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Awareness & Focus

awarenessfocusAwareness is being in the moment, knowing what is going on around us in the environment and also inside us, our feelings. Focus is having a plan. I use Mental focus and Body focus

Mental focus is basically our thoughts. Good mental focus involves taking a plan and breaking it down into smaller steps, visualizing those individual steps so that our bodies follow that picture and building it all up to have the plan in action.

Body focus is knowing about and using body language. Knowing the way our body moves, with energy and purpose.

What you need to be aware of when around your horse are things like where your body is in relation to his, is he pushing into your personal space, is the environment safe, where are other horses in the field and how are they behaving! All these things take awareness and if your horse sees and feels your awareness and confidence then he can be confident that you’re looking after the situation.

With awareness and focus we learn to know how the horse moves and where the horse is likely to move to. They understand body language very well so it is us that needs to learn how to use ours better to help us become in better harmony with them.

Once we’ve learned about awareness and focus they become second nature. It’s like driving a car, when you start you have a lot to think about such as checking the mirrors, changing gears, which foot for acceleration or braking and indicating left and right, and also where all the other car users are. Also all the smaller things such as keeping windows clear for vision, checking the petrol and oil, making sure the engine is running smoothly and many other jobs. It seems overwhelming to start with but soon we do it all instinctively, and this is what learning invisible horsemanship is like too. Once we learn how to be aware and to use our focus well it all becomes second nature.

To have a horse confident in us because we’re aware of everything and so focused we don’t get side tracked is the mark of someone our horse is happy to follow.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Mirroring Your Horse

I have had many people asking how I get my horses SO in tune with me but I explain that it’s more of me being in tune with them first, then them getting in tune with me and then us having a mutually focused partnership through trust and respect.

MirrorWhen I first started my journey into Natural Horsemanship my horse Tara and I had quite a good relationship, getting into the journey more and allowing my horse to have a ‘say’ about things that we did together brought around a turn of events that really foxed me and I didn’t know what to do. She decided that she really didn’t want to be around me (or any human really) and giving her the freedom to choose to run off whenever I asked her to be with me was a hard decision. I can understand why many people start Natural Horsemanship with this same intent only to be foxed like this and going back to their normal routine with the thought that NH had ruined their horse BUT I decided to figure out what Tara needed from me so that we could continue our journey and start that partnership that I always wanted.

What I realised pretty quickly was that Tara was quite a shut down horse, quiet, calm, sensitive and did ‘as she was told’ because that’s the way she had been trained. Being such a sensitive soul she showed her ‘compliance’ by being obedient but not willing, by which I mean she did what I asked in a slow, bored way that made me work harder than her and if I really asked too much she went ‘blank’ or would try to run off, especially at liberty where the truth always comes out.

So, after much thought I knew that I needed Tara to catch me in the field not the other way around. She was very good at being caught, standing still and freezing whilst I put the head collar on but if I asked her to catch me she’d run off and that wasn’t the partnership I wanted with my beauty.

I woke up one day and had an idea…’I’m going to mirror her today and try to be with her in her world, show her that I can be there as a herd member and not just with her for training’. This decision helped me to realise that to have a partnership with my horse I needed to request things with a two way conversation rather than demand things and to see if I could gain willingness rather than servitude.

So, I started off in the field about 50’ away from her (she turned her head away if I got any closer and I knew that was her cue for leaving), I started stepping as she stepped, turning when she turned and stopping when she stopped. After a few hours and lots of slow progress I was standing about 5’ away from her, taking each slow step with her as she grazed, putting weight on the back, front or side of my foot like she did as she slowly moved. I turned my head the way she did, lifted it when she did, started to see her muscles move in her legs, her chest move as she breathed.

After another few hours we were very much in harmony, steps, moves, breathing and then about 5 hours into the experiment she stood for about half an hour totally still, almost asleep watching over the other three horses as they lay down to sleep. This part was hardest of all. I moved, brushed flies off me, scratched itches and generally not ‘in the moment’ with her at all. BUT I did start to realise this and managed to really become a sleeping horse with her, it was like meditating. In a HUGE moment she then lay down next to me and I sat down with her for another 15 mins. That moment will always be very special in my life as she showed me that to be in her world, on her time, with her peace she was willing to allow me in and showed me true trust by laying down with me.

Since that moment Tara has always come to catch me but I have to ask her permission to enter her realm every time by squatting down when she looks at me and open my heart to shower her with thoughts of love and when I do that and open my arms to her she comes to me willingly on her terms.

