Amateur v’s Professional

People are becoming jaded by all the horsemanship ‘hype’. It seems that every man and his dog has jumped  on the ‘natural horsemanship’ bandwagon to the point where if they use a rope halter, they are a ‘natural horseman’.  The outcome is catastrophic with horses breaking down because they are running around on their front ends.  People never really going anywhere because they are happy to stay in their comfort zone and twirl their ropes. They are never actually becoming safe with their horses because they are going to the ‘local horseman’ who has taken a bit of knowledge from this person and a bit of knowledge from that person and just uses what suits them.

 

Unfortunately, when someone only half learns something, then what they then pass on becomes misconstrued and pointless and can even be dangerous for the rider and/or cruel to the horse.  But because is it labelled as natural, it is OK, right?

 

There are many tools and training methods that people use willy nilly be it a ‘natural’ tool or technique or not and the best tool/technique in the world can become a lethal weapon if it is used without the understanding of how it should be used and applied. Unfortunately humans (especially in this day and age) want the here and now and can’t be bothered spending the time learning how.  I have seen the result of this many times over and have had to fix lots of horses that have had supposed ‘training’.

 

This lack of knowledge and understanding that gets thrown out there and seems to be eagerly and willingly clung to, is one of the main reasons I became a professional instructor. At the end of the day, how do you sift out the ‘wanna be’s’ to the people who really know what they are doing?  The amateurs to the professionals.

 

Ask lots of questions and if they can’t answer you or if you just get the ‘because it works, or that is how it is done’ answer, then the warning bells should start ringing.  Don’t let this be your only guide however as there are lots of people out there who can talk the talk but not necessarily be able to walk the walk so have a good look at the principals they claim to follow and find out if they do actually follow them.  Have a look at how they handle their horses and talk to their customers.  Don’t just go by what they say, go by the depth of their past results.

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The Rollercoaster Rider

Have you ever been on a rollercoaster?  It’s a pretty exciting ride isn’t it and once you are on there, there is no getting off so you have to just shut your eyes and go for the ride.  Think about how you felt at the end, you are both excited and exhilarated from the pure adrenaline rush you just had from the ride.  Now think about how you feel after going for a ride on your horse…are these feelings similar?  If they are, then you have a problem!

 

‘My horse needs two people to hold him when I mount.’  ‘My horse always has a buck when I first get on him.’  ‘My horse gets really strong on the way home…..but other than that, he is really good and I love him!’

Incredibly, these are just a few examples of things that I see people accept from their horses as normal behavior – because he is a horse and horses do those sorts of things right?  Yes, a right brained and unconfident horse will do these sorts of things, but why are we accepting this?  It seems to me that people just don’t think that they can do anything about a horses instinct reactions and that to be able to ride our horses, we have to accept these undesirable behaviours that they display.

 

For some people, it might be a bit of fun riding that 500kg animal and you manage to stay on top when things go pear shaped but really it is like playing a game of Russian roulette.  When a horse is acting on his instincts, to the horse, it is fair dinkum, he needs to get away from whatever it is that is causing him fear and if a horse feels that his life is in danger, he will do whatever it takes to get away.  WHAT EVER IT TAKES, no matter how much you think he likes you.

 

But if we don’t ride horses as they are, does that mean we shouldn’t be riding them at all? Not at all, but you don’t have to ride the horse that is listening to his instincts, you can teach your horse to think, help him become braver and change his response to fear.  I must warn you though, this isn’t a quick fix.  It does require some time and some effort on your part, but what is the option?  To keep riding your horse and hope that you live through it?  Or to put some hard work in yourself and reap the rewards of truly enjoying riding your horse?  To just be able to pull him out of the paddock, saddle him up with no hassles and to take him out and have a peaceful time together, just you and your horse, no worrying about what is going to happen when you turn for home, no worrying about what will happen if that kangaroo hops out in front of you, or the monster that you can’t see but seems very real to your horse.  It is possible.

 

How I hear you ask?  There are 3 things that we can do to do to help our horses become much safer and our experiences with them much more enjoyable.

