This past weekend I was blessed to ride both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s ride ended up being a delightful arena ride where we worked on a variety of things.
On Sunday, I didn’t feel the desire to do schooling, and it was very windy, so I didn’t exactly want to go for a trail ride either. I felt drawn to do connection work. As I walked out to catch Ace in the back pasture, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do. Get on Ace bareback, with his halter, in the field amongst the other horses. Riding my seasoned horse in from the back pasture isn’t a new thing for me. Riding Ace in, however, is. I tried to get on him twice in the past in the field, but he felt too anxious each time. I didn’t mind ‘giving up’ those times in the past because, honestly, I was pretty scared! Getting on a younger horse, the bottom of the pecking order, I was having visions of a horse lunge to bite him, kick, or they all decide to gallop in ahead of us had me more than happy just to lead Ace in. But Sunday was different. I felt different.
See, over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on this guide to help people learn and start using conscious language as it applies to our horses and us. If you’ve ever created something, you’ll know that the creator/teacher always ends up learning the most during the process by preparing, researching, and writing out their content. I want to share something that I wrote in my guide, Harness The Power of Speech.
“I think God has a plan for all of us. We have all been given beautiful gifts, and we are meant to share them with the world. We are to shine our light. When we stop listening to our inner voice, or rather God's voice, when we hide our light, that is when we start to find ourselves in times of chaos or dissatisfaction. Maybe you don't feel worthy of asking for more, or perhaps you don't feel worthy of your gift, to begin with.
Some people have the gift of teaching, working on cars, building houses, creating jewelry, and then there are those gifted with the love of horses. For us who are passionate about horses, our gifts will all look different. Some people will be able to teach clinics, some will jump, rope, do liberty, trail ride, and then some people use will horses to feel connected to God or the universe. I think all of us horse lovers are designed for something extraordinary, just like every other human alive. It is up to us to accept and develop the gift that has been bestowed to us.
I grew up with horses my entire life; I always had a deep connection with them, and they helped me through some challenging times. Horses were, and still are, my safe place. However, what I’ve been learning now is that we have a duty to these animals as well. In the past, I was judgmental, critical, short-tempered, and expected my horses to “fix” me emotionally.
Now I believe I have a higher calling, and so do you. We owe it to our horses to better ourselves on our own. When we start healing from our pasts and being emotionally available to our horses, we are open to seeing their hurts, fears and struggles. We can then open our eyes and begin to learn their language or communication method, and we can start helping them with their emotions.
In my heart, I knew I was missing too many pieces of the puzzle to create a deeper connection. I am so fortunate that I listened when God, or my inner knowing, started pushing me towards a new adventure. I could have let my fear take over and give up. But I accepted the challenge that has led me into the most incredible journey! I encourage you to be brave. You have a brilliant light to shine to the world; don’t hold back, read on!
So, what if you could overcome your fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and self-doubt by merely speaking and thinking as if you were calm, capable, confident, and relaxed...” Leanne Nelson, Harness The Power Of Speech.
The point I want to make is that I could have stayed in my place of fear about getting on and riding Ace in from the field. I could have let my imagination run away with me and think of the endless scenarios of how I could get hurt, or even have Ace get hurt. I could have let my inner itty-bitty-shitty-committee, as Jane Pike calls it (excuse the cuss word, but it just flows so well, doesn’t it?) make me feel unworthy, not good enough, not capable, and in general, keep myself small.
Luckily, I know I am destined for more than smallness. I might not know exactly where I will end up in my journey with Ace, but what I do know is that I am called to be brave, confident, calm, enthusiastic, curious, empathetic, patient, a leader, and always grow. I know this is what I’m supposed to do; accept these challenges and find my way through them, and then share with others.
So, once I got out to the horses, Ace greeted me with his usual friendly lovey-eyed self. I looked around to see the best thing to use to step up on to try and get on. I decided on using the back of an old pickup that amongst the row of automobile gravesites. This was the first time I was using something other than a fence to try and get on. Ace knows how to side pass over to pick me up, so he already knows the hard part. We had to work on his confidence at side passing towards the truck, then staying there while he got a nice scratch. It didn’t take long, and I was able to get on. The other horses were close by and napping, so we started walking around the pasture a little. Only a few minutes passed, and I knew we could make the ride back in from the field to the tack shed.
