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Comfort Zone Training – parts 2 & 3

The last couple of weeks CZT has been positive and progressive even though the sessions haven’t always been the same amount of time. Our connection has been getting better, Solly’s impulsion has been getting better, communication and willingness have been  going really well and we’ve managed to move from one small area in and around a round pen to over half the field all by doing the same techniques with the same feeling and with the same requests of timing, energy and a balance between fast/slow, left/right, energy/stops and my ideas/Sol’s ideas. Slowly but surely we’ve become  more harmonious together and from working regularly, albeit not for long, Solly’s impulsion is improving due to him getting mentally, emotionally and physically fitter and ready to move. Sessions 2 and 3 were roughly the same but with session 3 we had a bit more time and extended the area we were working in a bit more….keeping it positive and progressive.

Here is our second  ground session work video….


And our second riding session…..

What I also realised is that it depends on your horse as to how much time you put in. If quite a worried horse lots of small good sessions work well, do a few sessions per week and allow a couple of days off to think about things. Slightly less worried horses can have fewer but maybe longer sessions with a few days to think about things. The ‘thinking’ days are a great way for your horse to think things over and often they come back to a new session with more understanding, confidence and curiosity. Those ‘thinking’ days also help you to figure out where to go next with your CZT, to retreat a bit, to progress a bit to go over what you’ve done or to go over what you’ve done quickly and progress a bit…the last one is where I try to be each time 😉

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Comfort Zone Training – part 1

In this blog category I am going to go through the steps of how I approach, retreat and re-approach with a sceptical horse into an unfamiliar environment. I call this ‘going out of our Comfort Zone’ and by doing that carefully we can retreat back into our normal safe haven and re-approach the scary place as often as we need to until it then becomes a part of our now bigger comfort zone.

I hope to show how I help my horse find relaxation and thereby confidence when we go to a place he, or I, am worried about. Everything will be done through ground work first, then a combo of ground and ridden work and hopefully more and more ridden work to show the progression of opening up our comfort zone.

Today was our first day and we worked on getting back our ‘ground work connection’ – which we had lost a bit because of me being away and not training for a while – through moving feet, mentally and physically being in the moment and trying to become harmonious in our movements together. Here is the video of the ground work.


What did I learn from this session?

Well, our connection was not bad at all really. he was pretty willing but his impulsion was low and he tried to avoid doing some things by putting in his own ‘fun bow’ move which he often uses to try to distract me from asking him to move more. Funnily enough the riding session that I didn’t manage to film due to the camera battery running low, was similar!! funny that!

 

What will I try in the next session?

From this first session I will now use consistency to do the same training techniques in the same area 3-7 times in a row. Each time, if all goes well, I will progress in some way, either by extending the CZ area a bit or upping the energy levels or working for a longer time….whatever it is will depend on how the horse OR I am feeling can be extended at that time. If things are a bit sticky or unconfident then I will do what I did the day before and always end on a good note. I take each day as a new opportunity to progress and prepare myself for that but I am not going to progress out of our CZ if things aren’t going well. On that note, if I feel unconfident with the riding side I may press through with gaining more CZ progress with ground work to at least not stagnate.

* Next session coming soon *

For more info on Comfort Zones go to the TRAINING TIP – ‘Stepping out of your Comfort Zone to Progress’
For more on horse thresholds go to the TRAINING TIP – ‘Horse Thresholds’

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Training Tips: ‘Horse Thresholds’

What are thresholds and how can we deal with them?

tresholdsHorses can have fear or leadership thresholds that can involve environmental, emotional or physical issues. These can sometimes show up as ‘napping’ where the horse refuses to go forward and people call the horse stubborn, this could also be something physical or painful somewhere, this should be checked by a vet first and foremost. They can also show up in sceptical horses where everything seems fine but then for no apparent reason they fly off the wall, bolt for home, spin or back up exceedingly fast. All of these really are fear or emotional thresholds or issues but it can also be a leadership or trust issue because if we’re frightened or unconfident the horse will pick up on that really fast and be unconfident or frightened too.

 

For a prey animal horses are asked to do quite a lot of things that aren’t naturally in their DNA. Horses are flight animals that live in family groups. They rarely go anywhere on their own, they are programmed to run without thinking through fear, for a horse it’s good to outrun whatever it was that frightened them or maybe wants to eat them, They are also animals that push into pressure SO when we get a horse going through a fear threshold their instinct to run without thinking is natural and quite often we are in the way and can get hurt. They literally cannot think of anything but running when in full flight mode. For a predator to ask them to calm down and listen is extremely hard to do and even harder to do when the predator is maybe being predatory!