 

Horses and humans are very different creatures and to be able to really get along with our horses we need to start to look at things from their perspective, to really put ourselves in their shoes, to feel what it is like to be an animal that is being handled by someone who could at any moment, eat them!  We all know we are not going to do that, but did anyone tell our horses that?  If we can start to see the world from our horses eyes, then we will have more success with giving them what they need.  We will be able to start working with our horses, build a good relationship with them and keep them happier.

 

As humans, we are very good at solving problems and the shortest way of doing that, the better so when it comes to problems with our horses, we end up reaching for that quick fix that really only ends up covering up the symptom and not really getting to the cause.  If we never address the cause of the problem and continue to cover up the symptoms then the problem bubbles away under the surface, just waiting for that moment to come out.

 

The third thing we need to do is look at teaching our horses how to cope in our world.  Horses have survived for millions of years and the thing that has kept them alive all this time is their flight from fear response.  When there were no fences, floats and stables, this worked fine for them.  But we have changed the world.  We now want them to walk onto a float, to go through narrow gateways, to be tied up and most of all, we want to ride them.  This flight from fear response is now not only dangerous for our horses, it is for us when we are sitting on top of these creatures so it is our responsibility to teach our horses how to think their way through scary situations rather than to go to their instincts and run.

 

Next time you saddle your horse up, hop on and feel that something isn’t quite right, think about whether you want to go for the rollercoaster ride, or would you like to avoid the adrenaline rush and start to enjoy your ride for the pure unity of the two of you working together.  Which ride are you going to take?

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Are you holding back with your horse?

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” — Joe Sabah

I really like this quote, so many times people hold back because they think they should know more or need to be better to really be able to achieve the goals they have.  Reality is, that you have just got to make a start and once you start, you can then practise at getting good and of course, greatness always follows!  I hope this gives you some inspiration for the day 🙂

Diago’s Journey – Part 2

So what has the way you catch your horse got to do with riding him? The short answer is EVERYTHING!! The long answer? Whenever I work with young horses, difficult horses, starting them under saddle and any horse really, my main aim is to have permission from my horse to do what I am doing with them. Having respect and trust are also very important when working with a horse, but for them to actually LIKE you will mean the difference between you getting slammed or the horse cutting you some slack if you get something wrong, and, well, we would all like to think we are good at what we do, but we are human and sometimes that can happen! 🙂

Making sure you have permission to approach and put your halter on your horse is the first step towards building a good rapport with him and how you go about this can set up your whole session for that day….and following days!

When I first started working with Diago, getting permission didn’t come easily. All I wanted was to be able to approach him, have him look towards me and offer me a nice flex through his body. What did Diago do? He looked away, braced and ran! At the beginning, I spent a number of sessions entirely on approaching him and asking for permission. Yes, I could have cornered him, blocked him or pushed on his hindquarters and made him come to me, but these are all ways of making your horse be caught. If I wanted to set our relationship up right from the beginning, I needed to be able to walk up to him without making him feel intimidated and have him allow me to come into his space.

You can see in this video that Diago still feels the need to move off when I come into the yard with him, but he does stop (maybe a little too close to the other horse) once he is happy that I don’t have any sinister intentions. By approaching his shoulder, he still has the option to run forward or backwards, or flex towards me which he chooses to do, so at this stage of his training, I am pretty happy with that. My patients has really paid off as now he is one of my easiest caught horses and sometimes he will walk up to me which is a nice plus.

You can also see when I ask Diago to pick his feet up that I don’t’ try to pull his foot up or grab hold of it straight away – this is another trust exercise. Does he trust me enough to offer his foot to me? I am really happy that he is looking towards me when I pick up each foot. This is a really nice sign that he is soft, relaxed and happy with what I am doing…I have permission!

See Part 1 ….

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Mel’s Super Easy Horsemanship Tip #2

The way you leave your horse in the paddock will be the way he remembers you when you go to catch him the next day.

Make sure it is you that leaves your horse rather than your horse leaving you.

Teaching and Training in QLD!

I have not long returned from a fabulous trip to Chambers Flat in QLD where I have been sharing some knowledge as well as working with some horses for most of the week.  I had quite a line up for horse training this time with 5 horses for 5 days.  People often ask me if I can really help a horse in such a short time considering that most horse trainers will take a horse for a number of weeks to train them.