It went so well! The other horses stayed in the pasture, and we plodded our way down the path. While Ace ate his feed, he became stressed that he was, in fact, alone. I decided to do some groundwork to get his focus back on him and me, and the present moment. I was already over the moon with how well everything went and was going to end things on a happy note and let him go when I had the crazy idea to ride him back out to the herd to catch another horse so that I could take my daughters for a ride. I don’t think I have ridden a horse out to the herd since I was a young, fearless kid. The fear of a horse just bolting to get back to the pasture was pretty high on my mind previous to this. But on that day, I accepted the calling. Yet again, I was not disappointed! Relaxed, loose rein, let downs the whole ride back. Ace even spooked once at some kittens zooming around the corner of the barn, and besides giving a surprising, startling jump, he was calm and relaxed moments after.
I want to encourage you to listen to that inner knowing. That God-in-you knowing. That feeling you have when you know you’re being called to do something. Even if it might seem irrelevant like riding a horse in from the pasture, accepting that call is empowering. God has great plans for you and your horse.
I can already see the look on your face as you read the title. A look of: “how does that make any sense,” as you furrow your brow and maybe tilt your head to the side.. I didn’t even really understand what I was learning until the result presented itself. And that was a calmer horse.
First off, these ideas are not my own. I have been following several trainers, and although they maybe didn’t say it flat out as I did, they laid out the work so I would come to that conclusion on my own. So here I am, spilling the beans. Why? Because I think more people should know about this, and it could help a lot of horses and their humans find their calm faster. Let’s get to it.
At a recent Jonathan Field clinic, I participated in it with my horse, Ace. Early on, Jonathan kept talking about the importance of having a plan. I had heard this before, but with different wording with similar meaning. Or at least that’s how I was interpreting it. However, it started to click when we were doing the groundwork. I had to direct Ace in a pattern while he was about 10 feet from me going around in a circle. Pylons were out, and I had to use my body and intention to get him to go on the pylons’ far or near side. Talk about focus! I had to be 100% attentive to what I wanted Ace to do and where I wanted him to go. The second I became wishy-washy in my mind, Ace always went off the path.
It wasn’t long into this when I could see Ace mellow out. He was stretching out, lowering his head, flowing forward in a nice even trot. He was calm. It was like a lightbulb moment for me. He was relaxed because I was focused. He was calm because I had a plan. I knew where I wanted him to go, so he had nothing to start creating anxiety. He didn’t have to be concerned if I knew where I was going or whether I was sure that corner had a monster in it. Ace was able to relax when he knew I was right there in the moment, taking care of him.
I think another large factor in this was Ace wasn’t going to get into trouble for trying to go somewhere he thought I wanted him to go when I had no idea what I wanted, but I just decided to nag at him anyways. In that circle, on our path, he knew if he responded to my slight asks and intention, I would let him do his thing. Go around the circle. I wasn’t nitpicking every little thing. He had a job: trot the circle. I had a job: pick the path of the circle. As a result, he saw me as a confident leader.
Now I want to expand on something a little further here. As important as it is to have a plan, I also want to remind you that we still need to be flexible. Warwick Schiller has taught me to listen to my horse. I might want to work on a specific drill pattern, but my horse might tell me that we should work on something else. For example, let’s say my horse is suddenly not moving his shoulders nicely. If I persistently push my plan forward, I will only butt heads with him because he needs his stiff shoulders worked on. The same applies if he’s a bit spooky at things. If he spooks a little at the halter, the gate, the saddle pad, the saddle, the fence, and the arena gate, how can I be shocked if he blows up and bolts at the next little thing? His worry cup got full, and I was too short-sighted to address the initial concern before moving on to my plan.
Learning these two things and finally connecting them has made me very excited! Ace and I have a very long journey ahead of us. We will be partners for life. I am in no rush for our future, as we are in your moment together right now. I am so thankful he has the patience to forgive me when I fail continuously and show such satisfaction when we have a significant “ah-ha” moment together.
To hear more, Watch This!
Until next time, 💜
“She is the typical crazy sorrel mare type: grumpy, full of sass, fighting all the time, ears pinned, you know what I mean.”
