reflections
December 8th, 2010 Laying down the horse – Controversial or Effective?

I’ve had my fair share of rank horses. I can count on two hands the number of horses I’ve had to lay down in my career. But this week, I’ve laid down three horses and one donkey in one week. Something is in the air….
Laying down the horse has come with its controversy. Naturally, I embrace it. In my blogs ately controversial materials is what I have been addressing. So here I go about laying down a horse….
As a kid I can remember seeing horses being laid down at the neighbors training facility and later, when I started my career, some of those horses came through my barn. They weren’t very nice to work with.
There is a stigma associated with laying down a horse. The immediate thought is one of horses snubbed to posts, thrashing, dust and snot flying while said horse tries desperately to flea in terror as the horse is unmercifully restrained and torturously taken down into the dirt for a lesson in humility and dominance.
This should never be the case.
Horses understand fairness. They also understand when we are trying to help them.
But some horses only have a limited knowledge base to formulate their observations of us. If this knowledge is tainted by some idiot who brutalized a horse then the horses is right to defend itself.
Working with problematic horses I am constantly aware that these same horses have no desire whatsoever to remain in the psychological frame of mind of powerlessness. Yet it is this frame of mind that can work miracles with the rank horse.
This week three mustangs, all of whom pent time at the same rescue, Three Strikes, in Nebraska have faced their demons. Sometimes that’s the only stop you can take to quiet a defensive, dangerous horse.
Mustangs by nature are not easy going about becoming bait. That is why when some idiot ties them to a post they try very hard to get away.
One of these horses tried so hard she broke her withers. I know because the telltale evidence is written in her skeleton.
She’s recovered long ago, but the memories are still fresh and every time I go to her side she quivers and trembles. Sometimes she snorts, throws her head and bolts. With no provocation from me.
Horses can suffer from PTSD (post traumatic Stress disorder). It’s easy to recognize because none of the common methods work with a horse suffering from PTSD. Horses with PTSD are hyper-vigilant about protecting themselves. This is their coping mechanism and its generally very effective against humans.
We humans don’t like to get kicked, trampled, run over, bitten or head butted, but horses with PTSD will usually try to do all or one of the above when they perceive a threat.
It’s important when working with horses like this to know what the hel you are doing. I do.
I have seen trainers throw a horse. I’ve seen them throw tarps over them and leave them tied for hours. I’ve seen them toss beer cans full of rocks and other debris at the horse while it is in this compromised position and I’ve seen horses thrown so many tiems they give up living life.
This isn’t training, in my opinion.
Neither is snubbing a horse to a post or checking a horse violently so you can leap on board and spur the crap out of it until it stops bucking.
That’s brutal and old school.
It’s still done througout the United States.
These three horses (not the donkey- she was just being testy) have all been bridled, saddled and mounted and bucked out against their will and they’ve all decided it is not in their best interest to have anyone touching them let alone ride them.
I’ve worked several horses more rank than these horses but I must admit that their explosive reactions are getting a bit predictable thanks to the fact they were all abused by the same trainer. A trainer that is now serving time in prison thanks to being convicted of animal cruelty.
But after quite a lot of work to get them to accept having their bodies minimally handled they have all had some major breakthroughs this week after being laid down.
In fact, just tonight we saddled them and took them for a nature walk out at Salisbury Equestrian Park…a little reward for them for working so hard to find their place with humans.
Laying down the horse isn’t so much about the actual act as it is the way it is done.
For instance, all of these horses fought the idea of laying down with a resolve that would literally amaze you if you could see it for real.
I lay a horse down based upon its need and therefore don’t prescribe one mthod.
For instance, one of the horses needed only one hoof taken away to lay down. The other needed three hoves and the last all four hooves. The donkey only needed one, but again, that’s irrelevant since she was just being disrespectful. She hasn’t been mistreated. She just likes to kick….or did , rather.
After the horse lays down, I recognize that it may still have some reservations about why it is laying on the ground when every ounce of its being is telling it to run.
Recognizing this with them gets them to relax and when you treat them with a kind gesture once they are down they recognize that I am not there to hurt them.
Like us, horses in a compromised position begin to rethink their coping skills. They will lie all the way down and surrender to the fact that they can actually lay down without being hyper-vigilant. Many times they will actually sleep. Some will sigh great sighs and release the negative emotion they have clung to for so long.
It never ceases to amaze me horses horses that have been so traumatized as to need laying down NEVER hang on to the past. They are anxious to see it go. And they let it go.
One of the horses that has been particually difficult to work with thanks to the fact that she is smarter than 95% of our human population has really enjoyed the fact that she can now approach a human in expectation of a treat and not be man-handled! Her whole demeanor and even her factial expressions have changed. Her owner commented tonight that she looks like a little girls pony, not the stink-eyed demon she was before.
That’s a pretty strong testimonial seeing as this horse was just that…a stink-eyed demon prior to this process.
Someday I will realize my capability to organize a camera party to film the process but until then, my opinion regarding laying down of horses is that when done properly, it is the safest and most humane method for aiding horses that have been traumatized and are dangerous and hard to handle. When done properly,the horse finds it possible to begin communicating with people on a level that isn’t compromised.
Oh sure, they may have some residual memories surface that may require another session of laying down but in 25 years of work, I’ve never had a horse I had to lay downmore than 4 times to get complete and total cooperation. That’s considering that its actually done properly in a manner the horse can understand. Remember, they understand fairness. And in all fairness, the end result is always what tells you if you are on the right track or not.