She has taught me patience I never knew I had and the awareness that if I allow things to happen through mutual respect and trust then it will happen, but I have to believe. It’s not just about what I want, it’s about what we want together, as partners.

I also find that when I play the game of ‘Stick 2 Me’ that I can quickly get connected with her, and other horses, physically, mentally and emotionally because of the things I learned from those 6 hours one day on a Scottish hillside.

So, if you ever have the time to dedicate to mirroring your horse and not put a time limit on it then I really believe you and your horse can find deep bond by doing this. I’ve done little bits of this with Tara now and then and have done similar, shorter versions of it with the other members of our herd. It really does help to teach about how a horse moves, watching what they do during a day and reminds me daily that when I play or ride them that I’m doing a lot more with them than they do themselves when left to their own devices in their herd so I try to mirror them a bit and see if they’ll mirror me in the start of our dance together and that then brings about the game I play called ‘Stick 2 Me’ which I will talk about in another article soon.

Image00003You can also ‘Mirror Your Horse’ when riding. Make sure your horse is calm, remembers you are up on it’s back and not spooky before doing this, start in a small area like a round pen. Allow the horses movement to move your body in harmony with it’s own. Shoulders with shoulders, hips with hips. This task will find you a better seat and balance and allow you to not ‘be in control’ all the time, to allow the horse to have some say in your journey together. Friendship and partnerships are all about both sides having a say so enjoy learning how your horse moves and keep breathing in harmony too.

* Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

 

The Connection

connection2

I often get asked why I work so much at liberty with my own horses and my reply is ‘to test our connection’. For me it’s this connection that holds the key to everything I do with horses, all ground work, handling and ultimately riding. But how is this connection created?

For me it is very much a mental (focus) and heart (emotion) connection that is created by being ‘in the moment’ and ‘with the horse’ at all times when in their company. It is also integrated with the ‘energy’ of my body. If I can focus on what I want to achieve with my horse and on what my own body is doing then we can become ‘connected’. SO, everything I do, feel, breath and focus on transfers to my horse. I think positively on what I’m trying to do NOW and allow my body and mind to shape the body and mind of my horse so that we become ‘dance partners’.

Slowly the connection can become deeper and deeper so that my physical/body moves become more invisible but my inner mind/focus becomes stronger and once the horse is invited to partner up they really follow that focussed lead.

It can be hard to achieve if your mind is constantly thinking of other things so the first task you have to try is to empty your mind of other things and just be in the moment with your horse. It’s like a dance where we collectively move together that brings about a mutual understanding of space around us.

A more visual way of thinking about your horse connection can be of how you share space together and I will write more about Sharing Space in another article.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

Sollylibertywinter2

‘Can you draw your horse OR is your horse drawn to you’ 😉

 

Liberty Challenge 9

Just 5 challenges this time but push your progression to do these in an open field. Start slowly in a small area and work up to a higher gait in a bigger area. CHALLENGE YOURSELF to progressive, positive changes so that you and your horse get  more and more connected in a common language that create signals for all that you do together.

1) Weave around cones on a circle.
Use as many cones as you like, 5 is the minimum on a circle. Make the circle large or small depending on your skill and your horses flexibility. Start in walk together and build up to trot and more distance between the cones and you and your horse.

2) Stick 2 Me Transitions.
Use as many transitions as possible, be on the left and right of your horse and see how straight you are together.

3) Jumps.
Big or small jumps, as many or as few as you wish and done how you like, either one and stop, turn and jump again OR as a small liberty course…it’s up to you to know you and your horses abilities but remember to build up to more difficult jumps as you go and higher transitions between.

4) Spins.
To left and right and even spins whilst leading your horse, see what you can do.

5) Back horse up from behind.
Use cue from tail or any other you may have, do a least 6 steps and more if you and your horse are up for it.

I will be doing these 5 Challenges in our 10 acre field with the other herd members grazing around us. I test my horses connection to me by working in this area as they have the freedom to run off if they want or to stay with me. I cannot run as fast as they can but have a good draw back to me if they go faster than me. How connected to you is your horse in a big field?

 

Liberty Challenge 8

Remember to do it at you and your own horses pace and level, the horse owns the time you take for this so don’t push, just encourage for more effort, lightness or precision as you go along. If you need to do it in walk online then do so but remember to progress as much as possible and practice it over the whole month to see improvements. Come back to the challenge at liberty and ridden when you are ready to do so.

