse has already said and you may be unhappily surprised when you hear what that is.  Listen to the horse.  You can say it all day long and think you mean it but when it hits you in the guts as true, there is a solid thud.

Anthon Clinic

By the end of Day 1, people were making changes. They hung in through the hard parts. Asking for what they wanted from the horses and gaining understanding that they might have to wait on the horse giving up some answers other than what they were seeking. The horse might try a lot of things on the way to figuring out what the right answer is and that’s okay. When it came together, even if only for moments, I didn’t have to tell them about it, they felt it for themselves.


I have been told the learning does not happen at a clinic, that is where the teaching takes place. Learning comes when you go home and try to recreate what happened at the clinic. That is why it is so necessary a person becomes aware of what the right things feel like. It’s unmistakable.




A lady came with her rock star spotted Mo Fox Trotter. This horse was kind, gentle and knew everything. I told her she was in the cat bird’s seat for a horsemanship journey with a horse that will tell you just as soon as you get a thing right.  She was actually there, more to get an answer for her husband’s horsemanship than for her own. End of Day Two, I think she had those answers though they were not maybe the ones she thought she would come for, and hopefully, some of her own, as well.


I loved how the morning of Day Two saw people moving with purpose and determination. Day One, no one seemed to care much about when we got started but of course, they had no idea what was about to happen to them Smile

Day Two, horses and people stepped into the arena, new life in their feet and faces.  That black gelding? Owner reports he awaited her at the gate. They both had such happy and peaceful looks on their faces. Later on, I reminded her that old habits will die hard for them both, but they can remember this, and always start over . . . always.



I went around and worked with each person on their groundwork. I wanted them to see their horse, reaching equally in a circle with all four feet, how that outside hind tracks out a little and the inside hind tracks to the outside fore with a gentle bend to the entire body. Once the horse is there, it’s an easy matter to ask them to take the hip over. Once that happens, it’s an easy matter to tip the nose back the other way, shaping them to bring the front end through. Easy, right?



Well, easier than the day before, that is for sure. They had performed this maneuver more successfully under saddle in the afternoon. The idea came alive these maneuvers can be accomplished not only in the saddle but on the ground and vice versa depending on where the need was at, for the horse, for the moment. Or for us.

The last horse to play with before I turned to Slippin, who was quietly waiting at the wall (we had discussed the change in her from the previous day) was the green filly who hadn’t been ridden yet. The day before, she had struggled with being asked to move whether she really wanted to or not, hadn’t known how to release to pressure, thought as most young horses do that going through it to escape was her best plan.

Without having to get ugly with her, I got across how simple it could be. I pick up a line, you feel something on your face. Let me direct your feet. I promise, I will allow you to go when I send you, I will stop cuing when you are trying, I will release pressure when I have said stop, and you do that. Even if you just try, I will give back to you.


Her eyes were brightly alert, no fear in them, but the life was there. Can’t train a horse if you cannot move it’s feet. She moved forward softly and sweetly off the line. Handled the flag, handled everything. It was time to ride.

We had a big open arena, no round pen. I am pretty sure a person could have just climbed up on her, asked her for some simple things and rode her around. I was not going to risk being wrong. Not for myself or for her owners.

We had Doats step up, standing in the stirrups, doing all the stuff the filly was already accustomed to. She’d been sat upon, but not asked to move with the rider aboard, and moving can change a lot of things.

Filly was dead comfortable with the entire process. She’s never been hurt or overly troubled her whole life and it made for a simple process here. I kept her on a 22 ft line. We moved her hip over so she could feel Doats up there. Had the filly get a good look out of both eyes.

Sent her around in some untroubled circles. Doats started adding the gas pedal, and then after a few revolutions, she picked up her line, moved the hip over and took the horse through the other way.  They are off to a nice start with Feisty and I think they have a decent notion of how to keep on going with her.

It was the coolest thing ever watching people ride, faces serious but not stressed. Horses focused but not upset.


Slippin had made changes over night, as well. She rode nicely in the arena, we found some of her buttons, moving her hip around in a nice turn on the forehand, she grew ever more light and athletic under me.