December 2nd, 2010 Neck on the Chopping Block

I am not talking about Turkey…although the one we had for Thanksgiving was delicious….or chickens…although the ones in the freezer are sure to taste good…or geese…and they also taste good….I am talking about posting against the status quo.
I have taken some heat this past week with my blog posts. That’s a sure sign that I am hitting a sensitive spot. That’s a sign of something good.
Let me tell you why I think controversy can lead to something good.
First, controversy makes us feel emotion. That emotion is different for everyone.
In my world, making others feel emotion seems to be the norm.
Kirk said to me this week that he has grown fond of the idea that for some odd reason I have this knack for pissing people off. And that he has seen me grow too as others have pissed me off.
You see, its a unique cycle.  When a person cares enough to kick you in the butt, say THANK YOU!  If it requires thought, then at least say sorry if you’ve been wrong and be appreciative of the process of growth.
Used to be I would get all defensive, pick my point of ground I would defend and bare my knuckles for the down and dirty world of taking things personally and getting it all wrong.
Been there.
Now, thanks to some good therapy and taking words of advice from wiser than me people, I take the time to weigh my emotions and give life to them in new ways. More often than not I find that the kick in the pants I’ve been given and the wound that I am feeling is leading to something wonderful.
It’s given me a new persepctive on relationships in general.
It’s OK to have a difference of opinion.
It isn’t the end of the world.

It’s OK to be right and its OK to be wrong.

So often when people today have disagreements its all of a sudden that you are mortal enemies.  Where’s the loyalty in that?  For the record, as a Taurus, I am extremely loyal to the point of self destruction.

Been there.  Done that.
Sometimes we just have to accept that a person in going one direction and we are going another.  Having a difference of opinion or method or thought process is normal.  It’s OK to wish someone well on their journey.

As a young girl my Aunt and Uncle instilled in me that even though I was fit to be tied over a situation that it was still OK to forgive and then…FORGET!

They are still examples for me.  The  most loving people I’ve ever met in my life.  They taught me that its OK to content ourselves to love that person anyway, and continue doing what we know to do best.  Even if that person ostracizes us. 
This revelation has given me a new found confidence and peace about life in general.
This summer I was working through a controversy of my own and looking for persepctive.
I had been criticized for being “brutal” and “abusive” to horses.
This allegation hurt more than you know and came from people I was truly trying to help.  A bunch of Natural Horsemanship fanatics that had not only spoiled their horses but were then trying to place the horses through their rescue.  When some of these horses kept coming back someone smarter than the rest said, “hmmmm.maybe we need some help”.  Enter niaeve and compassionate, loyal yours truly.

For the record I will state that even though I no longer have dealings with this rescue that I do believe they have the right intent for what they are doing, albeit misguided in my humble opinion, in some areas.

After working for several months with some of these horses (both trimming and training) and even filming the really cool progress some of these horses were making I made the comment that if these horses and these people were to succeed, they needed to understand two things.

That horses that are forced to do things they don’t like or perceive as unwarranted discipline they get cranky and rebellious and…

That horses that are absent the correct doses of things they like to do and discipline are horses that are even crankier.

Considering the fact that most of these horses are all well cared for and the fact that I truly liked the people and horses of this outfit….I figured that surely I could be of some help in the realm of teaching horses how to cope with humans and thereby aide in the permanent placement of these horses.

Then, on one hot and stickey day as I worked with one of the horses that had given me all kinds of trouble several times before, I finally made the decision to draw the boundary lines with this horse.