My answer is yes, absolutely… or I would not be doing it.  I think the difference is that I am focusing on educating the horse rather than using repetition to train them.  What is the difference I hear you ask?  With RFT (Release Focus Training) I am focusing on giving the horse options and the chance to make a decision about whether they take up our offer or not.  Because we are encouraging the thinking side of their brains, we develop their confidence and of course they don’t forget!  They therefore are not needing to do this over and over for them to learn or remember.

The goals for these horses over the week were all a little different, from an older horse that just needed to spruce up his forward to a couple of young Thoroughbreds who were very green and hadn’t been ridden for a couple of years.  Of course I can’t fully educate a horse in this time which is why I work with the horses owners on a plan to keep them moving forward to complete their education.  By involving the owners in the education process, we can ensure that the training that I do gets great follow up, the horse sees the continuity in what I do and what their riders do and the riders have a clear understanding of where their horses are at.

Following my week of training, we held a workshop with a group of students looking at moving up to the next level in their horsemanship. Steering, stopping and getting lighter transitions was the focus of the day and by the looks of the slideshow, everyone was doing a fabulous job!

Our Quantum Savvy Agent for the Scenic Rim area did a fantastic job of organising and putting the whole week together – a HUGE thank you to Jenn Wagstaff for inviting me to spend a week with you all at Chambers Flat and thank you to Chambers Flat Equestrian Park for providing a great facility for us for the week.

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The Secret to Getting Help With Your Horse

To truly receive help, you first must be prepared to help yourself
– Mel Peacock

Diago’s Journey – Part 1

I have had Diago for about 4 years now, he came to me a very scared, stiff and unconfident horse.  He was owned by a Dressage Instructor who felt he wasn’t going to make it as a dressage horse and his thing was that he would buck whenever being brought back into riding after a spell.  When she tried to move him on, she found it quite difficult as everyone one who come to ride him would get bucked off!

 

Why did I buy him you ask?  Well I actually only had a friend look at him and hadn’t seen him myself, but I had always loved paint horses, I had one as a kid …. and …. well … isn’t he gorgeous!  All the things you don’t do when buying horses I know, and I also felt I had the skills to be able to help him out.  BUT!  What a journey we have been on!

 

I remember when I first brought him home, I put him in his yard and gave him a feed.  I just happened to have my stick in my hand at the time and thought I would show it to him.  He bolted instantly!  There was no way I was going to get that thing near him!  Right then I had a pretty good idea of why he bucked – this is going to be a piece of cake I thought, just got to build his confidence.  Although at that point I didn’t realise how much confidence I was going to need to build with him.

 

To help Diago, I started taking him through the Quantum Savvy Foundation Programme and even though I have done a lot of work with many different horses, he still had lots of lessons for me.  Diago had a very small comfort zone and a HUGE Chaos zone and only a tiny learning zone which means that it was easy to stretch him too far and he was scared of a LOT of things.  To give you an idea of just what he was like, for the first 6 months I owned him, Diago would constantly be trotting and walking around his yard, even though there were horses right next to him, he just could not stop moving.

 

As I worked with Diago, I got the progress of his training on film through the assignments in each level of the Foundation Programme and I am very excited to be able to share this progress with you.  This first video was filmed way back in 2012, not all that long after I got him.  It is where I start with all horses – the Basic Skills which are the skills you need to achieve any task with your horse – your steering, stopping and everything else you do with them. He certainly looks very chilled here and nothing like the horse I just described…what a difference you can make with just going back to the basics!

 

You can see though, when I start asking him to move with the stick that his head goes up and he kind of ‘wakes up’.  An indication that he isn’t totally comfortable with it at this stage and is the reason why we don’t just rely on desensitising them – they need to be comfortable with all the tools we use around them, both when they are not meaning anything as well as when they do mean something, otherwise you end up just scaring them around and that won’t help to build their confidence or your relationship with them.

See Part 2 …..

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Mel’s Super Easy Horsemanship Tip #1

If you want your horse to respect your fences (and avoid injury or escapes!) make sure you keep your feed in the middle of your paddock or yard – or away from the fence. Feeding your horse on the fence runs the risk of your horse learning to disrespect and lean on it.

What are you really getting from your riding lessons?