It wasn’t til we left the arena for a wind up trail ride that she and I found trouble again. That we did, but we survived it and both of us got our brains through moving her feet. The group and I waded the creek, stepped off banks and scrambled up same. Climbed hills, slid down slopes, weaved trees, played the arena games on the trail and had the very best of times. The black horse that I was the most concerned about stayed the happiest.  My horse began the trip anxious and came back a trooper. All of these wonderful photographs are courtesy of Dorrine “Doats” Norby. My only sorrow is that we don’t have more of her and her lovely buckskin mare, Knosie.


It doesn’t get much better than this. Until next time.





Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The First One Since The Last One . . .

Last weekend I had the honor of being invited up by Sioux City to teach a horsemanship clinic. A small group of friends had got together amongst themselves and decided an informal camp/trail ride/horsemanship clinic sounded like a good idea. They each had some questions, things they wanted to work on with their horses. By the end of day two, I think all those questions were replaced with different ones . . .

This is the first clinic I have taught since riding with Peter Campbell.  I started auditing him years ago (and Buck too) but the life changing stuff didn’t take place ‘til I entered the arena. I drove north, dog in the front, saddle in the back. I was quietly joyous to be on my way.

The setting was bucolic. Ranch homestead nestled in lush meadows, big sweepy trees around, layered hills in the background. Good looking horses dotted the landscape and it was rustic glory. I was to be put up in the bunkhouse. Turned out to be a darned nice doublewide, electricity, AIR CONDITIONING and a shower! Yeah baby!

Day 1 Good looking crew

My friend, Doats Norby, had put the clinic together. She and her husband were at the very first one I taught, a few years back. I mostly remember red tired faces, high winds, a faulty microphone and wondering if I should EVER try anything like that again. I am happy, Doats tells me she did pick up some good stuff  so not a waste!

Saturday morning comes with rain. Instead of a 9 a.m. start, we  lollygagged around a bit, and then everyone brought their bridles into the trailer for a discussion on the physics of bits.

I teach my clinics, preferably with horses in rope halters and snaffle bits when they ride. One of the themes of the weekend was “a mind convinced against it’s will is of the same opinion still.” I knew this would be no different. Oh yeah, and no tie downs.

We looked at the bits, the action they would take when rein pressure was applied and it became clear why the laterally constructed snaffle bit is for foundation work and the nice evenly balanced leverage bits they had were going to be fabulous when they could get to a point where the slack rarely came out of the reins . . . neck reining being about a horse not even so much following leg and weight cues as something even subtler than that . . . We discussed how both horse and rider have to be educated to a fairly high degree before a leverage bit is going to do much more than cause them pain, frustration and misery. Hmm, they said. 

People dug and rummaged, came up with snaffles and we made do with what we had. I fully believe you can accomplish just about any task with a horse with just about any tool but the right tool sure makes the job easier on all concerned.

Mostly, it was philosophy.  WHAT you do with the horse is not nearly as important as HOW you go about it.  Being able to read your horse, reward the response when the horse is THINKING about responding . . . How it doesn’t matter what has gone on before (you guys reading this know I have struggled with this idea but I am solid in it now).Give the horse what they need, here in the moment.

Before we headed to the arena, I asked one gal if I could help her catch her horse. Nope, I can do it myself, says she. I smile, okay then, no problem. That gal made the most important change then that I think set up her entire weekend. “Well wait a minute. Maybe it won’t hurt if you do.”

Her horse was hard to catch. Good looking black gelding, he said “here’s to you” with his tail every chance he could. I did not play predator/prey dodgy games, just walked with him wherever he went, turning away when he would accidentally face me, releasing pressure whenever I could. Surprised he was when he ended up in a corner with me right there with him. Defiantly, he walks quickly straight at me. Can’t go around you, I’ma comin’ through!

I put my hand out, stiff fingers poke him in the chest. He stops, fades back. I let him go, smiling again. You are not no bad boy, you big bluffer.

He watches me curiously as I approach, halter out openly, yes I am coming for you, and I know you know that. I will not insult your dignity by trying to hide this from you.

Gelding stands like a rock. I pet his neck and he eyes me, softly. Offer him the halter and it’s good to go.

