Comfort Zone Training – Solo in-hand/riding

Part 1

Helping a horse that is ‘herd bound’ is challenging as we need to help the horse grow it’s trust in us and it’s comfort zone area so that it feels safe going out alone. Easier said than done for some horses.

Our Stormy has been the member of our herd since 11 months old, he’s been surrounded by 4 other members to start with but now at the age of 15 he is just one of two left in our herd. He is happy to go out and about with other herd members and has done that throughout his life but the other horse left now is our aged Tara who can do small bits of in-hand/riding work but really is retired and a bit slow and doddery  SO, how do I help Stormy learn to be brave enough to go out alone?



Our first session was mostly walking in the field next to the horses home field. Walked and played some games to help his brain think, these games were slow backup and sideways moves. He was okay for a while but I could feel he was worried about going further down the steep part of the hill SO I retreated with him back towards the home field, this allowed him to breathe and think, to respond and not react BUT he had a couple of slips on the hill where it has been raining heavily and is now muddy and also touched his leg onto a thistle and he rushed off back home to the gateway….his reaction was quick and although mud and thistles don’t normally worry him I could see this would make him react if he wasn’t totally connected to me first SO I got him back and did a small bit of walking about near the gateway to their field to end on a good note.


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Training Tips: “Keep the Partnership”

The Partnership between horse/human is delicate and like all good friends you have to take time to really listen to what each other has to say, this way you learn to truly have a conversation and each party of the partnership can learn to enjoy and trust their friend more and more.

In these pics I am having a conversation with Big Storm. There is absolutely no way I am going, nor want, to argue with my friend but I also want to help him to learn to listen and trust me in new situations more (or even situations he’s not recently familiar with).

The saying ‘take his idea, make it your idea, trust together’ is the one that goes around my head all the time when with my horses (also with my husband and friends!




Stormy decided he needed to back off from something it was the noise of the stream going under the road at this point). I took his idea of going backwards and asked him to do it a wee bit faster than he was thereby making it MY idea and he relaxed and when I asked him to move forward he did so nicely.

I’d understood his point of view, took it, worked it and allowed him to change his mind and follow my idea .



Here I asked him to turn right, he wanted to turn left so I took his idea of going left and asked him to do it faster and a full circle thereby coming back to the starting point of my original request of going right which he did easily.

It’s almost a distraction technique by using their thoughts, allowing them to fulfil that thought and be free to take my request/thought more easily. With horses that have a strong will, which can also be a sense of worry, allowing them to have a say in the interaction you can dispel that worry about something (which would lead to a worry about you and your partnership/leadership).



The pics below show our 2nd ride from above and us going away from home and his herd mate Tara and we see a huge buzzard flying from post to post along a fence. I acknowledge what he has seen (pic 1) and then turn away from it to release any tension (pic 2). After a bit I turn him purposefully around using a hindquarter yield and go back towards where we turned the first time and the buzzard area and we go further this time and because we have more trust we manage to turn another way, over a stream and jump back all with relaxation, confidence and a good connection :














  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Looking for a New Horse


Questions, questions…always questions when thinking or talking about getting a new herd member. What breed, sex, colour? what temperament, spirit, personality? height, age, training done? All of these and more have been circling in my mind just thinking about making the decision to maybe THINK about getting a new horse and herd member 🙂

BUT…what am I actually looking for in a horse when I go out looking at potential partners?


  1. HEIGHT: 16.hh + for me to feel comfortable that it can take my height and weight. For me the front legs say a lot and I look for a squarer top to the chest from the legs, which says to me it’s a ‘heavier’ type of horse rather than a thinner type of horse who has a upside down V shape at the top of legs/chest.
  2. AGE: 4-7 years so that it’s had a start but I can put the foundation of ground work, bitless riding and agility there.
  3. GOOD START: I’m looking for a horse that has had a good start in life (I don’t want a huge project with a horse that is fearful of life).
  4. CURIOUS: I’ll be looking at responses not reactions. seeing if the horse has an interest in surrounds, is not spooky or reactionary and hopefully naturally attracted to me for that all important connection.
  5. PERSONALITY / SPIRIT:  I’m looking at spirit and personality of the horse. I would like a thinking horse (left brained) with a medium spirit (introvert = extrovert)
  6. WHORLS: I will be looking at face and body whorls and will try some horsemanship ‘tests’ to see if it responds or reacts, how big or small a reaction and how it takes to maybe learning one new thing to show me how that process affects it.
  7. Sex/Colour/Looks: just don’t come into it 🙂


What am I wanting to do with new horse? Well, a bit of everything really. I would love to hack out again with Mark and Stormy but also I love teaching and I want a new horse to be able to enjoy that process with me. I would like to be able to teach some lateral/dressage moves for flexibility and good body dynamics and also that it enjoys a wee jump. A good all rounder and a happy riding horse hopefully.