“Oh yeah, you’re riding a paint, no wonder you’re having so much trouble. That’s just classic behaviour for one of those crazy horses.”
“My horse will always be a hot mess.”
“Jeeze my horse is a special kind of stupid. We had this down pat yesterday, and now he’s acting like a total spazz!”
I think we are all guilty of having these kinds of thoughts revolving around our horses. We put them into prepackaged labels of how we think they are, and how they will always be. And somehow we are still surprised when they don’t change.
What if I told you that it is these exact thoughts that are creating the behaviours you desperately want to get rid of.
To explain a bit of what I mean, I’ll share with you one of my experiences with this. We have a horse on the farm, Hungry. He is my husband’s rope horse and he and I did not get along very well. I had labelled him as the “a** hole,” and whenever I went into the pen I always had my eyes out for that a** hole palomino. When I first heard about changing my thoughts and expectations, I thought this would be a great way to test it out. I was a little skeptical but was willing to give it a try. Before I went out to the horse pen, I did some mental check in’s. I prepared myself by thinking good thoughts about Hungry, and how I wanted our interaction to go. As I walked into the herd he brought his head up from grazing, and just stood there looking at me. His eyes were softer than his usual. His ears were pricked forward in curiosity. I started talking to him and praising him for his good attributes. A few moments later he was walking towards me with kind eyes, his muzzle stretched out hoping for a scratch. This was much different from the usual, ear pinned, “what do you want” glare I would normally get.
After this, I started to try and use my thoughts and mental pictures to my advantage. I made a real effort to project how I wanted my rides to go. I would leave the house already thinking my horse was amazing, the ride was going to be great, and I would have a lot of fun. This soon became the reality! The more I practice it, the more my horses seem to respond and do what I am picturing in my mind. I am very much a beginner at this, but when it does work, it feels amazing!
Mental thoughts are also paramount with our self-talk. If we are playing a movie of negativity about ourselves in our brain we are setting ourselves up for failure. Guess what? We have the power to change the movie! If you are forever swimming in a pool of self-doubt, uncertainty, unworthiness, fear of failure, then you are going to have a very hard time being the active leader your horse truly needs. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can your horse trust you? If you don’t believe in your horse, how can they have confidence in themselves?
I encourage you to take an active change in picking the movie you play in your head about your horse, spouse, and yourself. You have the power to bring in positivity, change, and room for growth.
In my latest Youtube video, I share some ways I have been using these mental images regarding my horse Ace.
Until next time, 💜
I hadn’t ridden Ace since the end of April. I had to put down my barrel horse May 1st, then seeding started shortly after, and we worked tirelessly until completion on May 30th. During this time I was able to work through my grief of losing my other horse, and started to feel the call to go back out and connect with my other horses again.
Things finally worked out on this chilly evening to head out. We had received some wonderful rain; the air was crisp, clean, and fresh. I love that smell. I didn’t have a set plan for what I hoped to accomplish. First thing first, would the horses even let me come near them? Earlier that day I had gone out to check on them after a wind storm and they were very spunky, not interested in pets or attention of any sort. I grabbed my halter, swung it over my shoulder, and headed out in rubber boots through the wet grass. Ace saw me a long way off, his big bright blaze rising into the air as a welcome greeting. I walked half way out, sat on a rock, and took some deep breaths. I focused on heart breathing, being calm, relaxed. Only a minute or two later Ace walked to meet me where I sat where we exchanged breaths.
Normally, I had been making it a habit this spring to lunge before riding; however, this time I felt drawn to use the round pen. Supplements eaten, brushed, saddled, and bridle in hand, we went to the round pen. I took his halter off once I had closed the gate, and stepped away. I could see he was already very in tune with me. His head, ears, and entire body were with me. I was very pleased to see how calm, focused and confident he was even though the other horses were on the far side of the pasture. “Time to take the next step,” I thought. Once out in the arena, sitting centered in the saddle, Ace was impatient to be off. “Alright, you’re turn to lead then, Ace.”