Later I am saddling him, as he has some issues there too, and I use him to demo some foot moving thing, I don’t even remember what. It was an excuse to move that horse’s feet around, to promise him some consistency, and he heard me loud and clear. He saddled easy, feet square and still. Owner was a little surprised, I don’t guess it always goes that way.

Those two were a super neat pair, the horse stayed quiet and got softer and more relaxed as time went on.

Day 1 Partners

There were no miracles, he still has brace, she still  has habits to become aware of and work through but there was admirable try in that whole group and it lasted all weekend long through heat, dust, sweat and mud.

Day 1 Vicki and Chief the rockstar

I saddle my demo horse, Slippin and feel tension oozing out of her. She’s tight and tense. I smile again. On the wall she goes and I flag her. The first couple of times, she jumps hard, finding the end of the lead and the end of her nose. Then she slows down and searches for the right answers. The clinic watches and when she does change and get softer, they can see that and why you might want such a thing before you climb up, depending on how much sand you have in your pants that particular day.

We did the ground work to learn how to watch the feet. To learn that when the hind feet hit the ground right, everything else comes along. I showed them that outside hind foot, moving away to make room for the inside hind to come across. How when that happens a horse can and will give his hip with ease. And then, later, how that maneuver shapes them up for coming back through with the front end.  Do Less. You know I said that. A lot.

Day 1 Setting the hind

We discuss how you don’t do a thing with a horse, you get the horse ready and the horse does the thing. I needed to get Slippin ready to ride. I talked about having a horse change it’s eyes, how suspicious it is for a horse to have a thing on one side and then suddenly it appears on the other (such as leg coming across the saddle . . .)

I used the flag on Slippin as a demo and she was a very good student, not terribly concerned but gave us enough “before and after” for people to see what we are looking for. Great spook therapy, this is not just for young colts.

Day 1 Changing eyes part 2

Day 1 Changing eyes with the flag

Day 1 Changing eyes 3

Our guy participant brought a young filly he’s raised and has been working with. She is under saddle but hadn’t been backed yet. Having ridden a few of their horses and knowing what kind of minds they have, I thought it not impossible we might get her rode before it was all said and done and so we did. First things came first though.

Day 1 Eric & Feisty

Her feet were STUCK. The footing was pretty deep, new arena, new sand, and we were asking some very new things of her. She would lock up and then jump forward to get clear of the deep sand. All in all, she got a little more excited than I had hoped she would but it stayed at a dull roar, she never bucked and before we quit, she had a different look on her face, and on her feet. The next morning, she was a different horse and I watched her owner handle his handfuls of rope and stick with competence and grace. Making himself ready before he got his horse ready. Making a plan.

Day 1 Eric making his plan

All this time, I am showing them things and I know it’s high time I get them feeling them for themselves. ‘That is what the rest of the clinic was all about, other people’s lightbulbs. Again, these are not my stories to tell, but I watched soft feels happen when people were pretty sure they wouldn’t . . . watched people learn how that once the jaw is unlocked, it’s a heck of a lot easier to move the body, that once the hip gets under, the front can come through pretty nice. The difference in cuing one or the other.



We talked about how sending a horse builds it’s ability to go forward, and that is necessary, once you have sent, to ALLOW your horse to go!

Day 1, the send

Day 1 Allowing

We played some arena games, getting the horses used to the idea horses can come at them, leave them, travel by on either side, and that they could lead, follow or be in the middle  without trouble.

Getting on Slippin went okay at first, but she got increasingly anxious at not being able to join the horses on the rail. I ended up putting her back on the wall until I could give her my undivided attention. We found a little trouble, but I did not correct her. I made the wrong thing not impossible, but difficult, let her run into her bit when she wanted to run off then gave her direction. Thank you, Peter Smile

Day 1 In trouble with Slippin

Day 1 Mind through the feet

Day 1 Out of trouble and on

I could see the people making changes, but for me, I was learning all the things I was teaching all over again. I did too much, a bunch of times, got the horse back by doing less, each time. Went through something mildly bad, trying to get to something good. Next time, I didn’t go through the bad, just rode on and started over. It got easier and easier to get straight to the good.