Remember also that WE have thresholds…..this can be fear based such as trauma from a horse accident or going into a new environment  such as a wide open field and a frisky horse. It could be worry that you may have an accident or riding with people you don’t know. We need to approach, retreat and reapproach with our own thresholds too!

SO…what can we do to help our horses and their thresholds?

1. We can really listen to their body language such as where their ears are looking,  are their nostrils flared, is their head high, are their muscles tightening? if so then they are coming to a threshold. If we’re good at noticing these things we can do something earlier, before it becomes a bigger issue.

2. Once we’ve noticed a worry in our horse we can carry on and help the horse by being confident and assertive (not angry, frustrated or predatory) and this often can help a horse be more confident with us. If the horse stops and wants to look then let it, if the horse stops and snorts then there is something worrying it and we can back off, turn around and go away from the worrying thing (even if you can’t see what it is) or we can get off our horse and ask it to walk on or away to help the horse find confidence in us and relaxation over the situation.

3. Each situation is something you have to figure out with your horse as to what to do next. Once you have a good connection with your horse you should be noticing everything that it ‘says’ to you in it’s body language. Doing something earlier is better than doing something later and helping to understand your horses feelings and emotions goes a long way to being connected and learning to trust each other.

4. With the issue of a leadership threshold, where the horse doesn’t listen or trust us enough we need to learn to be ‘leaders’ in a way that helps our horse overcome issues it may have. By being a consistent, confident, quiet, calm leader where your horse can follow with confidence, because if we’re not confident about leading our horses won’t be confident to follow.

5. We need to make things familiar then take everything into a slightly unfamiliar place and create the familiar there too. To progress we take small steps into the unfamiliar and bring it into the familiar regularly and keep at it to progress. What we’re looking for in our horses is relaxation, attentiveness to our requests, willingness to perform those requests and curiosity with confidence. What we need to look for in OURSELVES is the ability to be confident by making sure we know the techniques to help our horses relax, to be confident in the ability to retreat out of a scary place if it’s making US or our HORSES worried at all and to be able to have techniques to help US relax in any situation even if that means GETTING OFF, BREATHING, RETREATING and RE-MOUNTING when we feel we can.

Being overly brave outwardly but scared inwardly really upsets horses, they read us beneath the surface, so don’t try to make it by faking it, it doesn’t work with horses. We need to ‘get our butterflies in formation’, find our confidence through consistency and progress at our and our horses pace.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: ‘Consistency, Consistency, Consistency’

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Some horses and their owners have no trouble going out and about, trekking here, there and everywhere. I was one of them with my solid, calm gypsy cob Tara. She and I have gone over hill, glen and rivers for hours on end in our time riding out and we have a lot of photographs to remember them all by too. But since getting Solly, my TB x Highland, things have been slightly different. He has a sceptical nature, is a live wire sometimes and takes a long time to trust SO going out has been eventful and now very rare. But that is hopefully going to change 😉

The reason I decided not to hack him out any more was that I don’t want to have any accidents with him or to loose his trust in me. Our relationship in the field with training (liberty, online, lateral ridden and jumping) has become very good, when we started in the field there were places that he wouldn’t ride even though it’s where he eats every day so I knew he would be worse in new environments. His ground work is going well but he changes character when I ride him, from a bored, lazy horse who needs motivation to a sceptical horse that can spook at something that’s not there. For this sort of horse consistency is the best teacher.

When one of my students has trouble with a technique, a task, riding inconsistencies or unconfidence in new places I always say ‘start in a small area, build to bigger area’s and use consistency for confidence and don’t forget to progress’. Working with these methods helps gain the horse/human connection from their normal comfort zones to larger area’s which then become their new comfort zones. SO…this is what I have done with myself and Solly too…..we’ve gone back to basic’s and finding RELAXATION through CONSISTENCY so that we can stretch our COMFORT ZONES to larger area’s. (See previous  blog post –  Training Tip: ‘Stepping out of your Comfort Zone to Progress’)

This week we’ve started the CZT process (Comfort Zone Training) as I was away for quite a while teaching and with family to the point that our ‘connection’ was weak. I will endeavour to write about the experience of approaching and retreating with comfort zones (his AND mine) here on this blog and hope we can help and inspire others having similar experiences. I will put it all in the new category ‘Comfort Zone Training’ and make it a series of posts with video if I can.