1) Liberty & Ridden: Push a ball through two raised poles

2) Liberty & Ridden: 4 x trotting poles (any spacing you think best for your horse)

3) Liberty & Ridden: Canter down a bunting corridor (liberty: handler to stay outside corridor)

4) Liberty & Ridden: Turn on the forehand (front feet pivot whilst hindquarters turn 360*)

5) Liberty & Ridden: Trot a clover leaf pattern around cones (Pattern explanation below)

6) Liberty & Ridden:  Jump/halt/sidepass off jump (if you do not know this move or don’t wish to teach it then jump and halt straight after jump then sidepass a few steps)

7) Liberty & Ridden:  Transitions (whatever 2 or 3 transitions you are good at)

8) Liberty& Ridden:  Use cones to ride the outside and/or inside of a square….forwards / sidepass / backwards / sidepass

9) Liberty & Ridden: Familiarisation on the move (try at walk but trot if you can)

10) Liberty & Ridden: walk into water tray, halt in the tray then walk off  (or a foot in a bucket with water in it! I have a plastic jump water tray I will be using…you could also put an intact tarp on the ground and roll up the edges around jump poles to make a pool and put some water in it!)

ENJOY

NB…CLOVERLEAF PATTERN: this is walking/riding a shape like a 4 leaf clover. First set up 4 cones at equal distances from each other in a square. To walk at liberty or ride it you need to then choose to either just do left or right turns around the pattern…you shouldn’t do both unless you do the pattern twice!

The first move is to walk/trot straight through the centre, then turn left and do a left circle around 1st cone back through the centre of the square then circle left around 2nd cone, back through the centre and then circle left around 3rd cone, straight through centre and then circle left around 4th cone and then onto next task.

To do the cloverleaf outside this challenge I usually always start and stop in the centre of the square of cones so that the horse is always searching for X at the centre, Picture of map of tasks below hopefully will help too.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

LC8

 

 

 

 

Liberty Challenge 7

Try this Challenge at Liberty and also Ridden, preferably bitless or even bridleless if you are that advanced.

If you are just starting Liberty work you can play around with these tasks online. All tasks are changeable and do what is best for your horse and your abilities. If something is too hard then do something similar  and then progress to the harder tasks as you practice over time.

1) Liberty or Ridden: Open gate, squeeze horse through any way you want, close gate.

2) Liberty or Ridden: Trot through narrow gap, halt just before end and back up through gap. Trot on out of gap.

3) Liberty: Trot weave around 6 cones in a straight line with flags (or something flappy) in them. Horse to weave, handler to stay on one side and direct horse in weave.

Ridden: Either trot weave or weave using leg yields in walk

4) Liberty & Ridden: Jump small jump, handler to run alongside with liberty one

5) Liberty & Ridden: Drag an object for 10′, you and horse side by side, and then turn horse and yourself to drag with you and horse backing up together.

6) Liberty: Trot onto tarp and halt then turn the horse 180* any way and trot off again.

Ridden: Trot onto tarp, halt then 180* turn on the forehand (ie. turn the horses hindquarters and pivot forehand)

7) Liberty & Ridden: Ask horse to follow you around a Labyrinth pattern

8) Liberty: Trot your horse through some sort of ‘washing line’ with clothes hanging of it.

Ridden: Same (or if you and horse not used to going under things then go to washing line, take one item off the line and ride with it around the line where you put it back up on the line without horse worrying)

9) Liberty & Ridden: Trot fig 8’s twice around two barrels or tall  obstacles. Obstacles close, about 5-6 paces apart.
NB. Large obstacles could be 3-4 tyres stacked on each other or a tall jump wing!

10) Liberty & Ridden: Sidle over a largish pole, left feet on one side, right feet on the other side. (Try to use a pole thicker than the average jump pole)
NB. If cannot sidle one side of horse over then do 2-4 feet over then back up over it.

11) Liberty: Get a flag and wave it about whilst walking around your horse.

Ridden: Wave flag whilst sitting on horse.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

 

LC7

 

 

Liberty 

 
Ridden bitless

 
Ridden Bitless and Bareback

 
First time EVER ridden agility bridleless on Solly

 

 

 

Liberty Challenge 6

Remember this can be done online if you’re just starting liberty work yet but as you go along maybe test liberty or put the rope around the horses neck and don’t touch it but a good way of getting the horse back if they walk off. Then when things get better take the halter off and just have the rope around the horses neck…soon you’ll be working totally at liberty.