Ace was adamant to head out of the arena. We hadn’t been on any trail rides yet this year, and I was fairly certain he just wanted to get closer to the herd. One thing I’ve learned is to work where the horse wants to be; you’ll have much easier success. So off we went, through the intimidating barnyard, and into the field which bordered the horse pasture. Once we got to the end of the pasture fence line, Ace became very showy about his displeasure by tossing his head any time I put pressure on the reins. I figured he just didn’t want to continue walking out farther away from the herd so I turned him back. Work where they want to be, remember? Ace’s head tossing was becoming a nuisance at this point, and I was trying to pinpoint the cause. We were walking towards the horses and he was still obviously annoyed. He wanted to break into a trot, which I was stopping by bending to a stop then waiting for relaxation while flexing. In the past this worked like a charm. Not this time. “OK fine then, have it your way Ace. I’ll just leave you alone and let's see what you want to do.” To my surprise he headed off perpendicular away from the horses, right out to the center of the field. Again, he tried to break into a trot several times. Each time I tried to encourage relaxation through bending to a stop and waiting for the soft flexion. I could see I wasn’t helping him. I could sense he wanted to have fun. I was realizing he wanted to run. Once this clicked, my anxiety started to rise. Ace has a history of bucking in the past. He was also showing plenty of expression by throwing his head around. The last thing I wanted was a runaway, or a bucking runaway. “Ace I’m not ready yet!” I told him. I wanted to think it would all be alright, but my heart rate wasn’t quite convincing me that it would be. I started really going internal, to process my fear. As I tried to come up with every reason to not go for a lope, Ace kept asking, rather persistently.
“Just TRUST me!” I could almost hear the words coming out of Ace’s heart.
Big breath -- I started off by letting him really extend his trot. He wanted more. He broke into a lope on his own, and I immediately tried to bring him back down. He shook his head in frustration. Back to long trotting, trying to decide what I want to do. “Don’t make me regret this. OK -- Lets go.” I barely had formed the thought in my mind when Ace broke into a lope. I kept trying to create contact with the bit to feel more secure; Ace was getting annoyed and threw in a crow-hop. “Seriously dude? I’m trying!”
“TRUST me!” was what he kept countering with. Trust him, get off his face, and believe we are a team.
I have never ridden Ace when he actually wanted to go out into the field alone, and at the same time, to also want to blow off some steam. This was huge on so many levels. His confidence in himself, and in us as a team, has grown. Did we have a picture perfect lope through the field, my arms in the air like I’m about to fly off? No. Did he offer to crow-hop a few more times? Yep. Everytime my anxiety started to take over and I got on his face he got saucy. But I kept my bearings. I kept breathing, and I rode him through it. I let him express his energy in a forward motion. I kept showing him that it was OK to lope, and it was also OK to accept some direction from me. Now, I could have gotten after him and made him lope circles until all that sass was gone. But I didn’t want to. He was communicating with me the best way he could. And I was trying to listen. I could tell he didn’t plan to make me eat dirt; he wasn’t carrying that kind of energy. I did make sure, however, that we did end our ride after a pleasant, relaxed lope, with no extra sass involved. I do have to get over my fear that any time he shows attitude it will result in a bronc session. I have to “ride the horse that I have today,” as Warwick Schiller would say.
Now here comes the really cool bit. I had to encourage him to head back to the barnyard so we could get back home. He wanted to head back out into the field for more fun. Normally, any horse is chomping at the bit to get back to be unsaddled. Not Ace this time. As much as I was tempted to stay out, I also wasn’t about to tempt fate. I wanted to end on a good note. Coming back through the barnyard he was much more relaxed than when we had walked through previously. He went up to a tractor to smell and touch of his own accord, and again with the grain vac; both objects he was sidestepping when we walked past the first time. A large tractor tire also didn’t cause any concern like it had only an hour ago, and the same for a couple pallets stacked alongside the shed. It was as if he felt that he could brave anything, and finally trust me; because I had trusted him. He felt like we were a team, and I wasn’t going to put him in harms way.
It was such an odd ride, but an amazing one. So many new things happened between us. I’m so thankful for all that I’m learning in regards to positive reinforcement, learning to tune in to what my horse is trying to show me, and becoming more familiar with my own emotions. If I can’t recognize my own fears, I won’t be able to address them, in order to learn techniques to help me understand, process and let go of thoughts and feelings that were just holding me back.