I tied him up.  He set back, broke the rope and pulled loose.  I followed, and followed some more as he careened around the run and retrieved the horse and tied him up with my own rope this time.  He set back several times and then proceeded to mind his manners.  My ropes don’t break.  They don’t break because I work with horses like this all of the time and contrary to the train of thought that a horse tied with an Aussie ring enough times resolves setting back, sometimes horses need to learn they can’t break a rope and they do have the ability within themselves to stand quietly.

I proceeded to trim the horse and during the event whacked him one for trying to kick me.

You see….I can see between the lines.

This horse considered himself the boss.  Oh yes….he would round pen nicely and do all the fancy games…but get him into a situation of being one with a human and he would figure out some way to not only thwart your advances but fill his time with anxiety driven energy to get back with the herd he mastered.  A great manipulation on his part to be done with his time with humans and get back to his herd.

Horses like this are many at rescues.

This one came with an alpha attitude and a whole group of people ready to cater to his every need.

Great.

Just what you need to do when you are working with an under-educated bully.

After I whacked him the horse switched gears.  You see, I just spoke to him in mare speak. 

“Listen mister!  You are going to stand here! (that’s what tying him with the rope said and I let him figure that out on his own) and you are going to  stand perfectly still and let me finish the job of giving you the gift of comfortable hooves.”

That smack is no different than a mare kicking to correct a foal.  Or a mare kicking to set her boundaries.  Or a stallion biting the neck of a mare to signal she is to stand still for breeding.  

Horses speak in such terms.

They kick, bite and push to be effective in their herds.  It is their language.

After the smack, the horse settled down.  He now knew I meant business.

After the trimming I loved him up and gave him a couple of treats and told him what a great horse he had been to allow me to work with his hooves.  I thanked him for withdrawing from his duties as a lead horse and spending a bit of his time with me.

In fact, he was so good that two people commented that he wasn’t even the same horse!

Of course not.  I didn’t circle game him or push him out of my bubble or whack on the halter with a lead rope or break out the sticks….I just used body language to get his attention. Swift and to the point.  He understood this and cooperated with me pleasantly.

Breaking down the action, when he broke free I let him know he didn’t own the space in the stall and the run.  I pursued him and chased him just as an alpha mare would.  An alpha male horse understands this.  Men, you know what I am talking about, right?

I then took him back to his post and tied him up.  I let him know that at that moment, his job was to stand quietly and let me trim his hooves.

Horses can do their jobs and they can be responsible for these jobs…without the conditioning of repetitious training.

This horse had been at this particular rescue for over a year….and nobody had been able to teach this horse to tie.  Instead…they decided that since he didn’t like to be tied…that he shouldn’t be tied.

WRONG!

Don’t you think it is a basic principle that ifyou are going to adopt out a horse that said horse should be able to tie?

Yeah….so do I.

When working with horses I always consider the fact that my job isn’t so much about teaching the horse what he should do but what he shouldn’t.  Rearing back, kicking, biting….none of these behaviors are acceptable…especially when humans are involved.

Since most of the horses I work are the ones either someone has screwed up or no one wants to work because they are too risky, I know my opinions are somehwat jaded.

I don’t get to work the domestic horse that is going to be a pleasure horse.  That’s not my game.  I like the wild messed up ones.

My work centers on the horse that is troubled.  Anxious.  Worried.  Defensive.  Upset.

In the situation with the rescue horse my angle was as it always is.  What do I need to teach this horse to do so that it will do it with all humans…respectfully.

That is another reason why this Natural Horsemanship crap gets to me.

If you don’t know the steps of Clinton Anderson the horse is confused.

If you don’t know the games of Parelli, the horse is confused.

If you don’t know the recipe for …..you get the picture.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BEING ABLE TO LOOK AT THE SITUATION FROM THE HORSES PERSPECTIVE??????

Horses think we are barbaric.  I can guarantee you that. 
My life and passion is helping horses understand how incompetent we as humans are and that we need their help.  So my work bridges the gap and goes waaaaaaay beyond the typical training.  It literally teaches horses how to read us and adapt to us.  Don’t believe me?  Come and work with a few of my horses.  You’ll understand rightaway that there is something different going on.  People comment on it all the time.

Now there’s a new concept.  Training that teaches horses how to read us and adapt.  I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and with horses most people have already given up on.  It’s easy with horses that are unmolested. 
Most of the horses I work are dangerous or problematic in some way.
I love this work. I live for this work because each and every day is a challenge to help the horse cross the bridge.  There isn’t anything more thrilling than to see a horse that’s been screwed in the head by multiple trainers suddenly be able to work with most anyone.  Because it wants to….not because its made to.