And that was Day One. Smile

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where The Horse Is . . .

I shorten my reins, send energy into my legs and seat . . . Royal picks up a trot, exactly what I am asking him to do. Disappointing, his head raises and he loses the soft feel we have been hold the past several yards. I frown . . . what am I doing . . .

Suddenly I become aware that yes, his head is up, but his mouth is quiet. No anxious champing of the bit, no rebellious bobbing of the jaw, no jerking, no pulling.

Flashback to Riata, third day of the clinic, anxious champing, bobbing, jerking, pulling . . . flash forward to a few rides ago on Royal . . . same. Light bulb. Two horses, same issue, not the horse, eh?

Without giving it a ton of importance in my mind, I have been working on not giving Royal an opportunity to pull on me. The resounding impact of what that would mean to my horse missed me completely. I was on my way to holding that soft feel at the trot.

Peter Campbell says there is only one right way to work at horse (yes, you are going to be hearing a LOT of Peter Campbell quotes, and whatever my current understanding of what those mean), and that is to work from where the horse is.

Pretty simple statement really. Except it turns out not to be, at all. Discovering where my horse is often turns out to be somewhere far other than where I think we are, or where we are going but it’s working out pretty darned okay.

My horse is quiet in his mind. Maybe I should capitalize and bold that statement. All I want is a frame at a faster gait, and somehow, we have found this . . .

I check my position as we are trotting along. Am I dropping that right shoulder and collapsing my ribs on that side AGAIN? Yes. I breathe, feeling my “center”, dropping it low and back, pulling that nasty arch out of my back and relaxing deep into my saddle. Royal rounds, his stride lengthens and like magic, we are in frame with a gorgeous reaching stride. There.

Can’t hold it real long. Might be my attention span. We got it though, and it was a combination of lovely things . . .  Being where the horse is, fixing my position in the saddle, breathing,, relaxing . . . riding.

We did so many cool things yesterday. Royal negotiated the steep descents, carefully placing his feet, no fear, no rushing. Ups, downs, he felt solid and mature, enormous changes from not very long ago at all!

Stopped and settled when I asked. Stepped front feet one at a time over a small fallen log, stopped, settled. Sidepassed to the right off the log, stopped. Sidepassed back, stopped. Up a rather large log that sets on a bank. Started to rush it., let me stop, settle him and then we proceeded over, no grunts, no grabbing leather.

Every so often, I ask him as we are walking forward to step his hind over, and then I bring the front around. Royal anticipates, so again, it’s stop, settle, wait for me. I work to become aware of when it’s appropriate to ask the feet to move. He’s pretty sharp, not wallering through the turns.

Stop on soft feel. Back up, being aware that too much pressure before his feet are ready to move causes him to kink up and squirt out to the side. We get straight soft steps, coming forward improves.

Waves of delight wash over me. His neck is long and level in front of me. When I pick up the soft feel, I get this deep pretty Arabian arch. Royal takes my breath away and not in the omg I am going to die kind of fashion we used to find at least twice on every ride. It really does not matter what we are doing . . . we are BOTH quiet in our minds, I keep myself in the moment, the goal is to get him ready for whatever it is I am going to ask for and I giggle like a little girl when it works so sweetly for us. When I can do it, that is.

Arena work comes next. Straightness is a real challenge for us. The footing in the arena is deep sand, and it’s wet on the bottom from the recent rains. We work slow, looking for the perfect circle. We make funky egg shapes, shoulder falling in, hind flooping out . . . outside hind  . . . Inside rein to outside leg . . .lift MY shoulder AGAIN, we have the circle.

Do a little forward spin work . . .  I want him so broke we can show English, Western whatever, reining, trail, won’t matter. I want us respectable on trail rides, not ever having to be the lunatic carousel horse, ever again.

The layers of the onion continue to peel. My understandings of what I have learned from Missy, Peter, Matt McL, Jose, Susan and so many good teachers continue to light up bulbs around my head. The inner peace I found at Peter’s last clinic, the biggest light bulb of all, does not stay with me all the time, but I felt it once, therefore I can feel it again, when it happens and when I feel it, I can begin to understand it. Pretty much the point of the entire deal.