I will have to look beyond what I see initially and think about how I could organise progress for the horse. I want a horse I love and that loves me, that’s very important in the mix of things 🙂


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Training Tip Video: “Point 2 Point”

This ‘game’ is one I use often to help teach horses (and myself) to become straighter when riding. If your horse is used to a contact then you may find going to a loose rein difficult, try using a slightly loose rein and get the rein longer and longer as you work at it, often a horse can become ‘lost’ if it’s used to a contact so don’t upset it, just try to get on a loose rein as you go 🙂

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Training Tip Video: “Bridling”

Bridling can be difficult with a big horse so asking for the horse to lower his head is a prerequisite to relaxation whether it’s bitless or bitted. Here are some tips to help you and your horse with happy bridling.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Training Tip Video: “Sun cream application”

Some of us have horses with delicate muzzles that get quite burned in the heat of the sun. It can be very painful for the horse so we put sun cream on ours to help stop that but it can often be hard to get the cream on their noses. I recommend using kids sun cream with as high a factor as possible (50+) and without any fragrance and the technique I use is in the video below…

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy



Field Agility 1

Moving on from arena agility where we gain confidence and our connection to our horse, we then went to Liberty Challenges, using our ability now to keep that connection without a halter and rope. This next stage moves us into a bigger space where we can not only test our connection together but allows us more freedom to use canter and more transitions. Enjoy 🙂

Field Agility 1

Obstacles are:
1) Pedestal: front feet on then walk over
2) Pole/Log: Sidle over then sidepass off
3) Trot poles x 6
3) Rope circle in canter to left and right
5) Under archway in trot
6) Fig 8 with 2 x jumps in trot and canter
7) Cone weave with 8 cones in trot
8) Curtain: Walk or trot under
9) Tarpaulin: walk/halt/backup/walk off
10) Round pens: Fig 8 canter with simple lead change
11) Scary Corridor: canter through
12) Tyre on rope: drag behind you then turn horse and drag whilst backing up
13) Familiarisation: extreme with 2 x flags
14) added extra to calmly walk through scary corridor to end 😉


  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Liberty Challenge 11 (2018)

First Agility course this year (2018).

Arranged it in a serpentine pattern.



  1. Front foot or feet into hula hoop or on a mat. Just looking for a foot connection.
  2. Under a flapping curtain. Looking for relaxation and bravery.
  3. Labyrinth. Here I’m looking for flexibility, straightness and specific foot falls.
  4. Jump. Looking for a nice transition walk/trot/walk.
  5. Halt between barrels. Great to have synchronised halt and not worried about squeeze.
  6. Trot weave. Connection from the side and for horse to be more independent than just following.
  7. Tarp. This can be where you transition, or do a turn, anything .
  8. Transitions: between tarp and log transitions and into sidepass here.
  9. Sidle over log. Looking to be specific with feet here.
  10. Trot through flag corridor. Can be any ‘spooky/flappy’ things really. Just looking for calmness and bravery.
  11. Trot poles. Hoping horse has some bounce in it’s trot and for it to look where it’s going.
  12. Pedestal. Looking for happiness to stand on something with a bit of height in it. If you don’t have a pedestal you can start with a carpet or a reinforced pallet.


Liberty Video with me and Solly (missed putting tarp down #7)

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


What have you been teaching your horse today?


Every time you are with your horse you are teaching her something SO…’what are you teaching your horse today?’

You might be teaching her to stand patiently to be fed or saddled. You may be teaching her that it’s peaceful and calm to be around you. You may be teaching her to walk with you step for step. Praise a lot for the good things. Stroking, saying good girl, standing still together and smiling a lot can all be rewards for your horse.