It will hopefully show how consistency basic’s can be used to sweeten a new area for your horse by only changing the environment not the techniques and this then helps bring  relaxation quickly so that the new environment can be added to your original comfort zone which equals progress. I will also talk about you and horse ‘THRESHOLDS’…these are where fear/flight/fight/shutdown can occur so we need to take care of those to help everything go smoothly.

For me it’s about keeping the connection and not pushing a horse through his thresholds  to where his instinct kicks in and the communication/connection is lost. Once we’ve gone there we’ve lost relaxation and we’ve not listened to our horses fears and thereby lost his trust in us. I want a horse to have complete trust in me so that I have complete trust in him and with some horses you just need to take the time to allow this to grow together :)

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

Picture Quote 8 – ‘The first keys to learning are….’

8Helping our horses relax mentally, emotionally and physically through connection techniques helps them find curiosity in training. When horses are curious they have open minds to new things and experiences and if we can teach them to have that with relaxation then we have a horse that will be braver in all it does.

Picture Quote 7 – ‘To find lightness…’

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The main aim of everything we do with our horses should be Relaxation and Lightness. To have so good a connection that our thoughts are our cues…how light and fabulous would that be.

This is why practising everything with consistency and always offering that LIGHT CUE is how the horse will get to see it and take it. If we forget to offer it how can he take it?

So, if  when riding we always use our focus (thought) first, then our energy and body cue (bring our life up and look where we want to go), then our weight aid and leg aid and only the rein when needed we’ll find that we start using our reins less and riding our horse becomes lighter and more intuitive.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

Picture Quote 6 – ‘Don’t make things complicated…’

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Exactly what it says on the ‘tin’….KEEP IT SIMPLE. When you ride everything  is about moving the feet…forward, back, left or right AND combinations of all of these…SIMPLE…but not always EASY :)

I’ve found a good way to practise my own body dynamics for riding is when I’m out walking. I simulate the move I want to try out with my horse BEFORE riding him and it really helps me to know what he will be doing with his feet so that I don’t get in his way when I ask him to try a manoeuvre. It’s worked so far for shoulders-in, hindquarters-in, leg yields, transitions, turns, sidepass, turns on forehand and hindquarters and simple lead changes. I have also done flying lead change simulations so that hopefully one day that will happen too and my body will be ready for it.

By getting my own body dynamics together with how I know my reins and legs move and support my horses body then hopefully it should be simple to get the move I am trying to do.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: What is Savvy and how do you get it?

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Horse Savvy to me is having the ability to ‘read your horse, his behaviour, his moods, his play’ and also being able to have ‘a calm, spontaneous response to an unexpected situation’.

Savvy doesn’t just sort one problem out, it is about remembering and comparing an accumulation of experiences that develops over time and it is this that brings confidence and savvy around horses.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

Training Tips: Keep it FUN

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It’s hard to remember to keep the fun in training but it’s really important to do so for our horses and for the relationship we are trying to build.

Learning to task for a while and leave things on a good, fun note so that we can return and progress another day is a great way to keep things in perspective. You will often find a day off training helps to give the horse time to think on what he has been learning and come back with renewed interest and understanding of the lesson.

What is not so good for the horse is to task repeatedly over and over and over in one day trying to get perfection. This can bore and sour a horse to where they become robotic and I feel it is mild form of ‘forcing’ a horse and then they are less inclined to come back the next day with a smile on their faces OR if they are an introverted horse they can come back robotic or shut down.

SO..keep your training progressive but also fun.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Training Tips: Leave your emotions at the gate

I’ve written a few articles on subjects such as Intent, Focus, Breathing and Space to show ways we can get connected to our horses but the ONE thing we need to learn is to ‘Leave our emotions at the gate’.

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Don’t bring your anger, upset or fear to your horse. Try to leave any negative work or home issues at work or home. Being in the now with your horse is what works the best. It also means that whatever happens in your session don’t bring any emotion apart from love into that either. Don’t be angry with your horse for doing something you didn’t ask for, don’t bring frustration or fear to the session and always finish on a relaxed positive note.

Bring confidence, awareness, focus and love in all you do with your horse and most of all ask with clarity and without any emotional baggage.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy(See Previous Articles for other subjects)