Have you ever followed someone to a place you have never been and then when it comes time to navigating your way to that same place by yourself, you find you have no idea where to go?

 

I remember when I got my first horse and started getting some riding lessons I was so excited because I was finally going to learn how to ride properly!  I started having some regular lessons which was great! I would hop on my horse and ride around and my instructor would shout out some instructions that I would follow to the best of my ability.  We would go home and ride for the rest of the week…never sure about what I was doing, but did what I could remember and next week I would go back and do the same thing again.  Over some time, I thought I had my horse going great, we had attended some pony club events and had some fun together.  Then, I got a job, and got busy and stopped riding my horse for a while.  When I finally made some time for him to go for a ride, I saddled him up, hopped on and I remember very clearly thinking…’well what do I do now?’  I had no idea where to start!  I couldn’t remember what exercises we had done in the past and even why I needed to do them.  I was going to have to start all over again. Feeling a bit disempowered I put him back in the paddock and went back to work.

 

Fortunately for me, my desire to ride overpowered my disappointment and some time later I found someone who had a very different view on how to teach.  I was asked questions, I was given some direction and I was sent home to practise.  I was given the opportunity to have some interaction with my coach so that I could ask questions about how I was going in between the live coaching sessions.  I started looking forward to riding my horse, understood why I was doing what I was doing and what was even more amazing was that the next time I saw my coach, we would be learning new stuff every time. Through this, the progress I made was astounding!

 

So why did this make so much of a difference for me?  Even now as a coach myself I still see the instructors out there giving the instructions.  You would think that this gives the rider an insight to what their instructor is seeing and feeling as they get to act on the instructors timing etc.  But what ends up happening is that the rider starts to just ‘follow them to the destination’, just like you would if you were following someone to a new place.  They stop thinking and processing what they are doing as they wait for the next instruction and turn into a puppet waiting for the strings to move them.  This stops any actual learning process as there is no thinking involved, it is just automatic response to an order and therefore, you will be needing to do lots of it to actually get anywhere.  This also has a very detrimental effect on the rider as they become reliant on the instructor to tell them what to do…but what happens when you are at home by yourself with your horse and something doesn’t go as planned?  What do you do?  You have nothing to draw from and of course your confidence plummets….and you go back to your instructor for more help!  Now this may be good for the instructors pocket, but how good is this for you?

 

So when it comes time for you to choose a riding coach, ask yourself – are they genuinely interested in helping YOU make progress with your horse and reach your goals, or are they just happy to give you orders and take your money?  Do they push you and encourage you to do the very best for your horse or do they just pat you on the back and say you are doing great?  Do they really understand what is it they are teaching you or are they just repeating the orders that they were given themselves?  The answers to these questions might help you to determine if you have an instructor or a coach.

 

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QLD You Can Do It Too Tour

I have recently returned from a trip to QLD to join the Quantum Savvy Team on the You Can Do It Too Tour…It’s a hard life when you have to spend a week on the Gold Coast and another on the Sunshine Coast!!

 

With a demonstration allocated to myself and Diago, I was feeling a little unsure how he would go as he has had a little bit of time off at the start of the year and my preparation for this trip I felt was a little bit underdone. BUT!! Not to worry when you have a good solid foundation under you.

My first demo on the Gold Coast we had just arrived the day before and after two days of standing in the float I checked out how he was feeling and did what felt right and to my surprise, Diago handled it all really well (I might add that this was Diago’s first official Demonstration!) Even with the group demo at the start of the day where we had quite a few people with their horses all going round doing all sorts of different things, plus we were in a reasonably small area surrounded with the flags that flapped in the wind. A recipe that once would have been all too much for my precious boy. Again I thanked the effectiveness of building up a good solid foundation with him.

The following week we moved onto the Sunshine Coast to do it all again, new area, small space, lots of people & horses. Second time round, Diago just put in! I think at heart he must be just a bit of a show off!! The crowd loved him and we even got lots of applause. It was that moment that I realised just how far he had come, all the hard work that I put in with him had paid off and I felt so proud of him!!

 

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Welcome to my new look website

Thank you for visiting my website.  This site is still under construction so please bear with me as I will be updating in between riding my horses!  In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with your questions – I love talking horses!!