BUT you might also be teaching her to be impatient or excitable, to walk off when trying to mount or to be saddled. You may inadvertently be teaching her to be pushy or to bite but by giving a treat or her dinner when she is being like that.  You must try to ignore the things you don’t want or have caused your horse to do by rewarding at the wrong time. Learning can often be the smallest bit of bad timing such as you stopping what you’re doing when your horse is doing something you don’t want. Unfortunately stopping at the wrong time causes the horse to think they’ve done the right thing. Better to stop on a good note after a short session than a bad note having taught the wrong thing.

You are also teaching your horse what your own energy, body language and verbal language means. Try to be mindful of your own way of being so as not to teach your horse that your high negative energy means her energy to be up too. If you are fearful or worried do not take that to your horse and expect them to be calm and quiet, you must find a way of lowering your inner energy to have a calm thinking horse. Also do not go around saying negative things to your horse or calling her names, they do not understand the words but they certainly understand the energy behind them, the tone and the inflection. Ignore the things you don’t want and praise what you do like, in yourself too.

SO…be aware of everything you do and what response or reaction you get from your horse. Be aware of all that your horse does and mostly try to get  the little things between you done well so that bad habits don’t become big problems,.

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy


Other Hand Exercises – Summary

dressage test


It struck me a while back that a lot of people spend a lot of time ‘straightening’ their horses, helping them to become more symmetrical, to help them be balanced when being ridden. It all made sense to me as horses, like all animals, have a ‘dominant’ side and a ‘passive’ side. This means one side works first when doing things and can be slightly stronger BUT the passive side works just as hard at supporting the dominant one and is an integral part of how we move and do things. What the ‘dominant side’ does though is make us all slightly more left or right in our bodies…and our minds.

When working on straightness training with my horse Solly I realised quickly that I too needed to balance my body to be able to ride more symmetrically. The more I thought about symmetry and asymmetry the more I realised it wasn’t just about working my Other Hand (OH) to help me become ambidextrous, it was about becoming balanced in my WHOLE BODY. This is because it takes the body as a WHOLE to be symmetrical.

When starting working on my OH exercises, stirring things, using my pen, knife or computer mouse I had to seriously look at how I actually did things with my normal hand. This action in itself helped me to break down how my normal hand works when doing certain actions but as I worked through the  OH tasks I realised my whole body needed to be worked on, I’ll give you an example….



When I started stirring my horses feed in his big bowl, my normal hand was easy, I didn’t have to think about it, it was completely done with unconscious competence. With my OH though I had to study what my normal hand did to recreate it at all. I had to study how my hand worked, where my fingers were on the spoon, how my wrist worked, how my arm didn’t move much and also how I was standing!!


I realised with my OH when stirring things my elbow stuck out, my shoulders were working too hard and my whole body was leaning away from the action. I went back to doing it slowly with my normal hand and started to put the small pieces together to arrange myself better when working my OH. I put my elbow in, moved my wrist more, got my fingers into position for better leverage and lent my body INTO the action to give it support and weight when stirring…hey presto I started to stir things with my OH much more efficiently and without making my body ache.

With every task I try to do with my OH I realise I need to work on my whole body to get it balanced to do that task. Is my stance correct, are my feet pointing in the right direction, are my hips aligned or crooked, is my back at the right angle or is it leaning badly. Becoming symmetrical is about balancing both sides of the body equally, not just about using our OH.

Also I realised that to achieve the symmetry I was looking for I had to take it easy on myself and sometimes admit I can’t do something as well as I’d like because I could end up sore or achy and that defeats the object of the exercise as it would stop me doing something due to pain and then make me reluctant to try again. This too is how horses can get so with them and ourselves we need to be consistent and persistent but kind to continue finding our symmetry on a daily basis and to build those unused muscles slowly so that things can be achievable and long lasting. Also remember that being symmetrical is near on impossible SO find what you can do to help, realise what you can’t do and compensate positively when you ride in the knowledge and feel of being as symmetrical as you can for them. Also if possible get you and your horse checked into some ‘therapy’ to help you both become more symmetrically harmonious when riding, such as getting out an Osteopath, Chiropracter, Emmett Practitioner, McTimmoney etc. Good luck and always be AWARE of how your body can affect your horses body 🙂

  • Shelley – HorseSavvy