It isn’t difficult and there isn’t a recipe.  It’s all intuition and timing.

Sometimes I don’t whack a horse if it kicks.  Sometimes I empathize and let the horse know that I am validating its emotions.  If that is what it needs.

If the horse kicks simply because it is being a butthead…such as in the case of the rescue horse, then some swift discipline is warranted.  That is what his lead mare would do if he were stepping out of line. 

But somewhere along the line people have set up camp.

They think that if you use your body to work with a horse that you are being abusive.

Use a rope halter.

Use a stick.

Use a dually….use long lines….use this CD, that CD…pocket cards….

I had a client recently ask me….so what equipment do you use when you are working with a rank horse?  Why don’t you use a halter?

Rabbit trail….I don’t usually use any equipment on rank horses……

Because dipshit, the horse has already been pre-conditioned that the halter is a bad thing.  A thing of restraint….because all of these god damned bloody clinicians have taught that if you want magic to happen with your horse that you need to have the right magic halter with the right number of knots with the right friggin rope and heavy brass clip!

OK…I didn’t say it that way but my point was illustrated when she tried to handle her horse for the vet in her magic rope halter and got plastered as the horse ran through and over the top of her….and bolted….which he LEARNED by being worked “Naturally”.

Phhhhttttttt…..!!#$$#&*))(((((()(*&(&^%$!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am but plain tired of cleaning up people’s messes with horses knowing that the formula is simple sherlock!

Every year I work several dozen horses that have been messed up by trainers claiming they are this and that certified.

One lady asked me….”so who are you certified by?”

So now you need a certificate to be a good trainer, I thought….so I replied….”I am an excellent trainer and excellent trainers are exempt from certification.  They are exempt because what sets them apart is that their horses actually like people.  So therefore I do not need to be certified.  Only good trainers are certified.  That is how you will know to RUN!”

She didn’t quite know what to say to that….so I gave her a list of references and told her that when she was ready to be spontaneous and intuitive with her horse that she should look me up….or better yet….come over for a meeting with the horses in our pasture. 

Not one will run from you.  Not one turns its butt.  All of them gather round when we are training and want to be a part of the fun and activities.  All of the horses here are open, friendly and pleasant.  And while some have had days, weeks or months of “Natural Horsemanship”, they have been properly EXORCISED! (look that word up…and note that I didn’t write, EXERCISED).

I am going to point out that I put “quotes” around “natural horsemanship”.  The reason why is that the phrase should mean something that it doesn’t.  It’s a branded definition spun by brilliant marketers that now have millions of people brainwashed into thinking that they too can have the perfect horse if only they pony up the money to by the latest training CD.

It’s a novel concept and a great idea.  But the best thing anyone can do when they are working out their problem (note I said THEIR problem) with a horse is to ask themselves….”what is my horse thinking?”

K…there’s the problem….”Natural Horsemanship” isn’t about letting the horse think….unless it’s along the lines of I say you go circle and YOU GO CIRCLE!

UGH!

When focusing on what your horse needs you have to remember they’ve been here 30 MILLION years longer than we have.

Now there’s a daunting thought.  They’ve been here 30 million years longer and they haven’t put us lower on the food chain than themselves?

Now that’s a benevolent creature.  Etherial.  They are here to teach us….we are not here to teach them.

Horses are powerful creatures and I’ve worked plenty that have had enough from humans that they have decided they are at least going to eat one before they are through with the earth.

They aren’t carnivorous but hassle one long enough and they’ll get quick as a rattlesnake with their teeth and hooves.

Slaughter used to take care of that insolence.  Not any more.  These horses are now rescued…sort of.  Many of them spend lives in 30 x 40 corrals.  Some rescue, huh?  I think it’s nothing short of torture for them so I hold fast to the belief that a quick smack at the right time is better than a life time of being held captive in a pen with a “no touch” sign hung on it.  That being said, plenty of praise is warranted too.

Horses are social creatures.  Not only with other horses but with humans.

They want to please us but when their trust has been broken or they’ve been mishandled to the point that either they’ve been soured or spoiled, that horse is destined for a life of conflict with humans.

I can’t stand that thought.

I have the ability to change that for horses and give humans the joy of knowing these horses.

But people and this shallow idea of “Natural Horsemanship” constantly stands in the way.

Natural Horsemanship believers would have me take the horse and circle him until he’s complacent.  All that’s going to do is build up a resentful horse.  Sooner than later he’ll post a shoulder your direction, the neck will come up and BAM! over the top of you he’ll go.