1) Trot to a hula hoop, transition down to a walk and put hind feet into hula hoop

2) Walk to gate together, open gate then back horse through gateway, close gate and walk off.

3) Transitions: walk forward 3 steps. halt. walk back 3 steps. halt. walk sideways (towards or away) 3 steps. halt. walk off.

4) Front feet on a pedestal. halt. Move hindquarters around the pedestal keeping front feet on pedestal 360*

5) Weave at a trot through 4-6 cones. Up to you how you position the cones, straight line or circle!

6) Trot through scary corner, but halt before leaving it. Back all the way through SC and then trot forwards out of it again

7) Halt horse inside a square made of posts and then walk around horse familiarising to some noise, either extreme friendly game with stick/string or swishing of flag or coins in your pocket even…you find what you horse is okay with and use that. Remember this is not about frightening your horse, it’s about allowing them to gradually get used to scary stuff.

8) Trot over a bottle bank (crushed bottles put inside a square made of poles). Try to make it so that horse doesn’t jump it and actually touches/crushes some bottles.

9) Fig 8’s x 2, using jumps.

10) Trailer load or simulate trailer load. Either squeeze horse in from outside or lead in normally, horse must be relaxed and rope must be in a nice ‘smile’ (slightly loose). Halt then back up any way you want.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

LC6

 

 

Liberty Challenge 5

Do it mostly in trot if possible, run on either side of the horse, changing when you can and remember to ‘HAVE FUN’


1) Hula Hoop over horses head
Take this slowly, make sure you can put a hoop of rope over first, this can be quite scary to some horses!

2) Trot through 2 poles on the ground, halt after poles, back up through poles and then trot through again

3) Horse to fig 8 around 2 barrels – handler to stand one side
Use any two obstacles, barrels are just bigger but cones, electric posts, tyres, cola bottles…whatever you have…this task is all about equality of draw/drive

4) Horse to trot through some form of arch, decorated if possible to represent tree branches
if you happen to have two trees close together with branches then fab, if not then try using some old water/drainage pipe with wood in the sides OR whatever you used for a curtain last month would be good but with maybe soft tree branches or plastic flowers around the edges! be creative but keep it safe

5) Horse to push a ball 10′
Horse can use front feet or nose, any size ball from a large tennis ball to a NH ball…your choice

6) Small jump and halt within 2 strides after jump
Try to just use your energy/breathing for this task, see if your horse and you are connected!

7) Horse to circle around you in walk or trot
This goes together with task 8….circle inside the cone circle then go to task 8 afterwards

8) Horse to weave around cones put out in a circle around you  – walk or trot
6 cones works well. Again this is about connection, draw and drive in equal doses

9) Walk through a labyrinth of poles
Takes 6 poles, keep them a good distance apart and work over the year on making those distances smaller

10) Horse trot to halt and then familiarisation with an umbrella
You may only be able to walk around horse with umbrella closed. You may be able to work on opening/closing umbrella by horses side. Ultimately you want to be able to open/close umbrella pretty close to horse whilst walking around him/her.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

    LC5

 

Liberty Challenge 4

Try this challenge at trot as much as you can but remember to progress you need to gently push yourself and your horse out of your comfort zones. It’s up to you to go as slow as you think you both need but to progress to faster when you can.

1) Go through gateway – aim is to stop horse before gate, you open gate and go through without horse moving and then at your request ask horse to come through gateway then turn to face gate whilst you close it. (either use gate to arena or field if safe to do so, or make a gate out of two electric polyposts and a bit of white tape or rope).

2) Put back feet and front feet into hula hoops so that all four feet are in two hoops – aim is to have a relaxed horse moving into them without worrying. (Remember that it’s not about the task, it’s about keeping your relationship with your horse and so do what you can and progress in your own time…it doesn’t need to be done NOW, it’s a challenge that needs time and patience)

3) Horse to trot through a narrow corridor – aim is for horse to be calm, relaxed and happy. (Make corridor as long and as tall as your horse can deal with or that you can make. If horse not happy about it then make it shorter in length and lower so that you don’t worry horse…progress during year to help horse to find this challenge easier)

4) Trot over pole and halt with pole under belly – (ie. front feet over only), wait 5 seconds then back horse off pole any way you want – aim is to have clarity on the stop and wait and a clean back up without hitting pole. (Refined way of on/off with this task is for handler to stay beside the horses shoulder but you can work in front of horse and ask for a backup from there if you want, refine it so that you can eventually stay by horses side when backing up)