That’s where I was with the horse from the rescue.

He had been taught how to evade….perfectly.

When he had to stand tied and fight himself, he gave up…quickly.  Horses are perfect caretakers of themselves.  I knew he would see the logic in figuring out what he had to do to find peace in his world that included being tied.  He didn’t hurt himself.  He just knew that he needed to stand still.  The kick he threw was his way of pouting.  A “F—You” if you will thrown my direction. Most people would leave him alone.  I didn’t.  I find a way to resolve the behavior in a way the horse can understand.  Because I know that when I help the horse understand that its job is to stand still because people need its help….that horse has a better chance at getting along with people.  When a horse can read people and adapt its behavior to help them…which they are pre-programmed to do from birth….that horse has a better chance at being with people conflict free for a long time.

This is leadership.  Not brutality.  Or abuse.  Lead horses discipline.  And they also love.  It’s in the knowing the when and the how that’s the secret.

Training as it is on its face as it is portrayed in the media is not really training.  Go to any ranch with a payroll employing horsemen and women  and they will tell you the same.  Training as it is on its face in the media is a ploy to get you to purchase videos, books, and CD’s.

Training isn’t working a horse endlessly in an arena or round pen.  It’s spending quality time with your horse in its natural enviroment doing activities it would do if it were in a herd.  Riding is just an extension of this and should include plenty of the former.  Add some foundation for working with a human to complete a task and you’ve got a horse that is willing to work as a partner…not some robot conditioned to bend, yield, bend, yield, bend, yield.

So these were some of my thoughts as I reviewed my activities with the rescue horse.  You see…I was nearly attacked by one of the passionate volunteers from this rescue who with clenched fists told me she was going to pound my face in for smacking the aforementioned horse.

I digress….but if one preached peace, love and harmony….why would you want to advocate violence to resolve a difference in training philosophies?

The proof is in the pudding.  The horse behaved, he had his hooves trimmed and he was better behaved in the time after.  Something must have stuck.

It’s a unique phenomenon that happens when you work through something with a horse in a way that helps it understand…”Hey, said action isn’t cool with we humans.  We are weak and we are fearful creatures.  You need to be kind to us.  Gentle with us.  And help us.  Because we can’t help ourselves.”

Horses get that.

The day the animal communicator and I met I hadn’t planned on having a reading.

Such is the way with fate and “chance” encounters.

I watch my mare Aemelie daily do things that tell me there is no such thing as a cooincidence.  Such is the way of our life and the lessons we have to learn here.

On the day the communicator asked me, “Is that your mare?” and I proudly said, “Yes.”

She said, “Boy, does she have a lot to say!”

Kinda like me….is what I thought.

“Is that your horse too?” She asked.

“Yes.” I said, curious about why she would ask.  I didn’t know she was a communicator. 

I was up at my neighbors barn this day working my horses and had Crockett, my Extreme Mustang Makeover horse and my loyal mare Aemelie.  The woman was there to do readings on my neighbors horses.  I just happened to show up at the same time.

“He wants you to know that the reason he bites you on the right hand is that you need to increase your masculinity.”

That caught my attention because Crockett had been biting my right hand earlier and I found the behavior curious.  He’d never done it before and while he was biting he wasn’t being agressive.  More, he was raking his teeth on the palm of my hand.

“Masculinity?” I said, confused.

“Yes, you have a conflict in your life right now that is troubling you.”

Damn straight.  The rescue had waged allegations of abuse against me for discipling their horse while I was trimming it.

Welcome to the new age.

“That’s correct.” I said, stunned.

“Crockett wants you to remain strong.  Increase your strength because you are the voice for the horse even if you find frustration in the fact that your methods aren’t always understood.  Your time will come and you need to remember that the reason why you are here is for them.”

I was literally so stunned I could not speak.  Here was validation that what I have been frustrated by for so many years was true.  I have not been wrong to question the validity of these conditioning programs I am seeing.  Programs that not only shut horses down but disrespect them so that they hurt emotionally.  It felt really good….no incredibly good to be validated like that!

Since then, not one, but two more psychics have shared the same thing with me, without knowing that I have spoken with the others.  That’s pretty cool since none of these psychics are people I know personally but professionals who are cold reading me with no information given from me or anyone else! Most recently I was told that I can’t waste my time letting this waste my time.   I have to be proactive.  So that is what I am doing.

The horses deserve at least that much.  Even if it means my neck is on the chopping block…..