5) Horse trots through a scary corner – handler on outside,  making sure horse is calm and not rushing this. Make your corner only as scary as only your horse can take, flapping flags, bags, bunting, balloons, scary masks…what ever you have or you can make. (Remember again this is about getting this task better and better so start really small and do NOT frighten your horse)

6) Stand in front of horse and ask horse to sideways around you whilst you turn pivot –  (Aim is for horse to be as straight as possible whilst doing this, he will have to move his hq’s more than his forehand on this one. GO slowly with this, if it’s hard for your horse then only ask for a couple of steps, it doesn’t have to be a full circle, ONLY what you and your horse can do but challenge yourself during the year to make it better).

7) Elongated weave with you at horses side – put 4 poles down parallel to each other about 3-4′ apart and go up and around each one in turn (see picture. (Main aim of this is to show that horse can follow you when you do left turns and away from you when you do right turns without getting upset)

8) Small jump – size only for what your horse can jump. (Aim is that horse does not rush jump or runs away afterwards, that he stays calmly with you throughout jump)

9) Go through a curtain – do whatever you can for this, I know curtains aren’t something everyone has…if no curtain then tarp over horse whilst standing still is good. If you have a curtain and horse is worried, tie back the strands on both sides and work up to just one side down and then both sides down.

10) Park horse (stand still) – walk away from him/her for between 10-20′ and then walk back. (Aim is for horse to relax and stand still…Walk straight away from his/her face and back up or even try leaving the lead rope on the floor (ground tying) and walking around your horse. Progression can be made with you further away from horse or even skipping around horse.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy

LC4

 



Liberty Challenge 3

See if you can challenge yourself and your horse to trot as much as possible through this course and see if you can stay on your horses right side.

1) Back horse between two obstacles like barrels. (Make obstacles wider apart and low for horses new to these challenges. For newbies also you could come forward and then back through two obstacles. For those that are good at liberty set your barrels upright and close together)

2) Trot over a bottle bank. (A bottle bank is a small or large area set upwith 4 poles made into a square. Put as many, or as few if new to this, flattened plastic bottles as you can into that area. As you progress you can fill it up a LOT…for newbies walk through this or if your horse is frightened then YOU walk through it and horse around it…remember it makes quite a noise to get used to! Build it up over the month to where you can walk or trot horse through bank)

3) Trot tight weave – handler to stay on one side of the cones, horse to weave. (Place cones or obstacles about 4-5 paces apart, 4-6 obstacles if possible. If new to this then walk you and your horse through the pattern. If good at liberty then trot through them and make it slightly harder than the normal wider apart obstacles but don’t make it impossible for your horse to achieve some success with this..again build up the level of weave during the month)

4) Trot horse between two flags – handler to walk outside obstacles. (For newbies just ask your horse to walk through the flags and make flags a big distance apart. For those who are good at liberty challenge you and your horse to trot through flags only 1 large pace apart)

5) Trot fig 8. (Horse to do the fig 8, handler to stand just outside the pattern. For newbies you may want to walk the fig 8 with your horse by your side first and build it up gradually)

6) Familiarisation with small tarp. (Horse to stand still whilst you play with small tarp around and on horse…start small and open up as you go. For newbies you may want to use just a small plastic bag)

7) Transitions: walk/trot/halt/backup/walk/trot/halt/backup (Looking for sharp connection in the up and downward trans, using breath in to go, breath out to halt. Newbies don’t have to do backup or trot but try it all month to see if you can get another transition in your repetoire)

8) Carry two pillowcases for 10′ in walk or trot. (Have two pillowcases or sacks or plastic bags if your horse is not frightened by them, fill them with something soft like scrunched up newespaper, hay, straw or even old teddy bears, tie them at the tops and tie them together so that there is a cord or rope between them so that they can go over the horses back safely. For newbies make sure your horse is happy with the unfamiliar item, play with it a LOT before trying it at walk, keep your hand on the bag nearest you so that you can take it off if necessary)

9) 2 or 4 feet on a pedestal. (If no pedestal just put something strange or unusual for the horse to put 2 or 4 feet on, not a tarp though, something like an old carpet, old towel, piece of flat wood, rubber mat etc?)

10) Off pedestal and ask horse to stand still whilst you skip around him/her. (You can keep one hand on horse whilst gently walking around him, you can trot around him or you can skip, whatever you and your horses level)

Always remember to have FUN with these challenges

  • Shelley – Horsesavvy

LC3